Torres hits 50 to sink Villa
El Nino strike clinches agonisingly-tight Villa Park contest
By Elliot Ball. Last Updated: 29/12/09 11:03pm
Torres: Reds' matchwinner
Fernando Torres' 50th Premier League goal deep in stoppage time secured Liverpool a vital three points at Aston Villa.
The Reds' leading scorer popped up in the third minute of injury time to become the fastest Liverpool player to score a half century of league goals and give the Merseysiders the perfect boost to their UEFA Champions League hopes on a freezing cold evening at Villa Park.
The result, Villa's first home defeat since the start of the season, sees Martin O'Neill's side drop a place to sixth while Liverpool rise to seventh, two points behind Villa and four off fourth-placed Tottenham.
Dirk Kuyt made his expected comeback to the Liverpool first-team after being rested for the Reds' success against Wolves on Boxing Day while Villa boss O'Neill was forced into two changes as Nigel Reo-Coker and John Carew slotted in for the suspended Ashley Young and the injured Emile Heskey.
Snowy conditions added a festive touch to Tuesday night's contest, but neither side were in giving mood after top-four rivals Spurs and Manchester City both secured wins the day before.
Villa put Liverpool on the back-foot at the start of the game but Stewart Downing's fourth-minute long-ranger was the hosts' best chance in the spell and was easily blocked.
Jose Reina was slightly fortunate in the 14th minute as Downing's cross went over his head, but the Reds goalkeeper star-jump impression did the trick to deny Richard Dunne's far-post header.
Reina's opposite number, Brad Friedel, was called into duty for the first time two minutes later after Steven Gerrard's looping shot was expertly tipped over the bar by the veteran American.
Then in the 31st minute O'Neill thought his side had scored.
Downing could not have hit his close-range volley any better from a Villa corner but an instinctive save of the highest calibre from Reina kept the score goalless.
Jamie Carragher scored his first Liverpool goal against Villa and he nearly added to his small tally on 33 minutes with a clearance in his own half which hit the roof of Friedel's net.
The game got spicy as the Villa faithful got on referee Lee Probert's back following a couple of contentious decisions but the home fans saw their team become lucky not to concede a penalty in the 36th minute when Dunne's rash challenge on Kuyt went unpunished.
However, Dunne did not get away with his full-blooded challenge on Lucas Leiva five minutes later and the centre-back was the first player to go into the book, only for Lucas to see yellow moments later for one foul too many.
Two consecutive sloppy headers from Villa's central defensive duo nearly allowed Torres through on goal in added time in the first half but Friedel was alert to the danger to ensure the score remained goalless at the interval.
The second half lasted just five minutes before the game was halted as Reina needed a new left boot after the old one split. The Holte End made their opinion known to the Spanish international who was greeted with a chorus of boos when the match resumed.
Liverpool were controlling the opening exchanges but failed to test Friedel in a dominant 15-minute spell, which saw Alberto Aquilani shoot narrowly over from a long-range free-kick.
But against the run of play Villa broke on the counter-attack and Reina was again called upon for some heroics as he denied Gabriel Agbonlahor from close-range before Carew went inches from heading the hosts into the lead from the resulting corner.
Marc Albrighton was a surprise introduction for Reo-Coker and the 20-year-old's presence in the Liverpool penalty area forced Emiliano Insua into a defensive header which rebounded off his arm, but Probert waved away Villa's appeals.
Benitez made his first switch on 78 minutes as Ryan Babel came on for Aquilani before Downing made way for Steve Sidwell two minutes later and it was Liverpool's switch who had a glorious chance to make an impact in the 81st minute but he failed to connect with Insua's cross.
Glen Johnson hobbled off the field three minutes before stoppage time and was replaced by Martin Skrtel and his first contribution was a wild hack on Milner inches outside the penalty area but Villa failed to take advantage.
The game looked to be heading for a draw as four minutes of added time was announced, but from nowhere Torres was running away as Liverpool's matchwinner.The goal started from a mistake by former red Stephen Warnock which allowed Yossi Benayoun to run at the Villa defence and his deflected pass fell right into the bath of Torres, who drilled his low shot past the helpless Friedel to secure the late, late win.
|Aston Villa||Team Statistics||Liverpool|
|0||1st Half Goals||0|
|4||Shots on Target||4|
|4||Shots off Target||4|
Barclays Premier League
|8||West Ham United||2||3|
|12||West Bromwich Albion||2||2|
|20||Queens Park Rangers||2||0|