Aston Villa 0-1 Liverpool
Fernando Torres scored an injury-time 50th Premier League goal for
Liverpool to give his side a 1-0 win at Aston Villa on Tuesday
The Spaniard drilled a low shot across Villa keeper Brad
Friedel in the 93rd minute to become the fastest player in Reds
history to score a half century of league goals.
It means Rafael Benitez’s side are only two points behind
Villa and three adrift of fourth-placed Tottenham in the race for
Champions League places.
Liverpool keeper Jose Reina had earlier produced two crucial
saves to deny Villa who were searching for their first home win
over the Reds for nearly 12 years.
The Spaniard somehow kept out a close-range volley from
Stewart Downing in the first half and then denied Villa’s top
scorer Gabriel Agbonlahor after he had broken clear midway through
the second period.
And Liverpool appeared to have strong first half claims for a
penalty after a challenge by Villa central defender Richard Dunne
on Dirk Kuyt.
Villa lacked sharpness and perhaps having a day less than
Liverpool to recover from their opening game of the festive
programme – a 3-0 reversal at Arsenal – may have taken its toll.
Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard tried to inspire his side in
conditions that became increasingly difficult underfoot.
But it was Torres who produced the moment of magic after
capitalising on a loose pass from former Liverpool defender Stephen
Villa, 3-1 winners at Anfield in August, made a promising
start in the blizzard-like conditions.
Downing lined up a shot just outside the Reds box but his
fierce drive was blocked by Alberto Aquilani.
Torres failed to make proper contact on an overhead kick from
a deflected Gerrard centre.
Luke Young was out quickly to block a shot on the edge of the
Villa box from Lucas Leiva after Dunne had headed clear a Gerrard
Reina was called into meaningful action for the first time
after 14 minutes in blocking a header at the far post from Dunne
following another Downing corner.
Gerrard tried his luck with a 30-yard free-kick but his shot
deflected off the Villa wall and out for a corner.
But it needed a fine save from Brad Friedel to deny Liverpool
from taking the lead after 17 minutes.
Torres teed up Gerrard just outside the Villa area and his
curling first time shot was tipped over the bar by the former
Reina got his body behind a low drive from James Milner.
Villa skipper Stiliyan Petrov was off target with a bicycle
kick after Nigel Reo-Coker had played the ball into the Liverpool
But it needed a magnificent reflex save from Reina to prevent
Downing from giving Villa the lead after 31 minutes.
Milner’s corner was met at the far post by Downing and he
could not have struck his volley more cleanly but Reina somehow
managed to fist away his shot from close range.
Dunne became the first player to be booked after 41 minutes
for a challenge on Lucas.
Then Lucas followed the Villa defender into the referee’s
notebook for a foul against Agbonlahor.
Liverpool appealed in vain for a penalty after a challenge by
Dunne on the recalled Kuyt eight minutes before the interval.
Liverpool, unbeaten at Villa Park since February 1998,
enjoyed the majority of possession at the start of the second
period without seriously threatening the home goal.
There was a three minute delay wile Reina was allowed to
change his footwear, much to the annoyance of the Villa fans in the
Gerrard was on the receiving end of a knee high challenge
from Carlos Cuellar just outside the Villa box but Aquilani’s
free-kick dipped over the bar.
Villa suddenly came to life with Reina producing his second
excellent save of the night to deny Agbonlahor after he had shaken
off the challenge of Jamie Carragher.
From Milner’s inswinging centre, John Carew was inches wide
of the far post with a flick header.
But that was effectively the end of the goalmouth incidents
until Torres’ dramatic finale.
Kuyt took control of a poor pass from Warnock on the right
The ball was collected by Yossi Benayoun in midfield but as
Agbonlahor came back to tackle, the Villa striker only succeeded in
pushing it through to Torres inside the Villa box and he slid a low
shot into the bottom far corner of Friedel’s goal.