Ice-cold Torres strikes late for Reds

The result gave Rafael Benitez’s Reds a Champions League lifeline

as they began the second half of their season by snatching a

valuable three points in Birmingham. Spain international striker

Torres 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 Benitez’s side are only two

points behind Villa and four adrift of fourth-placed Tottenham in

the race for European places. In a goalless first half, it needed a

fine save from Friedel to deny Liverpool after 17 minutes. Torres

teed up Steven Gerrard just outside the Villa area and his curling

first-time shot was tipped over the bar by the former Liverpool

keeper. Current Reds number one Pepe Reina somehow managed to keep

out a fierce close-range volley from Stewart Downing in the 31st

minute. Glen Johnson needlessly gave a corner away after losing

possession to John Carew 15 yards from the by-line. James 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. The Reds appealed in vain for a

penalty after a challenge by Richard Dunne on the recalled Dirk

Kuyt eight minutes before the interval. Liverpool, unbeaten at

Villa Park since February 1998, enjoyed the majority of possession

for most of the second period without seriously threatening the

home goal. However, the Reds proceed to waste several good

openings, failing to test Friedel significantly – and were almost

punished. Villa suddenly came to life with Reina producing his

second excellent save of the night to deny Gabriel Agbonlahor after

he had shaken off the challenge of Jamie Carragher. And from

Milner’s inswinging centre, Carew was inches wide of the far post

with a flicked header. The match seemed to be heading for stalemate

until, in injury time, Kuyt took control of a poor pass from

Stephen Warnock on the right flank. 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. The result keeps Villa sixth, two points behind

fourth-placed Tottenham, while Liverpool rise to seventh, two

points further back.