Match Report by This Is Anfield’s Max Munton
Fernando Torres scored a priceless 93rd minute winner for Liverpool to grab a vital victory in the race for fourth place at Villa Park.
The Spaniard finished off a swift Liverpool counter-attack after a frustrating 90 minutes to send the traveling Reds fans in jubilation.
Torres became the quickest Liverpool player ever to reach 50 league goals (in 72 games), another remarkable achievement breaking yet another record.
With Javier Mascherano serving the second of his four match suspension, Alberto Aquilani was handed a second successive start in the Reds midfield as Dirk Kuyt returned with Fabio Aurelio dropping to the bench.
The snow was relentless in Birmingham throughout the match with the players playing in a blizzard at temperatures of just below 0°C.
It was a scrappy first half with the weather certainly playing its part and the importance of the match clearly weighing on both side’s shoulders.
Liverpool should have been awarded a penalty shortly before half time when Richard Dunne took out Dirk Kuyt in the area. The referee’s blank expression is becoming an all too familiar sight for Reds fans this season.
Fernando Torres continued to look off colour with the telepathic link we saw with Steven Gerrard at the back end of last season just not there anymore, with no sparkle.
Add to that Liverpool’s inability to put in a single dangerous corner and it all made for a very miserable half time, although a strong defensive line must be noted and it was a strong battle from the neutral’s point of view.
As the snow eased off a little in the second half, the game gathered pace and a full blooded scrappy battle commenced.
Ten minutes after the break a galavanting run by Nigel Reo-Coker down Villa’s left wing was easily snuffed out by Glen Johnson and end-to-end football ensued with both teams holding a strong back line.
Just before the hour mark Torres’ game sprung to life as he twisted and turned his way into the Villa box. He ran into one too many Villa shirt and his disposession was followed by a clumsy tackle by Kuyt.
Emiliano Insua showed more good signs at left-back, following up his impressive display against Wolves on Boxing Day with another strong and solid performance showing why he’s keeping Aurelio out of the team. The Argentine persistantly kept a lively James Milner at bay.
It was Insua’s cross ten minutes from time that gave substitute Babel a glorious opportunity right in front of goal but the Dutch winger failed to make any contract on a free header.
There were worries late on as Glen Johnson was forced off injured, replaced by Martin Skrtel as Liverpool were forced onto the back foot for the closing moments of the game with a surge of Villa attacks.
That was until Torres popped up deep into injury time with a goal completely against the run of play. The Spanish striker finishing expertly past Friedel after a brave challenge to keep the attacking play going by Yossi Benayoun to snatch all three points for Rafa Benitez’s men.
Until Torres’ late, late show, it was a frustrating game Liverpool, unable to find the cutting edge needed to take an advantage.
A far cry from the performance which saw the Reds thrash helpless Newcastle 5-1 at St Jameses Park at the back end of 2008, but a very important victory.
Other Results Tonight
Bolton 2-2 Hull City
Team Line-ups and Substitutions
Aston Villa: Friedel, Luke Young, Cuellar, Dunne, Warnock, Reo-Coker (Albrighton), Milner, Petrov, Downing (Sidwell), Agbonlahor, Carew.
Subs not used: Guzan, Delfouneso, Delph, Beye, Collins.
Liverpool: Reina, Johnson (Skrtel 89), Carragher, Agger, Insua, Kuyt, Lucas, Aquilani (Babel 76), Benayoun (Aurelio 90), Gerrard, Torres.
Subs not used: Cavalieri, Kyrgiakos, Ngog, Spearing.