Tue, Mar 24, 2009 - Page 20 News List

Gerrard stars as Liverpool pile pressure on Man Utd

VILLAN TURNS VILLAIN Brad Friedel was sent off for a challenge on striker Fernando Torres at Anfield on a miserable day for visitors Aston Villa

AFP , LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND

Liverpool moved within one point of Premier League leaders Manchester United after Steven Gerrard’s hat-trick inspired a 5-0 rout of 10-man Aston Villa on Sunday.

United still have a game in hand but, having won 4-1 at Old Trafford last week, the Reds now have a better goal difference by two with eight games left.

Dirk Kuyt started the goal-spree with seven minutes gone and Albert Riera doubled the lead just after the half hour at Anfield.

England midfielder Gerrard added a third from the spot just before the interval and scored a fourth with a free-kick just after the restart.

The Liverpool captain scored a second penalty after goalkeeper Brad Friedel was sent off for a challenge on Fernando Torres as Villa’s winless run stretched to eight games.

Fifth-placed Villa remain three points behind Arsenal and a place in the top four is now looking beyond them.

Liverpool began with real purpose and from Fabio Aurelio’s corner, Friedel was forced to save from Martin Skrtel’s header with just a minute on the clock.

After Villa’s James Milner had a shot deflected wide, Liverpool took the lead with just seven minutes gone following Nigel Reo-Coker foul on Riera down the left flank.

Gerrard drove the ball into the area and Xabi Alonso’s header came back off the bar but Kuyt made no mistake with a powerful follow-up from close range for his tenth goal of the season

With Gabriel Agbonlahor left on the bench, Villa had a strong spell and Pepe Reina pulled off an impressive stop from John Carew’s flick from Ashley Young’s cross from the left.

Midway through the opening period, another glancing header from Carew, this time from Reo-Coker’s lofted free-kick, was pushed away by Reina before Young hit the side-netting.

But just as Villa were looking threatening, Liverpool doubled their lead.

Gareth Barry’s curling free-kick was easily held by Reina and his long clearance bounced over the Villa defence before Riera hit a half-volley with his left foot that flew in off the bar.

Five minutes before the interval, Kuyt’s cross-field pass picked out Riera and the Spanish winger was tripped in the area by Reo-Coker and Gerrard sent Friedel the wrong way with his penalty to make it three.

Half-time brought only a little respite for Villa and five minutes after the restart they were four goals behind.

Carlos Cuellar chopped Kuyt down on the edge of the area and Alonso took the free-kick short for Gerrard to place the ball into the corner of Friedel’s goal.

As they looked for a response, James Milner’s drilled cross was headed straight at Reina by Emile Heskey.

But Liverpool were still not satisfied and after Alonso picked out Kuyt, he received the return ball on the edge of the box only to stab wide.

In the 65th minute, Alonso sent Torres clean through and after the Spaniard knocked the ball on, he collided with Friedel.

Referee Martin Atkinson gave a penalty and showed Friedel the red card. Gerrard stepped up to send Friedel’s replacement Brad Guzan the wrong way from the spot to complete his hat-trick.

Lucas missed from Riera’s cross as the Reds searched for a sixth goal and Torres was frustrated in his attempts to score.

But Liverpool were happy to play out time in the knowledge that the title race is now wide open.

In other Premier League matches on Sunday, Michah Richards 56th minute goal helped Manchester City to a 1-0 win against Sunderland at Eastlands while Wigan beat Hull by the same score at the JJB Stadium.

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