Fernando Torres’ stoppage-time goal saw Liverpool to a 1-0 win away to Aston Villa on Tuesday as the Merseysiders reignited their bid for a Champions League place.
The match at a snow covered Villa Park was heading for a goalless draw until Spain striker Torres made the most of a defensive mix-up deep into added-on time with a precise and powerful finish past Brad Friedel.
Victory saw Liverpool leapfrog Birmingham into seventh place and close to within four points of a top four spot that will secure Champions League soccer next season for the five-times European Cup winners.
Defeat, Villa’s second in as many games after their 3-0 loss away to third-placed Arsenal, left them in sixth place and revived doubts about their ability to sustain a bid to break into the leading quartet after they faltered at a similar stage last season.
Torres’ strike saw him become the quickest Liverpool player to 50 league goals, needing only 72 appearances to reach the landmark, and Reds manager Rafael Benitez, speaking to Sky Sports, said of his compatriot: “He’s a very, very good player, a key player for us and his record is amazing. I’m really, really pleased for him and for the team.”
“It was a very difficult game. We were trying, they were trying,” Benitez added. “We need to keep working hard. You could see the team was working everyone together and I think that’s the only way to change things.”
Liverpool’s win was marred by the sight of England defender Glen Johnson limping off and Benitez said: “He’ll have to have a scan, but maybe he’ll have a problem with his knee.”
At the other end of the table, Stephen Hunt was Hull City’s hero with two goals as they came from 2-0 down to share the points in a 2-2 draw away to relegation rivals Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok Stadium.
Ivan Klasnic and Kevin Davies looked to have secured a win for Bolton that would have lifted the hosts out of the bottom three, but Republic of Ireland midfielder Hunt scored in the 71st minute and was on-target again seven minutes later.
The draw did little for either side’s survival prospects, with both teams staying in the relegation zone.
“At 2-0 down you are not staring into the abyss, you are staring at ways and means of getting back into the game,” Hull manager Phil Brown said.
■BOLTON SACK MEGSON
AFP, BOLTON, ENGLAND
Bolton manager Gary Megson has been relieved of his duties with immediate effect, the struggling Premier League club confirmed yesterday.
Megson, 50, was axed after his side squandered a two-goal lead in Tuesday’s 2-2 draw with Hull.
That result left Bolton languishing in the relegation zone, although the third bottom team do have two games in hand on the sides directly above them.
The final straw for Bolton chairman Phil Gartside came during the Hull match, when the club’s fans turned on Megson after he substituted striker Ivan Klasnic with Wanderers leading 2-1.
Hull went on to equalize and Bolton fans unveiled banners proclaiming “Megson out” at full-time.
A club statement read: “The decision has been taken in the light of the position the club finds itself in the Premier League at the halfway point of the season.”
“Assistant manager Chris Evans and first-team coach Steve Wigley will take charge of first-team matters for the interim period,” it said.
Although Megson saved Bolton from relegation when he took over from Sammy Lee in October 2007, the club’s supporters have never warmed to him because of his negative tactics.
Megson even admitted after the Hull match that he knew he would never be loved by Bolton fans.
“There are probably 10 other clubs around the relegation zone this year and I’ll bet there’s no other team who have to play in similar circumstances,” he said. “Do I think I’ll ever be given a fair crack of the whip here? No.”
Megson leaves the Reebok after losing 45 of his 99 games in charge of Wanderers.
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