Liverpool finally hit the right notes
Liverpool claimed their first Premier League victory since December as three second half goals clinched a 3-0 win over Sunderland on Saturday to lift the gathering gloom around Rafa Benitez's team.sports Updated: Feb 04, 2008 00:31 IST
Liverpool claimed their first Premier League victory since December as three second half goals clinched a 3-0 win over Sunderland on Saturday to lift the gathering gloom around Rafa Benitez's team.
With Liverpool's hopes of competing for their first title in 18 years long since receded, the five-times European champions have targeted a fourth-placed finish as the best they can possibly achieve.
But, for nearly an hour at Anfield, Sunderland's disciplined and hard-working performance made it appear that Liverpool would lose ground on even this modest target.
Ultimately, they were rescued by Peter Crouch and Fernando Torres, each of whom scored within the space of 13 minutes to allow Liverpool to coast to just their fifth home league win in 12 attempts this season.
In the 56th minute, a Liverpool attack broke down with the ball finding its way to Jamie Carragher on the right wing.
The full-back sped past Daryl Murphy impressively and delivered an even more impressive far post delivery which the unmarked Crouch converted with a lethal header.
With Sunderland hard to break down but offering little in attack, it was always likely that one goal would decide the outcome of the game but Torres put the result beyond all doubt with his first real opportunity of the game.
Steven Gerrard's challenge led to the ball breaking for Crouch whose flick-on sent the speedy Torres racing clear of the Sunderland defence, the Spaniard advancing into the visitors' area and giving Craig Gordon no hope of a save with a lethal finish, his 18th goal of the season.
There were only two minutes left when Liverpool were awarded a fortuitous penalty that gave the scoreline an unfair appearance, to Sunderland eyes at least. Nyron Nosworthy was adjudged to have brought down Jermaine Pennant and Gerrard made no mistake from the penalty spot.
Sunderland's game plan had been disrupted inside the opening five minutes as England winger Kieran Richardson was forced to limp off the field with what appeared to be an ankle or foot problem.
Playing just his fifth game for the club after a return from a four-month injury absence with a back fracture, Richardson's departure forced manager Roy Keane to bring on recent signing Rada Prica who would only last 50 minutes before succumbing to an injured hip.
Nosworthy's important, early tackle on Crouch in the area had set the tone for the first half with Liverpool, all too often, resorting to long-range shooting - two from Gerrard were easily blocked while Javier Mascherano's spectacular 30-yard strike cleared the bar.
Only once, in the entire period, did Liverpool truly threaten when Pennant weaved his way to the by-line and delivered an inch-perfect cross onto the head of Torres whose subsequent header was placed straight into the arms of Gordon.
It was an inauspicious start from Liverpool and matters worsened with Benitez being required to put on substitute Steve Finnan out of position at left-back at the interval, presumably because of injury to Fabio Aurelio.
The anxiety began to spread among home fans although their support visibly lifted their players and led to the opening goal.
Liverpool, and Anfield, were energized and, two minutes later, Torres controlled the ball tidily on his knee and his spectacular left-foot volley drew an equally spectacular save from Gordon before the keeper blocked well from a Crouch volley and Phil Bardsley cleared yet another Crouch header off the line.