Liverpool win despite Torres blow

LIVERPOOL: Liverpool overcame the absence of Fernando Torres to keep alive their Premier League title hopes with a 3-0 victory over relegation-threatened Newcastle at Anfield here on Sunday.

Torres was absent from Rafael Benitez's side after tweaking his hamstring in training on the eve of Liverpool's penultimate home game of the season.

But goals from Yossi Benayoun, Dirk Kuyt and Lucas halved leaders Manchester United's advantage to three points with three games remaining.

United remain clear favourites to win the title for a third successive season as they have a game in hand over second-placed Liverpool.

But Benitez is refusing to concede defeat in the title race, particularly as United still have tricky matches with Manchester City and Arsenal to negotiate.

Liverpool have now taken 22 points from the last 24 on offer after they easily brushed aside Newcastle who were forced to play the final 13 minutes with 10 men after Joey Barton was sent off for a nasty two-footed challenge on Spain midfielder Xabi Alonso.

Barton was making his first appearance since the end of January because of injury but the Liverpool-born midfielder will now miss his side's remaining three games of the season after his second red card at Anfield in three years.

Worringly for Benitez, Alonso was taken off the pitch on a stretcher with a

suspected ankle injury and he could miss Liverpool's remaining three league games against West Ham, West Brom and Tottenham.

Defeat left Newcastle in deep trouble and in serious danger of dropping out of the Premier League after 16 successive seasons in the top flight.

They are three points adrift of safety and have now failed to win their last 10 league games.

Liverpool welcomed back captain Steven Gerrard after a four-match absence due to a groin injury.

And after a slow start, they comfortably overcame the loss of Torres, who has scored 16 goals this season, to establish a 2-0 half-time lead which put them on within sight of their seventh win in eight league games.

There was a hint of offside when Benayoun broke the deadlock from close range with his eighth goal of the campaign in the 22nd minute, Kuyt's cross hitting the Israel international on the knee before rolling over the line.

Yet if Newcastle felt aggrieved, they only had themselves to blame as Kuyt doubled the lead with a powerful 28th minute header after outjumping the visitors defence to head home his 14th goal of the season.

Newcastle, despite a bright opening 20 minutes, failed to seriously test Liverpool keeper Jose Reina and were fortunate not to find themselves further behind at half-time.

The visitors, under the interim charge of former Newcastle and England forward Alan Shearer, opted to start Michael Owen on the substitutes bench on his return to his former club.

England striker Owen scored 26 Premier League goals against Newcastle as a Liverpool player but the 29-year-old has not found the net since January.

That left Mark Viduka and Peter Lovenkrands to lead the attack yet both struggled to make an impact as Newcastle's relegation problems increased.

Alonso, who'd already hit the woodwork, struck the bar a second time in the 73rd minute before Newcastle's problems increased when Barton was sent off four minutes later for a needless two-footed challenge on the midfielder.

Liverpool made the advantage of an extra man count when substitute Lucas made it 3-0 and there was still time for Gerrard to rattle the woodwork.