Torres keeps Reds' European hopes alive

LIVERPOOL: Fernando Torres marked his first English Premier League start of 2010 by hitting the winner as Liverpool triumphed 2-1 in a bruising encounter with Blackburn at Anfield on Sunday.

Torres has endured an injury-interrupted season but the Spain striker made a telling contribution as Rafa Benitez’s side maintained their push to qualify for next season’s Champions League. Keith Andrews scored a shock equaliser for Rovers from the penalty spot to cancel out Steven Gerrard’s 10th goal of the season before Torres struck in the 44th minute to leave Liverpool sixth in the table, one point behind Tottenham and Manchester City.

The pressure on Benitez’s side to win had been increased by Tottenham’s 2-1 victory over Liverpool’s city rivals Everton earlier in the day. In other match, Sunderland and Fulham played a goalless draw.

Gerrard broke the deadlock with his side’s first real attack. The England midfielder made a clever move involving Dirk Kuyt and Yossi Benayoun. Gerrard lifted the atmosphere at a subdued Anfield with a neat finish after gliding past Christopher Samba.

Liverpool’s 4-0 win in this fixture last year was overshadowed when both managers became embroiled in a spat after Sam Allardyce took exception to a Benitez hand gesture he interpreted as signalling that the game was all over when Liverpool had taken a 2-0 lead. Benitez tried to clarify the issue by claiming that he was jokingly telling his players not to listen to him after they had ignored his orders and gone on to score.

Allardyce’s anger still simmers, though, and ahead of this game he declared that Liverpool’s recent run of hard-fought results had been achieved with the same uncompromising style Benitez had shown last year. But the only hand gestures coming from Benitez this time were borne out of frustration as they struggled to build on their lead and found themselves back on level terms in 40th minute.

Jamie Carragher needlessly handled inside his own area which allowed Andrews to equalise from the penalty spot. But Blackburn were behind again in the 44th minute, Torres sliding in to connect a Maxi Rodruguez low cross.