Fernando Torres wrote his name into the Liverpool history books with a crucial goal deep into stoppage-time to secure a 1-0 win away to Aston Villa on Tuesday.


The Spanish forward’s late strike suggested the words of his compatriot and Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez, that the team would finish in the top four of the English Premier League and so secure Champions League football at Anfield next season were more than mere bravado.

This result was all the more of a morale-boost for Liverpool as it saw Villa, one of their rivals for a top four spot, lose for the second time in as many matches following a 3-0 defeat by Arsenal.

For so long Torres and Steven Gerrard have been the pair to save Benitez when he needs it most and the Spain star did it once again on Tuesday – three minutes into stoppage time to record his 50th league goal in only 72 league games for Liverpool.

Former Liverpool player Stephen Warnock’s error was punished in emphatic fashion after conceding possession as Torres lifted his team into seventh place in the Premier League and just two points adrift of Villa – who appear to be wobbling after successive defeats in three days.

England World Cup-winning striker Roger Hunt was the previous fastest to 50 league goals for Liverpool, in 78 games, but Torres got there with six games to spare after Richard Dunne slipped trying to collect Warnock’s errant pass.

That triggered a sequence of events that eventually led to Yossi Benayoun’s tackle with Steve Sidwell squirting the ball into the path of Torres who finished brilliantly across Brad Friedel and inside the far post.

That was enough to sentence Villa to their first home defeat since the opening day of the season and manager Martin O’Neill will have a major repair job on his hands to avoid the kind of collapse upon which their Champions League hopes foundered last season.

The inspirational partnership of Gerrard and Torres has been denied to Benitez for large chunks of the current campaign, the key factor in why Liverpool have virtually conceded any title ambitions for another season.

Benitez does little to inspire affection from the rest of the nation, but it was not hard to have some sympathy with the Spaniard for the neglectful way referee Lee Probert waived away penalty claims eight minutes before half-time.

Dirk Kuyt may well have overrun the ball but Richard Dunne’s thunderous challenge on the Dutch international involved no part of the ball and both of Kuyt’s legs.

After their chastening experience at the Emirates on Sunday, Their first defeat in eight league games and only 48 hours to try to rebuild damaged confidence, Villa seemed uncertain.

But they did have moments of inspiration, such as James Milner’s corner that was met by Stewart Downing’s volley at the far post.

Fortunately for Liverpool, `keeper Pepe Reina had positioned himself perfectly and a strong right wrist enabled him to push the shot to safety.

But the Spanish shot-stopper should have been left helpless after Villa’s Gabriel Agbonlahor outpaced Jamie Carragher only to shoot tentatively at Reina.

And the result could have been so different if Villa striker John Carew had guided his header from Milner’s corner inside the far post, rather than fractionally wide.

But Torres was the difference, much to the relief of Benitez.