Premier League – Crouch rescues Liverpool

Mon, 21 Jan 22:15:00 2008

Peter Crouch’s late equaliser rescued Liverpool from an embarassing defeat as they drew 2-2 with Aston Villa at Anfield.

FOOTBALL 2007 pre-season Liverpool Peter Crouch - 0

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The result moved both teams up a place each to fifth and sixth, but will be no consolation to Reds manager Rafa Benitez, who now finds his side 14 points behind leaders Manchester United and with only one game in hand.

A miserable first half was notable only for Yossi Benayoun‘s goal after 19 minutes.

The Israeli latched onto a brilliant flick-on from Dutch striker Dirk Kuyt, who, like his team-mate and four others in the starting line-up, was rested for the FA Cup win over Luton five days earlier.

His chance to score though, looked gone when Stuart Taylor – in for on-loan Scott Carson, who Liverpool would not allow to play against them – blocked his initial low drive.

Benayoun persevered though and got to the re-bound before Curtis Davies, poking the ball home for the seventh time this season and the third time in the Premier League.

Liverpool shut up shop for the rest of the half, limiting Villa to just a tame Martin Laursen header from a corner on the stroke of half time.

Martin O’Neill though, may have felt aggrieved that a number of decisions did not go his side’s way – most notably a foul by Javier Mascherano on Olof Mellberg for which the Liverpool player somehow avoided a booking.

If the first half saw Liverpool in control, the second half saw them begin in dominant fashion, with only the resolute last-ditch defending of Davies, Martin Laursen and, in particular, Wilfred Bouma, preventing the away side from being three or four goals behind by the hour mark.

It was on that hour mark that O’Neill changed things, bringing on striker Marlon Harewood in place of midfielder Craig Gardner and switching from a 4-3-3 formation to a 4-4-2.

While it failed to turn them into a more attacking force in open play, it did galvanise them defensively, with the extra width provided by Gabriel Agbonlahor and Ashley Young stemming the flood of attacks from Liverpool.

Villa, who have scored more goals than any other Premier League side from set pieces this season, won a free-kick just inside the Liverpool half when Alvaro Arbeloa was booked for a foul on Stilian Petrov on 69 minutes.

Young launched a long free-kick into the area which was headed across goal by Laursen to find Harewood, who levelled things with a spectacular overhead kick that gave Villa their 7000th league goal.

Amazingly, it did not end there. Another set piece created their second goal just 90 seconds later – John Carew this time heading down to find Mellberg at the near post.

The Swede struck a shot that looked to be heading wide from six yards before Aurelio got the slightest of touches on the ball to turn it past Jose Reina.

Liverpool pushed forward desperately in the final 18 minutes, but were constantly thwarted by Taylor, much to the consternation of star striker Fernando Torres, who was majestic in his movement but could just not find the finishing touch on this occasion.

In the end it was down to giant Crouch to rescue Liverpool’s point, the substitute volleying in from eight yards after Gerrard’s free-kick was missed by Laursen and bounced off Mascherano into his path.

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