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Gerrard hat-trick helps Liverpool crush Villa
Mike Collett | March 23, 2009 00:22 IST
Steven Gerrard [Images] scored a hat-trick as Liverpool maintained their stunning recent form by crushing Aston Villa 5-0 at Anfield on Sunday to close the gap on Premier League leaders Manchester United [Images] to just one point.
Two of Gerrard's goals came from penalties, with Dirk Kuyt and Albert Riera adding the others as Liverpool, who beat Manchester United 4-1 last weekend, ensured the title race remained wide open.
Liverpool, who last won the title in 1990 and seemed out of contention a few weeks ago, moved on to 64 points from 30 matches, one point behind United, who lost 2-0 at Fulham on Saturday but who have a match in hand.
Chelsea, beaten 1-0 at Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday, slipped back to third on 61 points from their 30 games.
Arsenal [Images], 3-1 winners at Newcastle United on Saturday are fourth on 55 points while Villa, who have now gone eight matches without a win in all competitions, remain fifth on 52 points with their Champions League [Images] hopes diminishing by the week.
Villa's cause was not helped when goalkeeper Brad Friedel was sent off in the 64th minute as Fernando Torres [Images] tumbled over him, leading to the penalty which Gerrard converted to put Liverpool five goals clear.
After beating Real Madrid [Images] 4-0 in the Champions League 12 days previously and thumping Manchester United at Old Trafford last weekend, Liverpool raced to a 3-0 halftime lead over Villa and maintained their grip on the game throughout the second half.
In Sunday's other matches, Wigan Athletic climbed from 10th to seventh with an 84th minute goal from Ben Watson giving them a 1-0 win over Hull City.
Manchester City moved up to 10th with a 1-0 win over Sunderland at Eastlands where Micah Richards headed the only goal in the 57th minute after Robinho missed a first half penalty.
Sunderland, who like Hull, are just above the relegation zone, played with 10 men from the 15th minute after George McCartney was sent off for pulling back Shaun Wright-Phillips.
Liverpool, enjoying their best form for months, quickly capitalised on last week's stunning victory at Manchester United which put them right back in the title race.
If Liverpool had lost that match, United would have moved 10 points clear of them, but United now have only the slenderest lead following two successive losses. Liverpool also have a better goal difference: plus-33 to United's plus-31.
Liverpool carried on from where they had left off at Old Trafford, going ahead with a powerful half-volley from Kuyt who smashed the ball home after a deft Xabi Alonso [Images] header rebounded back into his path off the bar.
Villa hardly troubled Liverpool apart from the 25th minute when Pepe Reina made a superb save from a John Carew effort -- but eight minutes later Liverpool doubled their lead with a simple, but stunning goal.
A huge clearance from Reina bounced over the Villa defence and Riera gave Villa goalkeeper Brad Friedel no chance with his volley.
Liverpool went 3-0 ahead when Nigel Reo-Coker sent Riera tumbling in the box and Gerrard sent Friedel the wrong way with his first penalty of the game.
Gerrard then added a fourth five minutes after halftime when he arrowed a touched free-kick from Alonso wide of Friedel whose afternoon was cut short after 64 minutes.
Referee Martin Atkinson showed Friedel a red card after he sent Torres sprawling and Gerrard easily beat substitute goalkeeper Brad Guzan, making his first Premier League appearance, from the spot.