Gerrard inspires Liverpool romp

Steven Gerrard's first Premier League hat-trick gave Liverpool an emphatic 5-0 victory over Aston Villa at Anfield.

Dirk Kuyt opened the floodgates in the eighth minute, before Albert Riera doubled the home side's lead with a thunderous volley just after the half hour.

Gerrard slotted home the third from the penalty spot before half-time, adding his second with a precise side-footed strike from a free-kick on the edge of the area after the break.

The Liverpool captain rounded off a sublime display with an almost identical penalty to the first in the 65th minute, after Brad Friedel had compounded his miserable afternoon by bringing down Fernando Torres and being sent off in the process.

The tempo of the game was frantic from the outset, with Liverpool dictating play and Aston Villa content to hit their opponents on the break - but in reality, it was one-way traffic.

Kuyt scored the opener with a powerful shot past Friedel from ten yards after Xabi Alonso had diverted Gerrard's free-kick onto the crossbar.

Gerrard then came mighty close to doubling Liverpool's lead in the 16th minute, lunging in at the back post to try to convert Riera's deep cross, but to no avail.

Superb interplay between James Milner and Ashley Young down the right gave Villa fleeting hope, but Milner's cross from the byline was wasted with nobody in position to convert, leaving Reina to parry to safety.

An exquisite flick from John Carew in the 22nd minute almost beat the Spaniard, but the keeper managed to avert the danger, deflecting the Norwegian's effort away for a corner.

But that was the visitors' solitary spell of pressure, and Liverpool took the ascendency as Riera smashed home a volley direct from a long punt by Reina, which breached Villa's defence in the 33rd minute.

Alvaro Arbeloa then wasted a clear-cut chance to extend the hosts' lead after Friedel inexplicably passed the ball straight to him with no Villa players in attendance; luckily for the American, he was given a reprieve as the defender passed to Kuyt, who was then tackled by Curtis Davies.

Gerrard dispatched his first penalty in the 39th minute, sending Friedel the wrong way after Riera had cut inside the area and been brought down by Nigel Reo-Coker clipping his heels.

Torres then sprinted through the Villa half before being cynically taken to ground by Carlos Cuellar, providing the home side with a dangerous free-kick on the edge of the area.

Gerrard cooly side-footed the subsequent set-piece clinically past the helpless Friedel to put his side 4-0 up in the 50th minute, as the visitors became increasingly disconsolate.

Another Torres run invited a challenge from Friedel after the Spain striker knocked the ball past the keeper, who could not help but bring him down.

Referee Martin Atkinson had no hesitation in pointing to the spot, but also in brandishing a red card to the American - who was perplexed by the decision - with compatriot Brad Guzan coming on in his place.

It was a different keeper, but the same result: Gerrard clinched his hat-trick in the 65th minute to extend Liverpool's lead to five.

The game slowly petered out with the only further chance falling to substitute Lucas Leiva, who flashed a shot wide of Guzan's goal, with the keeper scrambling across his line after Torres found his team-mate on the edge of the box.

But Liverpool had already done the damage, and move to within one point of Premier League leaders Manchester United, having played a game more, while Villa remain three points adrift of fourth-placed Arsenal.

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