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Crouch spares Reds blushes
Substitute striker earns a 2-2 draw against Aston Villa.
Last Modified: 24 Jan 2008 09:46 GMT

Marlon Harewood plays the villian at Anfield
[GALLO/GETTY]
England striker Peter Crouch scored an 88th-minute equaliser to salvage a 2-2 draw for Liverpool against Aston Villa in the English Premier League.

The former Aston Villa player came off the bench and spared the Reds from a home defeat on a night when the Anfield crowd unleashed a torrent of abuse denouncing the club's American owners.

Israeli midfielder Yossi Benayoun had put Liverpool ahead in the 19th minute and the home side dominated until another substitute, Marlon Harewood, put the teams on level terms in the 69th against the run off play.

And then just three minutes later, Fabio Aurelio scored an own-goal and Villa appeared headed for an unlikely victory.

"It's difficult to explain. We were attacking and controlling. You could see they were not creating anything,'' Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez said.

"But after two free kicks, and we were under pressure and were very nervous.''

The result was a fourth consecutive draw for Liverpool, putting them fifth with 40 points but still 14 behind league-leading Manchester United.

Villa is sixth also with 40 points.

'Pouting'

Throughout much of the match, Liverpool fans belted out derogatory chants about the club's American owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr., singing "Liverpool Football Club is in the wrong hands.''

They were infuriated by Hicks' admission of approaching former Germany coach Juergen Klinsmann in November about replacing the embattled Benitez, who is universally backed by fans.

In an interview last month Hicks described Benitez as "pouting'' during a spat over player transfers.

On Sunday, Hicks, who also owns the Dallas Stars ice hockey club and Texas Rangers Major League Baseball team, denied he was planning to sell his sake to the Dubai International Capital, a move the fans now support.

Banners unfurled inside the storied stadium read, "Dubai S.O.S. Yanks out'' and "If it ain't broke, don't Hicks it!''

"It's clear if you can win and you can play well everyone will be happier,'' Benitez said. `

"For me, it's just to take our chances and people will be calm and I think we will play better.''

Neither Hicks nor Gillett attended the match, although Villa's American owner Randy Lerner was on hand to watch his side.

Liverpool football fans voice their dissent against the
club's owners [AFP] 
'Unsettling'

Captain Steven Gerard believes the uncertainty surrounding the ownership and Benitez's future is unsettling.

"It's not just this week, it's been going on for some time,'' he said.

"It's certainly not helping the players.''

Within two minutes of the opening kickoff, Benayoun shot wide, but then scored his sixth of the season in the 19th.

Gerrard fed Dirk Kuyt, who was initially blocked by Curtis Davies before forcing the ball over from close range.

Within minutes, Gerrard went searching for a second, but blazed high and Aurelio struck wide in the 30th.

In a rare Villa attack, Davies sent the ball from inside his own half to John Carew, who headed into the path of Gabriel Agbonlahor before Sami Hyppia thwarted the move.

Liverpool were even more assertive after halftime, with Gerrard sending a cross-field pass in the 50th to Kuyt, who skewed the ball over with his second touch.

In the 55th Harry Kewell's low, swirling shot was parried by Stuart Taylor and the ball eventually fell for Fernando Torres, who fired high.

"I think we deserved to win first and not be under pressure,'' Benitez said.

With Villa regaining composure after being dominated to start the second half, Stiliyan Petrov found Martin Laursen in the penalty area with a 69th-minute free kick.

The Danish defender headed across to Marlon Harewood, who minutes after replacing Craig Gardner, scored with an overhead kick.

Inside three minutes, Villa again punished Liverpool's poor defending on a set piece.

Carew flicked on a free kick to Olof Mellburg, who sliced the ball across the box and hit Aurelio and past Pepe Reina into his own goal.

With Benitez ruing missed chances, Crouch, who has yet to convince his manager he deserves a regular starting spot, was inserted with 10 minutes remaining.

With a defeat two minutes away, Crouch scored his first league goal of the season, with Aurelio making amends by floating in the free kick.

"When you go one goal up at home, you're better killing the game off rather than chasing it,'' Crouch said.

Source:
Agencies
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