Late goal earns Liverpool draw against Villa

Substitute Peter Crouch scored two minutes from time after Marlon Harewood’s over-head kick and an own goal from Fabio Aurelio cancelled out Yossi Benayoun’s opener to earn Liverpool a 2-2 draw against Aston Villa.

It was a night that was all about the Liverpool fans directing their displeasure at the plans of club owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett to re-finance their debts.

But Liverpool remain 14 points off the top of the Premiership and were nearly 15 adrift of Manchester United. Benayoun opened the scoring but second-half goals from set-pieces put Villa in control.

But Crouch came off the bench to pinch a dramatic point for the Reds.

Against the backdrop of anti-Hicks and anti-Gillett banners and constant singing against the club’s American owners, there was little in the early stages to concern watching Inter Milan coach Roberto Mancini, whose team face Liverpool in the Champions League next month.

With a minute gone, Benayoun fired over with an early chance from a Kuyt cross and Steven Gerrard and Javier Mascherano were also guilty of wild efforts on goal.

Reds goalkeeper Jose Reina had to be alert at the other end to rush off his line and head away before Stiliyan Petrov’s clipped pass reached Gabriel Agbonlahor and Craig Gardner was unlucky to see his driven cross fly past the far post after he had robbed Aurelio.

But in the 19th minute, Dirk Kuyt slipped the ball between two defenders and after Benayoun’s initial attempt was blocked, he beat Martin Laursen to the loose ball and stabbed over the line from 10 yards.

Just before the half hour, the lively Kuyt also sent over a fine cross and Aurelio could have done better after hitting the Dutchman’s precise lay-off well wide of goal a couple of minutes later.

Nigel Reo-Coker was pulling off another accomplished display as the midfield anchor in front of the Villa back four but the visitors carried little threat until the final moments of the opening period.

Liverpool centre back Sami Hyypia did well to knock the ball behind for a corner with Agbonlahor poised to prod goalwards from John Carew’s flick-on and Petrov fired over in added time at the end of the first half.

After the restart, Fernando Torres turned and hit a shot on to the roof of the net with his first real contribution and the attack-minded Alvaro Arbeloa also curled a shot over the bar.

Villa substitute Harewood made an immediate impression and after powering clear down the right, his cross eventually fell for Carew, who forced a low save from Reina.

And with 21 minutes left, Harewood produced an equaliser for the visitors with a superb over-head kick.

Petrov’s lofted free-kick was headed across goal by the towering Laursen and Harewood’s improvised shot flew into the top corner.

Three minutes later, they were ahead when Wilfred Bouma’s free-kick was headed on by Carew to Mellberg and the Swedish defender fired in with a deflection off Aurelio’s hand.

Torres forced a save from Stuart Taylor with a driven effort but Liverpool were stunned and never looked like getting an equaliser of their own.

But Crouch produced one in the 88th minute to earn Liverpool a point. Aurelio’s free-kick hit Jamie Carragher and gave the England striker the space to lob over Stuart Taylor. — Sapa-AFP

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