Gerrard concedes finishing in top-four will be tough

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The Independent Football

Steven Gerrard admits it will be difficult for Liverpool to finish in the top four of the Barclays Premier League despite Fernando Torres' late winner against Aston Villa reigniting their hopes.

Torres struck three minutes into injury-time at Villa Park with his 50th league goal for the Reds in just 72 games.

Victory enabled Rafael Benitez's side to reduce the gap between themselves and fourth-placed Tottenham to four points.

But Gerrard knows there is still a major fight ahead if Liverpool are to secure Champions League football in May.

He said: "We've got to try and win as many games as we can. This means nothing. It all depends where you are at the end of the season.

"We know Villa, Spurs and Man City are going to keep fighting all the way and we need to do the same.

"But it is important to keep the momentum going and build on this victory. I am sure we will gain a lot of confidence from this, like we did against Wolves.

"We've virtually got everyone back fit now so there are no excuses now. We need to go on a run of winning games.

"Can we secure a top-four spot? It is going to be difficult. There are a lot of fantastic teams about. I am sure teams will spend in January.

"It will be a race to the very end and we've got to make sure we are in it."

Benitez hailed Torres as one of the best strikers in the world after his late winner.

He said: "We knew we had to reduce the gap on the other teams. Sometimes we have had some really bad luck. This time we have scored a late goal and I'm really pleased for Fernando and the team.

"It was his 50th league goal and when he signed for us I knew we were getting a very good player with good quality and a good mentality.

"You saw that. He has one chance and he can score. He is one of the best strikers in the world."

Benitez also repeated his "guarantee" that Liverpool will finish in the top four.

He said: "People keep asking me this but I will say again, the manager has to believe and I believe we will be in the top four at the end of the season."

The only worry for Benitez is that defender Glenn Johnson left Villa Park on crutches after appearing to suffer a knee injury in the closing stages of the game.

Villa boss Martin O'Neill was deflated after his side's second defeat in three days following the 3-0 reversal at Arsenal on Sunday.

He said: "It's a blow, there's no doubt about it, a real, real blow to us.

"We will just have to reflect on it. It was said to me that it's been a poor Christmas and, of course, yes, in terms of results it has been, but we should have won.

"Their goalkeeper (Pepe Reina) has made a great save in each half, one from Stewart Downing and one from Gabby (Agbonlahor) later on.

"We have also had two efforts which have gone inches past the post. It's hard to take but we will come again."

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