Liverpool 2 Reading 1: Torres brings Reading back down to earth

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They used to call Robbie Fowler god on the Kop so where that puts Fernando Torres in the celestial hierarchy is open to debate. Certainly, the current El Niño seems insufficient for a striker who is scoring virtually every time he plays.

Yesterday the Spaniard got his 27th goal of the season to enhance his team's chance of claiming the coveted fourth place in the Premier League, and it also made him the first Liverpool player to score 20 league goals since Fowler in 1995-6. At the rate Torres is going – 10 in the last eight matches – 40 in all competitions is not beyond question. By then a more worthy sobriquet may have been penned.

His 48th-minute strike proved the winner yesterday to earn Liverpool their seventh successive win since their ignominious exit from the FA Cup at the hands of Barnsley. Then their season seemed to be grinding towards an anti-climax; now, with a Champions League quarter-final with Arsenal looming, there is a sense of anticipation at Anfield.

Which is not an emotion enjoyed by Reading, whose movement away from the relegation places was halted by this defeat. They took an early lead through Marek Matejovsky and showed dogged resistance, but were always straining to match the power and skill of their opponents.

Liverpool scored through Javier Mascherano – his first for the club – and Torres, but a greater margin seemed within their grasp until they got nervous in the closing minutes.

For Rafael Benitez it was a familiar story: "We have had some experience this year where we have created chances and not killed games," the Liverpool manager said. "Today could have been the same. We should have scored more than two goals." Steve Coppell, his Reading counterpart, concurred, at least with the first part. "We were 12-1 before the game," he said, "but we defied those odds and could easily have come away with something."

That appeared likely when the visitors took the lead after five minutes with an eloquent meeting of precision and power. Alvaro Arbeloa was adjudged to have fouled Stephen Hunt. John Oster rolled the free-kick along the edge of the area and Matejovsky thumped a shot that arced from the outside of his right foot and clipped the bar as it went into the top corner. Liverpool almost equalised when Steve Gerrard played an immaculate pass through the Reading back four and Torres was one-on-one with Marcus Hahnemann. His first touch was too heavy and when he tried to chip the advancing goalkeeper there was insufficient space and the shot was saved.

That chance, though squandered, underlined the threat implicit in almost every Liverpool attack and it was not a surprise when they equalised after 18 minutes. Ryan Babel passed to Mascherano, who glided past Hunt and then hit a shot low past Marcus Hahnemann.

Having reached the interval clinging to parity, the last thing Reading needed was to concede quickly, but they did within three minutes. One of Torres' many qualities is an ability to drift from markers and when Gerrard's free-kick looped into the area he had found space between the centre-backs and was unhindered as he leaped to head firmly down into the net.

With that the game should have been decided but Reading deserve credit for their refusal to accept the inevitable and in injury time they almost snatched an equaliser when Dave Kitson's shot was blocked by Gerrard's hand.

An angry Coppell said: "The ball hit his hand and it was bound for the back of the net. Having seen a penalty given earlier in the week for Aston Villa [when Middlesbrough's Luke Young was penalised for a similar act] this one was stitched on."