Liverpool stroll to victory at emotional Anfield

Liverpool 4 Blackburn 0
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The Independent Football

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez's gut reaction was right, his side were good enough to beat relegation-haunted Blackburn without Steven Gerrard.

The club captain was left on the bench as Liverpool cruised to a victory that keeps their title hopes alive.

They wiped away the bitter memory of the midweek Champions League defeat by Chelsea, thanks to a couple of top line goals from Fernando Torres, taking his total to the season to 14.

The first was a tremendous hooked volley after five minutes, the second a fine header from Xabi Alonso's free-kick.

And in the closing minutes Daniel Agger and substitute David Ngog wrapped up the points with further goals.

Gerrard was only named on the substitutes' bench, such was the concern over his groin injury, and he can now be expected to lead the side at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday in the Champions League quarter-final second leg .

Liverpool made four changes from the side that lost to Chelsea in the Champions League on Wednesday, with Agger, Yossi Benayoun, Javier Mascherano and Emiliano Insua replacing Gerrard, Martin Skrtel, Lucas Leiva and Fabio Aurelio.

Blackburn were without El-Hadji Diouf, Jason Roberts and Morten Gamst Pedersen from the side that beat Spurs last time out with Benni McCarthy only on the bench from that side.

Andre Ooijer, Tugay, David Dunn and Keith Treacy came into the team.

With the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster on Wednesday, the match was preceded by a minutes' silence.

And Blackburn's former Liverpool player, Stephen Warnock, carried a wreath onto the pitch and laid it on the turf in front of the Kop prior to kick-off.

Blackburn started with five across the back and just Christopher Samba up front.

Liverpool have had trouble with this style of defence all season at Anfield, but Rovers' resistance was broken after just five minutes with a sensational Torres goal.

Jamie Carragher's long ball was taken down by Torres on his chest and with a turn and shot that had a touch of Marco van Basten about it, the Spaniard's stunning hooked volley flew past Paul Robinson into the far corner.

Agger was booked for body-checking Treacy a minute afterwards, but Liverpool continued to attack and it could have been two after 15 minutes.

Dirk Kuyt broke at pace from a Blackburn clearance and set up Mascherano for a shot that Robinson saved. However, Torres arrived first to the rebound and managed to lift his eight-yard effort over the bar.

Robinson then produced a great save to keep out a close-range Kuyt header from Insua's cross. Somehow Benayoun blazed over from the rebound.

Robinson saved again, this time from Mascherano before Keith Andrews was booked for a foul on Albert Riera after 33 minutes.

And from the resulting Alonso free-kick out on the left, Torres scored his second with a fierce header having run virtually unattended from the corner of the box to meet the set-play.

Blackburn sent on Aaron Doran at the break for Aaron Mokoena, but the pressure continued. Twice Riera saw long-ranger shots clear the far post as Liverpool went in search of more goals.

Liverpool tried to be over-elaborate, Kuyt firing over and Agger mis-hitting one wide from 20 yards before Blackburn sent on Carlos Villanueva for Dunn after 59 minutes.

Seven minutes later Tugay was withdrawn, with Vince Grella taking over.

But Liverpool had taken their foot off the pedal, not the best course of action against any top-flight side, but you sensed they had Chelsea on their minds.

Torres departed after 73 minutes to be replaced by Nabil El Zhar, again with Chelsea in mind.

Alonso was booked for a trip on Doran before Jose Reina - playing his 200th game for the club - was called into meaningful action.

He saved well from Warnock and Villanueva before diving to his left to claim a low Samba effort.

Warnock cleared off the line from Riera while Mascherano wasted a close-range opportunity.

But the third eventually arrived when Agger ran from 40 yards out to blast a swerving foot shot past Robinson from just outside the box.

Substitute Ngog scored the fourth when he headed home in the last minute.