On a day of reflection, Torres offers vision of happy future

Liverpool 4 Blackburn Rovers 0
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The Independent Football

The past weighed heavily here yesterday, although to watch the team you would not have known it. In a week when the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster will be marked, Liverpool underlined the promise of the immediate future with an emphatic victory.

Unlike Manchester United, who were burdened by the solemnity of the memorials to Munich last year, Liverpool's players paid their respects and then gave a compelling performance to reinforce the belief they can win their first title for 19 years. This was precisely the kind of nerveless elimination of opponents demanded of championship contenders at this stage of the season.

They did it, too, without the player who has personified their late charge and whose cousin was among the 96 fatalities 20 years ago, Steven Gerrard. The side were so dominant against injury-hit Blackburn Rovers that the Liverpool captain could rest his groin strain on the bench to ensure that he will be fit to face Chelsea in the Champions' League on Tuesday.

If Gerrard was missing, Liverpool's other stellar performer stamped his presence like a seal on hot wax. Fernando Torres scored twice, the first with a half-volley of breath- taking audacity, to take his tally for the season to 14. With him in the side even the 3-1 deficit that Rafael Benitez's team must overcome at Stamford Bridge appears a smaller barrier, and it was with this in mind that he was withdrawn to a standing ovation in the 74th minute.

By then Torres had thoroughly demoralised Blackburn, who were without several key players but who hardly helped their cause by resting their top scorer, Benni McCarthy, preferring to play Chris Samba as an emergency lone striker. The centre-back had Rovers' only accurate shot, his scuffed effort being fairly easily saved by Pepe Reina in the 77th minute, but this was an insipid effort by the visitors. Relegation is by no means impossible. "We didn't compete. We didn't do enough to stop the opposition," was their manager Sam Allardyce's blunt verdict.

Benitez has loftier concerns, but they rested lightly on him. "It was a perfect response by the players," the Liverpool manager said. "The two goals we scored at the end could be very, very important at the end of the season, because you never know what will happen." He then turned his attention to Sir Alex Ferguson and United, Liverpool's closest rivals for the title. "They are under pressure now. You can see that because Ferguson is always talking about us," he said. "I know he is nervous of this club."

Blackburn's 4-5-1 line-up did not suggest an expansive attitude, but if Allardyce had hoped to wear down Liverpool's will with his defence, the plan was ripped apart by Torres's glor-ious fifth-minute goal. The Spaniard span away from Ryan Nelsen to tee up Jamie Carragher's pass with his chest and, from the corner of the area, looped an audacious half-volley over Paul Robinson into the far corner.

Torres then blazed over an empty net and Robinson saved impressively from Dirk Kuyt's header, so Liverpool's second goal was overdue by the time it arrived after 33 minutes. Again Torres cleverly lost his marker, so that when Xabi Alonso's free-kick arrived from the left he had a free run at it, rising above Aaron Mokoena to head in.

Liverpool could afford to ease up on the accelerator after half-time, although even in third gear they created numerous chances. Albert Riera had a header cleared off the line by Stephen Warnock and it appeared that an opportunity to improve the goal difference had been lost until Daniel Agger strolled forward and thumped a 30-yard shot into the top corner with seven minutes to go.

When David Ngog scored at the far post in the last minute, the fans were able to break into "We're gonna win the League". After a performance of this quality, it was easy to believe them.

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