MASCH SCORES IN SEVENTH STRAIGHT WIN
Javier Mascherano bagged his first Liverpool goal as the Reds came from behind to make it seven wins on the bounce with a 2-1 victory over Reading on Saturday.
Once again, however, the name Fernando Torres is likely to hog the headlines after El Nino became the first Anfield player since Robbie Fowler in 1995-96 to net 20 league goals in a season.
The victory, which consolidates fourth spot, means Rafa Benitez's side now have 59 points - as many as Liverpool have ever had after 30 Premier League games.
Suddenly, after a season marred by disappointing draws and off-the-field events, things are starting to look up.
True to his word, Benitez once again selected his big guns, with Torres and Gerrard leading a four-man attack which has proved so effective in recent weeks.
No surprises either in the Reading gameplan, the likeable Steve Coppell sending his men out to defend with the hope of pinching something on the break.
Coppell, then, doubtless thought all his Easters had come at once when his side silenced the home crowd within five minutes with Marek Matejovsky's stunning drive into the top corner.
The sucker-punch was even harder to take due to the fact it came after referee Andre Marriner wrongly adjudged Alvaro Arbeloa of an infringement down the right.
A month or two ago Liverpool may have wilted, but here was a side with new resilience; a side that triumphed in the San Siro just four days ago.
A raft of chances followed, first when the recalled Xabi Alonso grazed the top of the bar with a majestic hit from 20 yards. The new father was clearly on a mission to dedicate a goal to little Jon, coming close again later in the half with a terrific left-foot volley.
Next, though, it was Liverpool's dynamic duo, Gerrard and Torres, who threatened, the number eight threading his partner in crime through only for the smart reaction of Marcus Hahnemann to thwart proceedings. From there the skipper tried his luck with a neat knee and volley. Not this time, but the leveller was coming.
It arrived on 19 minutes from the unlikeliest of sources. Mascherano, without a goal in 43 prior appearances, has been peppering opposition goals with speculative efforts for months, and it finally paid off when he navigated Stephen Hunt before unleashing a dynamite Kop end strike. His celebration, like his midfield play, was understandably beastly.
Rafa's 4-2-3-1 was now in full flow. It took a brilliant reflex save from Hahnemann to prevent a second when Ryan Babel jinked past two defenders and smashed the ball goalwards.
The Dutch dynamo then went one better by rippling the back of the net with a near-post header. Unfortunately, the linesman's flag was correctly raised.
Perhaps the best opportunity to take the lead before half-time fell to Dirk Kuyt, who volleyed just over from the penalty spot after good work from Alvaro Arbeloa down the right.
Never mind, for within three minutes of the restart the new king of the Premier League reacquainted himself with The Royals' net.
Back in September, Torres scored his first hat-trick in English football against Coppell's men - now he was their scourge once more, leaping high above Kevin Doyle to nod home Gerrard's well-placed free-kick.
With his name on scoresheet, the Madrid matador then turned provider, feeding Babel on 62 minutes. The Dutch international made easy work of Liam Rosenoir but failed to keep his shot down.
Left-back Fabio Aurelio was next up with a curling dig from 30 yards. Hahnemann saved well and Torres was unable to direct the rebound on target.
Reading, by this stage totally devoid of attacking impetus, were getting frustrated. Andre Bikey, who had no cause for complaint at receiving a yellow card for a cynical push on the bombarding Stevie G, proceeded to square up to the Reds captain for an ugly exchange of words.
The visitors' blood threatened to boil right over in the closing minutes when Gerrard blocked a Dave Kitson hit with his arm. There was no way the England man could have shifted his position, however, and with a lack of intent, referee Marriner was right to wave away appeals.
Seconds later Hunt came close when Pepe Reina appeared to have fumbled, but the Spanish stopper quickly grabbed the ball and the danger was dead.
All that was left was an audacious 75-yard hit from Alonso. A third goal from his own-half in less than three years? Now, that would have made him the daddy. Sadly it bounced just inches wide.
Stay logged on to .tv for highlights on Sunday.
Liverpool: Reina, Aurelio, Carragher, Skrtel, Arbeloa, Babel, Alonso, Mascherano, Kuyt, Gerrard (c), Torres. Subs - Benayoun, Crouch, Hyypia, Itandje, Riise
Reading: Hahnemann, Shorey, Bikey, Ingimarsson (c), Rosenior, Hunt, Harper, Matejovsky, Oster, Doyle, Long. Subs - Cisse, Federici, Kebe, Kitson, Sonko
Referee: Andre Marriner
Liverpoolfc.tv Man-of-the-Match: Javier Mascherano
15:00 GMT : Match Starts
1 min : Liverpool kick off attacking the Kop end
1 min : Reading are straight on the attack forcing a succession of throw-ins down the LFC left
2 mins : Nice to see Xabi back in the starting line-up after the birth of his son - congratulations to him and his partner
5 mins : GOAL! Marek Matejovsky: A wonder strike from the edge of the box smashes in off the bar
8 mins : Anfield has been stunned into silence. A great goal - but the free-kick that led to the shot should never have been awarded
9 mins : LFC look to respond and Alonso sees his goalbound strike deflect wide off a Reading shirt
10 mins : The Spaniard goes close again, this time his over-hit cross clipping the top of the crossbar and bouncing to safety
11 mins : Gerrard's corner causes mayhem in the visitors' box but somehow they scramble the ball clear
12 mins : It's been an open contest so far with both sides looking capable of manufacturing chances - let's hope LFC take one theirs soon
13 mins : Torres is sent clear by Gerrard but the man they call El Nino is thwarted by some alert keeping by Hahnemann
16 mins : It's Reading's turn to threaten but this time it is Rena who is out of his goal sharply to claim at the feet of Oster
17 mins : Gerrard turns well and hits a dipping volley just over the bar from 25 yards
18 mins : It's end to end action at Anfield. Another Reading attack is thwarted by Reina with Oster once again finding space in the Reds' area
19 mins : GOAL! Javier Mascherano: Masch nets his first for the Reds with a cheeky piece of skill to beat Hunt before lashing home a 20-yard thunderbolt
21 mins : Great to see Javier get his goal. He's certainly been trying to get off the mark of late and what a celebration!
24 mins : Free-kick 25 yards from goal for LFC...
24 mins : A poor clipped ball from Aurelio hits the wall and Liverpool have to build again
30 mins : Ryan Babel is unlucky not to have given Liverpool the lead. First he beat two and unleashed a stinging drive that was well saved by the keeper, before his near post header from Gerrard's cross is ruled out for offside
33 mins : A flowing move involving Babel and Arbeloa sees the Spaniard cross for Kuyt who watches as his acrobatic volley flies just over the bar
35 mins : Alonso whips a ball to the far post but Arbeloa can't get there in time to make it count
36 mins : The Reds are momentarily down to 10-men with Arbeloa receiving treatment for a head injury
37 mins : He's back on now as Liverpool look to clear a Reading free-kick in a dangerous area
37 mins : A fantastic breakaway earns a corner after Babel's shot is well blocked. But the Royals clear the danger
39 mins : A nice interchange between Arbeloa and Kuyt earns another Reds corner
39 mins : And another one...
40 mins : But nothing comes of it and Reading progress into LFC's half
41 mins : Matejovsky tries his luck from distance once more, but this time his strike flies well over Reina's goal
42 mins : After the highs of the San Siro, there was always the worry this could prove to be a more difficult game than expected. Reading have improved in recent weeks and are playing with belief again
43 mins : Babel tries to change all that with a sublime run to the byline but Reading get across to concede the corner
45 mins : After all that Skrtel drills a shot high wide and into row z of the Kop to give the visitors a breather
45 mins : There will be a minimum of two minutes added time
45 mins : Alonso latches onto a loose ball and thunders a volley inches wide of the right-hand post - unlucky Reds
45 mins : Bikey takes out Torres and somehow escapes a booking
15:47 GMT : Half Time Reached
16:03 GMT : Second Half Begins
46 mins : Reading restart the match attacking the Kop end
48 mins : Torres is clipped by Rosenior presenting LFC with a free-kick on the left hand side.
48 mins : GOAL! Fernando Torres: Gerrard's free-kick is headed in by Torres at the far post
50 mins : The perfect start to the seocnd period!
52 mins : A mistake from Aurelio gifts the ball to Rosenior in the Liverpool area but Skrtel is across to superbly see off the challenge and allow the ball to run out for a goal kick
55 mins : Reina is out quickly to avert any danger after Gerrard's stray backpass almost allowed Doyle in on goal
57 mins : If the Reds can go on and complete the job today they will pile the pressure back on Everton who travel to one of their bogey grounds, Fulham, tomorrow
59 mins : First Booking: Stephen Hunt: Hunt booked for a late tackle on Arbeloa
61 mins : The attendance today is 43,524
62 mins : All those fans inside Anfield have had the privilege of seeing Torres become the first Reds player since Fowler in the mid-90s to net 20 league goals in a season
63 mins : Babel finds space on the left hand side of the area but after beating his man fires his shot just over the bar
63 mins : Substitution: Dave Kitson for Shane Long:
65 mins : First Booking: Ivar Ingimarsson: The Reading skipper hauls down Stevie G and gets his just rewards!
67 mins : A typical Gerrard burst sees the skipper glide past two defenders before seeing his shot loop off a Reading leg and into the grateful arms of Hahnemann
71 mins : Bikey escapes after a blatant handball prevents Torres from racing through - Rafa was unimpressed byt the ref's decision to play on!
72 mins : Substitution: Jimmy Kebe for John Oster:
73 mins : Aurelio's thumping drive is beaten into Torres' path by Hahnemann, but El Nino cannot react in time to divert his header goalwards
74 mins : First Booking: Marek Matejovsky:
74 mins : Substitution: Kalifa Cisse for Marek Matejovsky:
78 mins : Reading are enjoying their best spell of the half but the Reds always look likely on the counter attack
79 mins : First Booking: Andre Bikey: The Cameroon international brings down Gerrard in full flow and is lucky not to walk after a show of dissent by squaring up to the Reds' skipper
81 mins : Substitution: Yossi Benayoun for Dirk Kuyt:
83 mins : Substitution: John Arne Riise for Ryan Babel:
87 mins : First Booking: Kalifa Cisse:
90 mins : Alonso lashes an effort just over as Liverpool look to seal the win
90 mins : There will be a minimum of four minutes added time
90 mins : Reading are pressing for a late goal but Gerrard denies Kitson with a last-ditch block that appeared to hit his hand
90 mins : Substitution: Sami Hyypia for Steven Gerrard:
16:53 GMT : Match Over