LIVERPOOL // There was a touch of arrogance in the words of Fernando Torres as he played down the brilliance of a goal that kept Liverpool in the hunt for a top four place. But when you are that good, it is easy to forgive. Less than three minutes had gone when the Spaniard received the ball, from a clearance from his keeper Pepe Reina, and hugged the left touchline. A burst of speed took him inside Michael Turner and he unleashed a shot of such venom that even the outstanding Craig Gordon could do nothing as it curled into the top corner.
Steve Bruce, the Sunderland manager, described it as a "wonder goal". But such is the confidence in his own ability that Torres said: "I think I have scored some better than that. Hopefully the best are still to come." It was a nonchalant response that typified his second strike too. Afforded space yet again inside the box, he latched onto a Glen Johnson pass and then coolly waited for Turner to commit himself before tapping into the net for his seventh goal in four games.
Bruce added: "We all know he is a class act. Coming back from injuries have left him fresh as a daisy. It was his day and he will take some stopping." When he was taken off, Anfield rose to acclaim his performance. It was the same for Steven Gerrard and rightly so. Gerrard was the driving force; Torres the deadly finisher. It is a combination that could yet hoist Liverpool into the Champions League next season and keep them at Anfield.
Rafa Benitez said: "I think at this moment, the priority is to play well. If we can do this and be closer to the top four and the final of the Europa League then that's the best way for the players, the manager to move forward." In between Torres's double was Johnson's first goal in seven months. A Gerrard corner dropped to the right-back 25 yards out and a left-footed drive deflected off Turner and into the net.
Such was their dominance, it would not have been unjust if Liverpool had racked up double figures. A mere 50 seconds were on the clock when Gerrard swung in a free kick that was flicked on to the back post where Daniel Agger stood alone. A fierce volley with his left foot produced an instinctive parry from Gordon. The Scottish keeper had performed heroics to deny Manchester City and Aston Villa wins recently. But Liverpool were a class apart and toyed with the visitors, who retreated and surrendered.
Torres, who also hit a post, added: "You can see the team is different to the first part of the season. Now we have confidence and we know we can beat anyone." The last time Sunderland won home and away against Liverpool was in 1936. That run will stretch for many more years with repeat performances like this. Bolo Zenden, a former Liverpool player, forced Reina into his only save in the final minute, pushing away a low drive.
Bruce said: "Sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and say you were beaten by a far better team." Yet he managed a smile when the Kop sang: "You've got a head like a beach ball." It was in reference to the blow-up ball that played a part in Darren Bent's winner at the Stadium of Light back in October. "Scouse humour, I'm getting used to it," laughed Bruce. "I'll take it as a back-handed compliment.
"I've had many a good day here, but I'll take my medicine and go home with my tail between my legs and try to come back - with a smaller head." @Email:email@example.com