Did Torres Save Rafa's Job?

Fernando Torres came to Liverpool's rescue as he struck a superb equaliser to earn a 1-1 Premier League draw at Middlesbrough on Saturday.

Last Updated: 12/01/08 at 18:05

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Torres paid off another portion of his £26.5million transfer fee with a dazzling equaliser at the Riverside Stadium.

The 23-year-old Spaniard levelled the scoreline with a stunning 71st-minute strike from 25 yards as the Reds belatedly found top gear.

Until that point, Boro had looked the more likely victors after skipper George Boateng, who at one point appeared to be on his way out of the club following a bust-up with manager Gareth Southgate, had put the Teessiders ahead with his first goal of the season on 26 minutes.

Southgate's men might have doubled their advantage when Stewart Downing hit the post on 67 minutes, but as the Reds finally established a momentum with half-time substitute Ryan Babel particularly prominent, Torres lit up the game with a goal of pure quality.

From then on, the visitors looked capable of snatching all three points, although that would have been harsh on Boro, who were the better side for much of the game in front of their biggest crowd of the season, 33,035.

In the final analysis, Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez had to be happy with a point as his side drew for a fourth consecutive game, but that did little to improve their chances of closing the gap on the Premier League pace-setters.

Boro have made something of a habit in recent years of producing their best against the top-flight's aristocrats while under-achieving when faced with the division's lesser lights.

They went into the game lying 15th in the table and having won only two of their previous nine league fixtures at the Riverside this season.

Among their victims were leaders Arsenal, and there was a similar relish to the way they set about their task against a side which started the season with their sights set on the title, but a little more than halfway through, are starting to look like also-rans.

Liverpool never really got going and apart from Steven Gerrard's well-struck 17th-minute shot and Yossi Benayoun's 37th-minute volley, both of which were well-saved by Mark Schwarzer, they rarely threatened.

That in part was due to the excellence of central defensive pairing Robert Huth and David Wheater, who made a series of timely interventions to keep Torres at bay.

Boro, who had 19-year-old full-back Jonathan Grounds making his first senior start and were again missing Jonathan Woodgate and Mido, produced the far more fluent football.

The invention of in-form Turkey international Tuncay international was a threat throughout and with Downing, a £12million target for Tottenham, providing good service from the left, they pushed consistently throughout the first half.

They made the breakthrough with 26 minutes gone when Gary O'Neil headed Downing's cross back across goal and Tuncay nodded it down for Boateng to slide the ball home.

Boateng, who had been warmly applauded when his name was announced, received the acclaim for his first goal of the season joyously as his rehabilitation was completed.

Benitez made his move at the break when he sent on winger Ryan Babel for full-back Alvaro Arbeloa, and there was instantly a different look about his team.

Striker Andriy Voronin simply could not believe referee Andre Marriner's decision not to away him a penalty within a minute of the restart after he appeared to be barged to the ground by Huth.

Voronin, however, only had himself to blame for not getting a shot away on 49 minutes after being picked out by the unselfish Torres.

But Boro were almost handed a second goal on a plate four minutes later when keeper Jose Reina inexplicably raced out to the left touchline without a hope of beating Jeremie Aliadiere to Downing's pass, and could only look on gratefully as the Frenchman's cross failed to locate a red shirt.

Babel had started confidently and almost made a major impact on 59 minutes when he cut in-field before unleashing a dipping, swerving shot which wrong-footed Schwarzer and flew inches past the far post.

But only the upright denied the Teessiders a second goal eight minutes later when Downing's shot thundered into the woodwork with Reina beaten, and O'Neil lifted the rebound over the bar.

However, Torres' big moment arrived with 71 minutes gone when he picked up the ball in midfield and despite stumbling initially, hammered a venomous shot past the despairing Schwarzer to level.

The Australian had to tip a late Gerrard effort over the crossbar and block a Sami Hyypia header with his legs as the visitors pressed for the win, but Southgate's men just about held firm.

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