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Liverpool routs Villa 5-0 with 3 from Gerrard

STEVEN Gerrard scored a hat trick yesterday in Liverpool's 5-0 win over Aston Villa, putting the team within one point of Premier League leader Manchester United, which still has a game in hand.

After beating United 4-1 last week, Liverpool took full advantage of the defending champions' 2-0 loss at Fulham on Saturday, getting further goals from Dirk Kuyt and Albert Riera. Liverpool has now scored 11 goals in its last three league matches, giving the team a better goal difference over United.

"It's more than we expected," said Gerrard, who scored two of his goals from the penalty spot. "Villa are a fantastic team and have been going well this season, but they've had a dip in form of late and it was important we never let them settle. We got an early goal and built on it."

Kuyt needed only eight minutes to score against a Villa side which is chasing one of the four Champions League spots. Xabi Alonso's glancing header from a free kick taken by Gerrard hit the crossbar and Kuyt reacted quickest to send the rebound into the net from 12 meters (yards).

Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina started the second in the 33rd minute, sending an 80-meter (yard) clearance that bounced once on the edge of the penalty area before Riera volleyed the dropping ball past Villa goalkeeper Brad Friedel.

Riera provided the opening for Liverpool's third in the 39th. The Spain winger was brought down in the penalty area by Nigel Reo-Coker, and Gerrard sent Friedel the wrong way with his spot kick.

In the 50th, Carlos Cuellar brought down Kuyt and Gerrard sent the resulting free kick into the bottom corner of Friedel's net.

Friedel was then sent off for bringing down Fernando Torres as he surged forward to meet Alonso's ball, and Gerrard scored another penalty in the 65th.

It was Liverpool's biggest win of the season and came four days after Benitez signed a new five-year contract. But United leads the league with 65 points, followed by Liverpool with 64 and Chelsea, which lost at Tottenham 1-0 Saturday, with 61.

"Manchester United are capable of winning their remaining games so it's just important to keep focusing on what we're doing - keep winning, stay on their shoulders and pounce on any mistakes they make," Gerrard said. "Chelsea are there, too, and we're still aware of them, too. It's a good break now.

"We go away with our international teams and hopefully will come back and get ready to go again."

Micah Richards scored his first goal in 2? years to lead Manchester City over struggling Sunderland 1-0. The England defender rose to head Elano's free kick past Sunderland goalkeeper Marton Fulop in the 56th minute.

Robinho, who hasn't scored for City in 2009, missed a penalty after City was awarded the spot kick in the 22nd when Steed Malbranque brought down Richards.

"He wants to make a positive impact and he was disappointed not to put that one away," City manager Mark Hughes said. "There were a few opportunities in the second half as well. The desire was there for everyone to see but he can't quite get that crucial goal."

Sunderland was reduced to 10 men when George McCartney was sent off in the 15th for tugging the back of Shaun Wright-Phillips as he was chasing a through ball.

Sunderland remains three points above the relegation zone - one behind Hull, which lost at Wigan 1-0.

Wigan wasted several chances, with Mido hitting the post, before Ben Watson scored the lone goal in the 84th minute. Mario Melchiot's long throw-in was only half cleared by Matt Duke's weak punch and the ball dropped to Watson, who looped a volley over the Hull goalkeeper.

The bottom three all failed to win Saturday. West Bromwich Albion, which drew 1-1 with Bolton, is last with 24 points. Middlesbrough has 27 points after losing at Stoke 1-0, two behind Newcastle, which was beaten by Arsenal 3-1.

Also Saturday, Portsmouth rallied to beat Everton 2-1 and Blackburn held West Ham to a 1-1 draw.


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