Liverpool's stand-in strikers shrugged off the absence of Fernando Torres to secure a comfortable victory 3-0 over Aston Villa and make it an unhappy return to Anfield for former Reds manager Gerard Houllier.

With Torres given the night off to be with his wife Olalla, who had gone into labour with their second child, David Ngog and Ryan Babel ensured he was not unduly missed with first-half goals.

Maxi Rodriguez added the third in the 55th minute to make it four successive Barclays Premier League victories for Roy Hodgson's side at Anfield.

Set-pieces were a weakness for Villa all night and they were undone by one in the 14th minute. Meireles' clipped delivery picked out Martin Skrtel who speared a header back across goal and the diving Ngog could not fail to nod in from barely three yards.

Two minutes later Liverpool had doubled their lead with Babel justifying Hodgson's faith to select him up front. Playing on the shoulder of Stephen Warnock, Babel allowed Lucas Leiva's lofted ball to drop out to his right and he swivelled to smash a shot across Brad Friedel and inside the far post.

Sotirios Kyrgiakos could have made it 3-0 in the 27th minute but planted wide his far-post header from Meireles' free-kick while Babel curled a first-time shot just wide of Friedel's left-hand post from the Portugal international's low cross.

Villa had one chance to get back in the game just after half-time but Gabriel Agbonlahor's close-range shot from Stewart Downing's cross was half-saved by Jose Reina and the ball cleared by Paul Konchesky.

Moments later a counter-attack of brilliant simplicity finished them off. Reina - who kept his 100th clean sheet in 198 Liverpool appearances - collected and instantly rolled the ball 30 yards down the middle of the pitch to Rodriguez, who offloaded to Ngog out on the left and then perfectly timed his run to sidefoot home the return pass 40 yards further up the pitch.

Only former Liverpool goalkeeper Friedel prevented a fourth, parrying away Johnson's shot after he had weaved his way into the area.

Kyrgiakos' header from Meireles' corner was cleared off the line by Jonathan Hogg as Villa threatened to buckle completely.

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Topics:
Sotirios Kyrgiakos
Ryan Babel
Stewart Downing
Maxi Rodriguez
Gabriel Agbonlahor
Football
Paul Konchesky
Jose Reina
David Ngog
Lucas
Premier League
Fernando Torres
Brad Friedel
Stephen Warnock
Aston Villa
Jonathan Hogg
Martin Skrtel
Liverpool