Football: Taylor hands initiative to United

Aston Villa 1 Liverpool 0

Advantage Manchester United. A late Aston Villa goal, from the unlikely source of Ian Taylor, condemned Liverpool to their first Premiership defeat of the year yesterday and left them four points adrift of the leaders with 10 games remaining.

Taylor, who used to earn his living driving forklift trucks, had spent most of the afternoon at Villa Park preventing Jamie Redknapp from moving out of first gear. But after Andy Townsend's cross reached the far post seven minutes from time, the midfielder buried his second goal of the season from six yards.

If the result was bad news for all who relish a closely contested championship race, it was also slightly harsh on Liverpool. After a first half that had been as patchy as the pitch, Roy Evans' side seized the initiative in the final half hour. For the second week running, following the 0-0 draw with Blackburn, they were betrayed by a lack of ruthlessness in front of goal.

Robbie Fowler was the chief culprit, missing from spitting distance seven minutes before Taylor's goal. His aberration was particularly enjoyable for the home supporters. Fowler had scored eight times in the previous five meetings with Villa, the most vivid illustration of an ascendancy that had seen Liverpool take four successive games by an 11-0 aggregate.

Stan Collymore, especially keen to impress against the club he followed as a boy, ended up being substituted after a lacklustre showing. It would be unfair, though, to pin the blame for Liverpool's failure solely on their attackers. They did not show a sufficiently positive approach until late in the match, and there was a conspicuous lack of the kind of drive which Roy Keane epitomises for United.

Not for the first time recently, their outstanding performers were in defence. Mark Wright combined the aggression lacking in midfield with some superbly timed challenges to stop Dwight Yorke and Savo Milosevic in full flow. Bjorn Tore Kvarme, too, executed one textbook sliding tackle as Mark Draper surged into the danger area.

Villa shaded the first half in terms of possession and efforts on target, yet Liverpool came closer to a breakthrough in the 43rd minute. Dominic Matteo's long ball down the left - a welcome variation from their tendency to play a patient, close-passing game - found Fowler racing clear.

Flicking the ball past Mark Bosnich, who had charged from his area to intercept, the England striker struck a fine shot from an acute angle. The ball might have rolled across the face of the goal, but Gareth Southgate slid in to clear just in case.

The long-range shooting of Townsend and Draper carried the main threat to David James' goal, the latter forcing the Liverpool keeper to beat out a volley after 70 minutes. Steve McManaman then made a saving tackle on Taylor, but with Liverpool upping the tempo a goal at the opposite end began to look more likely.

Fowler, firing wildly over after McManaman's delightfully cushioned header from a centre by Jason McAteer, spurned the best chance. Liverpudlian frustration intensified when Bosnich went full-length to tip over McManaman's drive, though that was as nothing compared with what followed moments later.

McManaman conceded possession to Townsend, who made tracks down the left before crossing. The ball skimmed off the head of Mark Wright, landing obligingly for the unmarked Taylor, who had time to control it before shooting across James.

It was Villa's first goal against Liverpool in 503 minutes' play, and the first James had conceded in the Premiership since New Year's Day. At Old Trafford, no doubt, the only statistic of interest concerned a matter of four points.

Goal: Taylor (83) 1-0.

Aston Villa (3-5-2): Bosnich; Ehiogu, Staunton (Hughes, h-t), Southgate; Nelson, Taylor, Townsend, Draper, A Wright; Yorke, Milosevic. Substitutes not used: Johnson, Joachim, Hendrie, Oakes (gk).

Liverpool (3-4-1-2): James; Kvarme, M Wright, Matteo; McAteer, Barnes, Redknapp, Bjornebye; McManaman; Collymore (Berger, 54), Fowler. Substitutes not used: Harkness, Ruddock, Kennedy, Warner (gk).

Referee: S Dunn (Bristol)

Bookings: Liverpool: Collymore.

Man of the match: M Wright.

Attendance: 39,339.

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