Aston Villa 1 Liverpool 2 match report: Steven Gerrard industry emphasises lack of experience at Villa

 

Villa Park

Go back a few years and Aston Villa have a glorious history, the presence of their under-19s in today’s NextGen Series final in Italy suggests they have a promising future, but the present? That is a worry.

With seven matches to go, the seven-times champions are in the bottom three with the prospect of being relegated for the first time since 1987 looming. And as midlands rivals Nottingham Forest, Derby, Wolves, Leicester and Coventry know, an instant return is by no means guaranteed.

Though Christian Benteke gave them the lead at Villa Park yesterday, Villa failed for the 15th successive match to keep a clean sheet, conceding second-half goals to Jordan Henderson and, via the penalty spot, Steven Gerrard.

Gerrard, who played with a pain-killing injection in his heel, then cleared Benteke’s header off the line to preserve a victory that enabled Liverpool to climb to within three points of neighbours Everton.

“He was in a bit of pain and struggling to get his boot on,” said manager Brendan Rogers. “Many other players would not play or even train, but he did what it takes to play. He’s a wonderful professional.”

Rodgers added: “I thought the players were brilliant today. In the second half the mentality and quality were outstanding. Once we got to 2-1 we controlled the game.”

His counterpart, Paul Lambert, said: “I didn’t think there was much in the game. We are playing well but it would be great for confidence to keep a clean sheet. Confidence is a big part of a game of football.”

Confidence, and experience. Villa lack the latter and that became a problem when Liverpool levelled and confidence dipped. Initially Villa, bolstered by back-to-back wins, looked bright. Their youngsters wanted the ball and looked to play it around. Sometimes this led to being caught in possession and given their pace and strength in attack Villa should probably have played the ball forward earlier, but they still created a series of half-chances and should have led after 16 minutes when Matt Lowton’s fine pass found Gabby Agbolahor in the clear, but he put his shot too close to Pepe Reina. Fifteen minutes later Villa struck, Agbolahor cushioning a long ball from Ashley Westwood for Benteke to thrash in his 18th goal of an excellent season.

At this stage, Benteke was monstering Jamie Carragher whose final season is beginning to look as uncomfortable as Gary Neville’s was, whereas Luis Suarez was being well-marshalled by Nathan Baker and Ron Vlaar. Suarez, who began wide but then swapped with Philippe Coutinho, was gifted his best chance by a wayward back-pass by Barry Bannan but wasted it.

At the break Rodgers told his team to raise the tempo and be more positive, but even he cannot have envisaged how swiftly Liverpool would equalise. A Gerrard clearance found Coutinho wide. The Villa defence were drawn towards him allowing Jordan Henderson to run off Westwood into space. Coutinho’s pass was sublime and Henderson’s finish immaculate.

Villa have let slip losing positions regularly this season and there was a sense of inevitability about the way the game now turned. Coutinho, fed by Suarez, rolled a great chance wide and Glen Johnson hit the post before the effervescent Suarez turned inside Baker and was needlessly felled for an undisputed penalty. Gerrard slid it past Brad Guzan for his 11th goal against Villa.

Villa sought an instant riposte but Andreas Weimann shot over from close-range when unmarked, then Gerrard cleared spectacularly from Benteke following a West wood corner. Thereafter Liverpool were in command.

To flourish Villa’s narrow midfield requires Cafu and Roberto Carlos at full-back, not two lads out of the Football League, and as Lowton and Bennett tired Villa increasingly thumped long balls which Carragher and Daniel Agger dealt with easily. This was when the lack of experience showed. Rodgers was talking about Gerrard, but might easily have been pin-pointing Villa’s weakness when he said: “As a manager you want balance in the squad. You want players for tomorrow but it is vital you have players for today. Gerrard has huge experience and there were moments in the second half when he was organising the team, being vocal, being the leader. You need that.”

Villa, however, have made a policy decision to go with youth this season in the hope that it will pay off in the long-term. “That’s always been the remit,” confirmed Lambert, “you have to be big enough and brave enough to keep going.” Lambert is, what about his owner? All the evidence suggests Randy Lerner will stick with his manager, and it would be unfair not to given his budget restraints, but no one thought Martin O’Neill at risk. Both managers professed themselves shocked at events at Sunderland with Lambert adding: “Nobody is safe.”

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

Mark Hix goes summer foraging

 A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

Aaron Ramsey interview

Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms