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.”

Life and Style
health

Do you qualify – and how do you get it?

News
Food blogger and Guardian writer Jack Monroe with her young son
people
News
Privately schooled, Oxford educated and a former editor of arguably the world's poshest magazine 'The Lady', it's perhaps unsurprising that Rachel Johnson rarely mixes with ordinary Proles.
people

The Mayor of London's sister, Rachel Johnson, apologises for shocking tweet about the PM

News
people

Actress isn't a fan of Ed Miliband

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Fraud contributes 11p to a £2.00 box of half a dozen eggs
Sport
Dejected England players applaud the fans following their team's 3-0 defeat
football

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the Jurassic World trailer
film

Video: The official full-length trailer for the Jurassic Park sequel has dropped – two days early

Environment
The plant ‘Nepenthes zygon’ was donated to Kew in 2004
environmentNepenthes zygon had been growing for almost a decade and helping to keep down cockroaches
News
This artist impression shows a modern-day Atlantis
news
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer snapped celebrities for 40 years - but it wasn’t all fun and games
News
i100
Sport
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
News
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
News
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
News
news
News
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital