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 on Sunday, 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 Agbonlahor 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 Villa goal in all competitions 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 Matt Lowton and Joe Bennett tired, they 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, but 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."

Match facts

Aston Villa: GUZAN 8; LOWTON 7; VLAAR 6; BAKER 5; BENNETT 6; WESTWOOD 6; BANNAN 5; SYLLA 7; WEIMANN 5 BENTEKE 7 AGBONLAHOR 5

Liverpool: REINA 7; ENRIQUE 6; CARRAGHER 5; AGGER 6; JOHNSON 8; LUCAS 6; HENDERSON 6; GERRARD 8; SUAREZ 8; COUTINHO 7; DOWNING 6

Scorers. ASTON VILLA: Benteke 31. LIVERPOOL: Henderson 47, Gerrard pen 60

Substitutions: Aston Villa Delph 6 (Bannan, 63), N’Zogbia 5 (Weimann, 63), El Ahmadi (Sylla, 77). Liverpool Sterling (Coutinho, 77). Booked: Aston Villa Westwood. Liverpool Gerrard. Man of the match Gerrard. Match rating 7/10. Possession: Aston Villa 47%. Liverpool 53%. Attempts on target: Aston Villa 7. Liverpool 12. Referee L Mason (Lancs). Attendance 42,037.

Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
football
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Sport
Andros Townsend is challenged by Vladimir Volkov
football
Arts and Entertainment
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
musicSinger sued over use of the single-syllable sample in 'Run This Town'
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

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week