Crouch the artless dodger helps Liverpool to punchline

Aston Villa 0 Liverpool 2
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The Independent Online

It appears that Peter Crouch, the leaning tower of Liverpool and England, gains confidence when supporters sing about him. "There's one," he says, "that goes, 'He's big, he's red, his feet stick out of bed'."

Villa's supporters revived another chant to greet their former striker when he came on 22 minutes from the end of Saturday's desultory match: "There's only one Rodney Trotter."

Sitcom watchers will be aware that a Rodney needs a Del Boy for the whole show to work, rather like Kevin Keegan played the Artful Dodger for Liverpool in league with John Toshack. (Believe it or not, Keegan's first autobiography included a photograph of the dynamic duo dressed as Batman and Robin).

Crouch is not short of advice and encouragement as he seeks his first goal for Liverpool. We are assured, by his former team-mates and his current manager Rafael Benitez, that his contribution does not depend on his obvious aerial advantage, or on his finding the net, and that his nimble footwork is cause for celebration.

The lofty one, though unable to make a telling contribution with either his feet or his head - he nodded one opportunity into the hands of Thomas Sorensen, Villa's admirable goalkeeper - none the less helped to produce Liverpool's first away win in the Premiership since last April.

Just when it seemed that both teams would get one point, Crouch came into contact with Liam Ridgewell as Boudewijn Zenden crossed the ball into the Villa box five minutes from time.

It was a case of six of one and 6ft 7in of the other, but the referee, Steve Bennett, ruled that Ridgewell had held Crouch. Up stepped Steven Gerrard to send Sorensen the wrong way from the spot. "Champion of Europe," roared the visiting supporters.

Three minutes later, Olof Mellberg made a solid interception as another cross landed at Crouch's feet, only for the Villa captain's clearance to be met by Xabi Alonso's clean strike for the second, deciding goal.

All Villa were left with was a verbal own goal by their manager, David O'Leary, whose criticism of the referee during the post-match television interviews is expected to result in another case for the Football Association's disciplinary committee.

O'Leary, who allegedly abused another referee, Graham Poll, after the recent match against Birmingham City, was incensed by Bennett's decision to penalise Ridgeway and again talked his way into trouble.

"If [referees] are going to give penalties for that," O'Leary said, "there will be hundreds every game. He couldn't wait to give decisions to them.

"He gave decisions to their [big] name players. But I have to be careful what I say because they're very precious people."

Too late - the manager, who had been pleased with the way his defence had held a line higher up the pitch than usual during the match, did not know when to draw the line afterwards.

As Villa slip back to where they were two years ago, many supporters wonder whether the club's chairman, Doug Ellis, is ready to draw a line under his stewardship.

The 81-year-old "Deadly Doug" is one of the last of the old-style club chairmen. Graham Taylor, one of his many former managers, said on BBC Five Live in a pre-match interview: "He would spend to get a good team, but did not seem to grasp that it was necessary to spend again to have an excellent team."

There is talk of a takeover by a group led by the Comer brothers, Luke and Brian, builders who are said to have a proven track record in transforming old institutions.

Goals: Gerrard (85) 0-1, Alonso (88) 0-2

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Sorensen; Delaney, Mellberg, Ridgewell, Barry; Davis, Bakke, (Hendrie, 82), McCann, Milner; Barros, Phillips (Angel, 61). Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Samuel, Moore.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Finnan, Hyypia, Carragher, Riise; Gerrard, Sissoko, Alonso, Luis Garcia (Zenden, 57); Cissé (Kewell, 76), Morientes (Crouch, 68) Subsitutes not used: Dudek (gk), Warnock.

Referee: S Bennett (Kent).

Booked: Aston Villa Barry, McCann; Liverpool Sissoko, Alonso.

Man of the match: Carragher.

Attendance: 42,551.

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