Dalglish rues lost Europa spot

Aston Villa 1 Liverpool 0
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The Independent Football

The biggest cheers of the afternoon greeted the snaps of news from White Hart Lane, which would piece by piece confirm the demise of Birmingham City. It did not help the mood of the Liverpool manager, Kenny Dalglish, as he contemplated his side's failure to cap their revival under his stewardship with a place in the Europa League next season.

That honour, dubious though it may be in Harry Redknapp's mind, will now go to Tottenham, who effectively clinched fifth place when they won at Anfield last week.

Dalglish made three changes, introducing Joe Cole for his first start for more than two months. The England international took his place alongside fellow midfielder Raul Meireles and defender Fabio Aurelio with Glen Johnson, Maxi Rodriguez and Andy Carroll not even on the bench.

But for long periods Liverpool still looked flat, as if the momentum that carried them from 12th place to the fringes of the European qualification places since Dalglish was installed had drained away.

Villa struggled to find a higher gear themselves in a scrappy first half but a goal in the 33rd minute, splendidly taken by the England winger Stewart Downing gave them the edge.

It came after both sides had been forced into changes by injury, with Jonjo Shelvey on for Jay Spearing after a challenge by Nigel Reo-Coker had left the latter limping heavily. Fabian Delph, meanwhile, had given way to Marc Albrighton and it was the Villa youngster who supplied the cross from which Downing scored.

It was probably meant for Darren Bent but it beat everyone except Downing, at the far post, who controlled the ball and fired home from a narrow angle off the the crossbar.

An injury to Jamie Carragher posed further problems for Dalglish, although the defender returned from treatment with a bandaged head.

Liverpool came close to equalising when Aurelio's bending free-kick only just evaded a diving Martin Skrtel at the far post but it was not until the second half that the visitors threatened to leave with any reward. But their best attempt was defied by a superb save from Brad Friedel. Luis Suarez pulled the ball back for Dirk Kuyt, who struck it with venom. Richard Dunne threw himself across Friedel's line of vision and Liverpool shouted for handball, but it was Friedel's hands that kept the ball out.

Substitutes: Aston Villa Albrighton (Delph, 28), Agbonlahor (Reo-Coker, 68), Bradley (A Young, 89) Unused Marshall (gk), Clark, Pires, Heskey

Liverpool Shelvey (Spearing, 12), Ngog (Cole, 68). Unused Gulacsi (gk), Wilson, Wisdom, Robinson, Poulsen. Booked: Aston Villa Reo-Coker, Walker. Liverpool Meireles, Cole.

Man of the match Dowining.

Match rating 6/10.

Possession Aston Villa 59% Liverpool 41%.

Attempts on target Aston Villa 8 Liverpool 4.

Referee L Probert (Wiltshire). Att 42,785.