Villa to offer true test of misfiring Reds' mettle

Liverpool 2 Wolves 0

They will struggle to recreate the free-flowing football of the final weeks of last season's near-miss but Liverpool have no better chance to gather the kind of momentum that took them so close to the title.

The injuries and loss of form of key men have contributed to Liverpool's failure to pick up consecutive victories in the Premier League since September but Rafael Benitez's bold assertion that his team will finish in the top four will be severely tested in their next two league games, against Aston Villa and Tottenham.

Over-statement comes easily but an eighth Premier League defeat for the season, at Villa Park tomorrow, would be a significant blow, even if victory over Wolves offered something for Benitez to build on.

With Fernando Torres doing everyone a favour just by continuing to play through his groin trouble, Steven Gerrard doggedly fighting his way back to form, Alberto Aquilani still finding his feet in England and no money to spend next month, fulfilling Benitez's ambition will be all about will and grit and will have to be earned the hard way.

A key part of management is controlling expectations and Benitez has to accept that even finishing fourth will be seen as a poor campaign, while Martin O'Neill's side's upward curve encourages positivity.

"We know Aston Villa are in a very good position," Benitez said. "They have belief and confidence, but we must try to win and reduce the gap. If we can't, we still know we have to keep going because it is a long race.

"We have confidence and we have to do it because we are a top side. We have been top four for the last few years and it has to be our target now. I said that because I believe it but we have to start winning games in a row. It was very clear we had to win against Wolves and then do something against Villa. If we had lost against Wolves and then won the next game, it wouldn't have changed anything for us. We have been good second half in past seasons and we will have to be confident."

Their victory over Wolves was based on a similar belief that "it will come", as well as Stephen Ward's red card at the start of the second half. The full-back had been cautioned for pulling Yossi Benayoun's shirt moments before tripping Lucas and although referee Andre Marriner mistakenly showed Christophe Berra a yellow card, he realised his mistake and sent Ward off.

Liverpool took advantage when Gerrard forced his head on to Emiliano Insua's cross to open the scoring, before Benayoun's shot deflected off Karl Henry to secure the points.

Wolves are a couple of points above the bottom three at the mid-point in their season and their manager Mick McCarthy said: "If you had offered me 19 points at halfway we would have taken it and the way we have played, especially recently, I think sends out the right message to everyone."

Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Insua; Lucas, Aquilani (Pacheco, 85); Benayoun (Spearing, 89), Gerrard, Aurelio (Kuyt, 76); Torres. Substitutes not used: Cavaileri (gk), Ngog, Darby, Skrtel.

Wolves (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Stearman, Craddock, Berra, Ward; Foley, Henry, Milijas (Mancienne, 63), Jarvis; Doyle (Elokobi, 58), Ebanks-Blake (Iwelumo, 67). Substitutes not used: Hennessey (gk), Surman, Maierhofer, Castillo.

Referee: A Marriner (Birmingham).

Booked: Wolves Ward.

Sent off: Ward (53).

Man of the match: Hahnemann.

Attendance: 41, 956.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor