Monday, August 24, 2009

Liverpool 1 - 3 Aston Villa

Aston Villa produced an outstanding defensive display to secure their first win against Liverpool in eight years as Rafael Benitez's side continued their stuttering start to the new Premier League campaign.
Villa had been heavily criticised after losing their opening home game to Wigan Athletic and slumping to defeat in the Europa League against Rapid Vienna - but they answered all the questions in emphatic fashion at Anfield.
Liverpool faded after a bright start, and have now lost as many league games as they did last season following losses against Spurs and now Villa.
Anfield was left frustrated as Liverpool wasted the opportunities that came their way, but ultimately they were reduced to running up blind alleys, and out of ideas, in the face of Villa's resilience.
Villa were set on their way after 34 minutes when Lucas deflected Ashley Young's free-kick into his own net, and they grabbed a second on the stroke of half-time when Curtis Davies headed in Nicky Shorey's corner at the near post.
Liverpool surged forward after the break, but met a white wall of resistance as Villa defended their precious lead, with Carlos Cuellar outstanding and goalkeeper Brad Friedel a commanding presence.
Fernando Torres gave Liverpool hope with a close-range strike after 72 minutes, but any hopes of a dramatic revival ended three minutes later when Steven Gerrard brought down Nigel Reo-Coker and Young scored from the spot.
Villa boss Martin O'Neill was elated - and rightly so as his side got their season up and running with a landmark victory.
For Liverpool, they will now they simply have to produce better - and more creative - performances as they chase their first title in 20 years.
Liverpool were almost ahead inside the first 30 seconds when Yossi Benayoun beat Friedel to Torres' lofted pass but his header fell inches wide.
Villa survived an even bigger scare after eight minutes when Torres' miscue fell invitingly into the path of Gerrard six yards out, but Friedel struck out a leg and diverted his effort over the bar when a goal seemed certain.
O'Neill's side then produced some stern resistance, with Torres growing increasingly frustrated at what he saw as the over-physical treatment being meted out by the Villa rearguard.
Villa slowly worked their way into the game - but it was still against the run of play when they went ahead in fortuitous fashion after 34 minutes as Lucas unwittingly headed Young's routine free-kick past a stranded Pepe Reina.
And they delivered another counter-punch seconds before half-time, in what Liverpool clearly felt were contentious circumstances.
Keeper Reina was so infuriated by referee Martin Atkinson's decision to award a corner when Steve Sidwell's shot was adjudged to have deflected off Martin Skrtel that he lashed the ball away in disgust and was given a yellow card.
Liverpool felt insult was added to injury when Davies stole in ahead of Torres and Jamie Carragher at the near post to head Villa's second.
The Kop urged Liverpool forward as they predictably lay siege to Villa's goal after the break - and Friedel was the hero with a magnificent diving save to turn away Gerrard's rising drive.
And as the pressure mounted, with Dirk Kuyt heading against the post after Carragher flicked on Gerrard's cross, Torres threw Liverpool a lifeline with 18 minutes remaining as he steered in a simple finish following good work from Emiliano Insua.
Hope was revived inside Anfield, but snuffed out inside three minutes when Gerrard's badly-mistimed tackle on Reo-Coker resulted in an inevitable penalty, which Young dispatched calmly.
It was the decisive blow and Villa held out in relative comfort, with Liverpool resigned to a damaging defeat long before the final whistle.

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