Sunday 24th August 2003 (2pm)
Villa Park, Birmingham

Kewell once again struggles to re-vitalise the reds

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After this game: Pos 17th Pl 2 Pts 1
MATCH REPORT - Aston Villa 0-0 Liverpool

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David O'Leary made a fierce start to his Villa Park career as his side held Liverpool to a richly-entertaining draw.

O'Leary was involved in an angry finger-jabbing exchange with Reds assistant Phil Thompson midway through the first half after leaping from the dugout to protest about a hard Steven Gerrard challenge.

But O'Leary will have been much happier with the way his team rebounded from their opening-day defeat at Portsmouth to push Liverpool close.

Juan Pablo Angel rattled a post and Gareth Barry also came close to getting his manager's home campaign off to a flyer.

O'Leary will have been similarly delighted with the form of his new goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen, whose series of fine saves kept Liverpool searching for their first win of the season - none more important than the point-blank effort which denied John Arne Riise five minutes from time.

O'Leary had been given a rapturous reception by the Villa faithful and his players responded by getting off to a fine start.

Olof Mellberg was restored to the Villa defence as captain after his controversial omission last week and he was to prove instrumental in keeping Michael Owen's chances to a minimum.

At the other end Angel and the recalled Darius Vassell caused problems and frequently stretched Houllier's defence.

Angel was proving a handful from Villa's series of early set-pieces but just as the home side seemed set to assert their dominance they had to count on a rare miss from Harry Kewell to stay level.

Owen found El Hadji Diouf on the Liverpool left and the Senegalese star's rising shot was punched away by Sorensen into the path of the unmarked Australian.

But Kewell uncharacteristically blazed his shot wide of Sorensen's left-hand post with the goalkeeper nowhere.

Sorensen denied Danny Murphy with a brilliant one-handed save from his 30-yard shot in the 16th minute.

And Villa responded by piling on the pressure with Lee Hendrie - given a fine reception despite his pre-season bust-up with supporters - flicking Angel clear.

The Colombian rounded goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek and played the ball back to Peter Whittingham whose rising shot was headed off the goalline by Diouf.

Liverpool were struggling with Emile Heskey - caught by an early challenge by Ronny Johnsen - finding it difficult and Kewell switching flanks to the left in search of more success.

It almost paid dividends as Kewell sent Owen scampering into the box but he was denied a shooting chance by a brilliant Mellberg challenge.

O'Leary had hardly had time to sit back in the dugout after his outburst when he was almost seething again, after Mellberg almost undid all his own hard work with a rash 33rd-minute back-header which beat Sorensen but fortunately dribbled inches wide of the left-hand post.

The game continued at breakneck speed with Angel forcing a fine punching save out of Dudek then sending Mark Delaney through in the 54th minute.

Delaney bore down on the Liverpool goal from the left flank but was denied when Dudek came out to pluck the ball from his toes.

Angel came closest of all on the hour with his looping 30-yard free-kick which rattled Dudek's left-hand post.

At the other end Gerrard blazed his shot from a similar distance over the crossbar and then forced a fine point-blank save out of Sorensen after seizing on uncharacteristic defensive hesitancy from Mellberg.

Barry shot inches wide for Villa in the 72nd minute but Liverpool finished strongly.

Owen almost stole a win for Liverpool with five minutes left, squeezing his close-range shot wide after Sorensen had saved brilliantly from Riise.

Press Association

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Aston Villa: Sorensen, Delaney, Mellberg, Johnsen, Samuel, Hendrie (De la Cruz 87), McCann, Barry, Whittingham, Angel (Dublin 89), Vassell.

Subs Not Used: Alpay, Hitzlsperger, Postma.

Liverpool: Dudek, Carragher, Henchoz, Hyypia, Riise, Diouf, Murphy (Biscan 87), Gerrard, Kewell, Heskey (Baros 58), Owen.

Subs Not Used: Finnan, Smicer, Kirkland.

Booked: Diouf.

Att: 42,573

Ref: P Durkin (Dorset).

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Liverpool's Gerard Houllier

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BBC Sport 'Villa in Liverpool deadlock'

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Match Report filed: 25th August 2003