ANFIELD ONLINE MATCH REPORT
LIVERPOOL 3-1 ASTON VILA
FA BARCLAYS PREMIERSHIP
Sunday 29th April 2006 (15:00) at Anfield
There was no chance of Steven Gerrard taking it easy with a fortnight to go until the FA Cup final.
Confronted with Aston Villa producing an equaliser - through Gareth Barry - following Fernando Morientes' first-half opener, the Liverpool skipper took matters into his own hands.
How Villa were on level terms it was hard to believe, so Gerrard produced a clever strike from six yards and then a cracker from 30 to set the record straight.
And it means Liverpool have won 10 on the trot and are now equal on points with second-placed Manchester United, and they have cut the once yawning goal difference to just four going into the last week of the season.
Gerrard's strikes took his tally to 21 in 51 games such is the new PFA player of the year's value to the Reds.
Liverpool once again rang the changes with five changes from the side that won at West Ham in midweek, with Gerrard, Jose Reina, Peter Crouch, Sami Hyypia and John Arne Riise back in the starting line-up.
Aston Villa had Steven Davies back after a hamstring injury. Wilfred Bouma and Gabriel Agbonlahor also returned from the side that lost at home to Manchester City in midweek.
Liverpool started with three strikers and Riise supporting very quickly on the left, as attacking a formation as Rafael Benitez could muster.
And they were ahead after four minutes. Xabi Alonso's long ball found Morientes free of the marking Gary Cahill should have been providing, and the Spaniard twisted into space in the box to fire past Thomas Sorensen for his ninth goal of the season.
Villa responded with a header wide from Olof Mellberg following a Barry corner, won by Milan Baros, the Czech getting a rousing welcome from the Kop on his return to Anfield.
But a Peter Crouch overhead kick and a fierce Gerrard drive suggested Liverpool were in the mood. They had vast amounts of possession, Villa already sitting deep in their own half seemingly hoping not to be embarrassed.
Villa fans displayed an "O'Leary for England" banner before the game and booed their manager on a couple of occasions when he ventured into the technical area.
The fact that their boss is preparing to sell anything that is not nailed down at Villa Park - particularly Baros - to fund a summer spending spree, has further upset the Brummie faithful.
When their players did get into Liverpool's half, James Milner away on the right, his cross was headed wastefully over by Barry, Villa somehow having managed a four against two break.
The lethargy began to affect Liverpool, but they did stir themselves enough to put together a neat passing move that ended with Riise setting up Gerrard for a first time volley just over.
Baros was replaced by Juan Pablo Angel at the break, and the Colombian almost got a shock equaliser after 49 minutes when Reina rather lazily hacked at a clearance that struck the Villa man and bounced across the six-yard box before the relieved keeper reclaimed possession.
Crouch should have scored a minute later when Djibril Cisse severely embarrassed Mellberg by chasing and winning possession, starting 30 yards away from the Villa man, before firing over a cross that Crouch hit wide from six yards.
But it was Liverpool who were embarrassed after 58 minutes when they conceded a sloppy goal. Milner's cross was allowed to sail right across the face of the goal past three defenders for Barry to tap home unmarked.
When Agbonlahor almost scored from 18 yards a minute later, the home crowd let their players know this was not good enough.
Parity lasted until the 61st minute when Xabi Alonso's near-post corner was met by a criminally unmarked Gerrard, who flicked the ball in off Sorensen's despairing left leg. Robbie Fowler replaced Crouch before the re-start.
Liverpool then opted for a less open side, sending on Mohamed Sissoko for Cisse, and Stephen Warnock for Riise.
And after 66 minutes Gerrard took possession after a neat passing move to lash a stunning 30-yard strike home for the third.
Reina was forced into a fine save from Barry before Gerrard set up Fowler for a shot he clipped wide.
Kevin Phillips came on for Barry with seven minutes left, and then Craig Gardner took over from Davis after 86 minutes. But by then Gerrard had won the day.
All that was left was for the team and manager to do a lap of honour, complete with assorted children, with the Kop pleading with Benitez to give Fowler a new contract. They are expected to get their wish soon.
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|Match Report filed: 30 April 2006|