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Sunday 18th March 2007 @ 1.35 pm
at Villa Park
FA Premiership



Javier MascheranoAston Villa and Liverpool fought out a dull deadlock in a defence-dominated encounter at Villa Park.

Villa, though, were left feeling sore at referee Lee Mason's refusal to give a penalty when Stilian Petrov had his heel clipped in the box.

In a game of few chances, Liverpool substitute Robbie Fowler saw a header saved by Thomas Sorensen late on.

Ahead of England's Euro 2008 qualifiers, Liverpool's Steven Gerrard limped out of the action.

On a ground where they have not been beaten since February 1998, Dirk Kuyt missed a chance to get Liverpool off to a flier.

John Arne Riise's cross found him unmarked, only eight yards out in the centre of goal, but the Dutch striker got his timing completely wrong and looped his header woefully wide.

As Villa's back line squeezed up to compress the space and constrict the life out of Liverpool's passing game, the visitors decided to go over the top and use Craig Bellamy's pace.

Daniel Agger's lump forward was a legitimate tactic as Bellamy outpaced Phil Bardsley but Sorensen was alert to the danger and his starting position enabled him to sprint out and take the ball off the Welsh striker's toes.

Liverpool had plenty of possession but Villa's two well-organised lines meant the visitors were forced to shuffle crab-like sideways and the game meandered along, crying for somebody to grab it by the scruff of the neck.

Despite having the turning-circle of a Norwegian supertanker, John Carew was a good focal point for Villa and his touch-on of Ashley Young's cross just eluded Gabriel Agbonlahor's lunge at the far post.

Villa had a very legitimate shout for a penalty on the stroke of half-time when Steve Finnan's poor control allowed the ball to run to Petrov.

In attempting to atone for his error, Finnan caught the Bulgarian across the right shin, while Jamie Carragher appeared to clip his left heel but referee Mason amazingly waved away the appeals.

Groundstaff turned on the sprinklers during the interval but, bizarrely, only to water the half of the pitch Villa were defending.

That Liverpool did not utilise Bellamy's pace enough in the first half was evident at the start of the second when he left Olof Mellberg choking on his exhaust fumes to deliver a cross that Wilfred Bouma won as Gerrard closed in.

Mellberg provided Villa's first effort on target on the hour, although his weak header did not even warm Jose Reina's hands, while at the other end Gerrard cut inside but fired powerfully into the side netting.

Javier Mascherano had flitted decoratively in and out of the game but his surging run set up Gerrard, whose shot almost deflected into the path of Fabiano Aurelio.

Villa's Patrik Berger, on as a substitute, had a glimpse of goal against his former club when a corner was cleared to him but his half-volley sailed over the bar.

Liverpool substitute Fowler almost snatched the winner at the end with a typical poacher's near-post header but was denied by Sorensen's sharp save.

BBC Sport

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Liverpool: Reina, Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Aurelio, Gerrard (Fowler 83), Mascherano, Sissoko (Alonso 59), Riise, Bellamy (Pennant 72), Kuyt.

Subs Not Used: Dudek, Hyypia.

Booked: Mascherano, Bellamy, Pennant.

Aston Villa: Sorensen, Bardsley, Mellberg, Cahill, Bouma, Petrov, McCann, Barry, Agbonlahor, Carew, Young (Berger 76).

Subs Not Used: Taylor, Angel, Hughes, Maloney.

Booked: Petrov, Carew.

Att: 42,551

Referee: L Mason (Lancashire).

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If we can find any thrilling highlights for this clash, it will go in here. Might be a long wait in this case.


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