Seasons that started with so much optimism have been disappointing for both Aston Villa and Liverpool and just how much disappointment will be determined by the closing weeks of the season.
For Paul Lambert and Villa, the threat of relegation still lingers over them like carbon emissions linger over Spaghetti Junction. For Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers, the occasional rays of sunshine have been undermined by silly West Brom, Southampton and Stoke shaped clouds of anti-climax. The mixed blessing that is a place in next season’s Europa League is still the target, but they will need consistency over the next few weeks.
I’ll be here this Easter Sunday to keep you up to date with all the news from Villa Park. If you’re out and about, away from a TV or just temporarily blind from excess sugar consumption, I’ll bring you all the updates and snarky comments you’ll need to stay up to speed.
Aston Villa 1 – 2 Liverpool
3.19pm: FULL TIME! That’s the last meaningful action of the game as the referee blows for full time. Liverpool came back well in the second half, but Villa were a big disappointment after the break. Worrying stuff for Lambert while Brendan Rodgers can still point to the Reds’ away record as dubious evidence of progress under his reign.
3.18pm: Benteke sticks the ball in the back of the net, but it’s ruled as offside and in fairness it was.
3.17pm: YELLOW CARD! And it could have been red. Ashley Westwood goes into the book for a nasty little tackle on Henderson, not dissimilar to the McMananaman tackle a couple of weeks back.
3.15pm: We’ll have three minutes of added time. Alan Smith gives Steven Gerrard the Man of the Match honours.
3.12pm: Ha ha!
Can see why Villa subbed Sylla. In fact, it was no surprise, surprise.
— Ian Ridley (@IanRidley1) March 31, 2013
3.10pm: Five minutes of normal time remaining- Liverpool are 1/14 to hang on for the win from here.
3.09pm: Lovely play from Luis Suarez creates a great chance for himself, but just as he’s about the slot the ball past Guzan, the Villa keeper gets a hand to it.
3.02pm: SUBS! Villa make their final substitution as El Ahmadi comes on for Sylla and for Liverpool, Coutinho makes way for Raheem Sterling who has no doubt had a busy day giving Easter eggs to his numerous children.
3pm: Villa enjoy a spell of pressure, but it’s around the halfway line and it’s not going anywhere. And I say ‘enjoy’ but a lot of the Villa players look about as comfortable with the ball as Jim Davidson at G-A-Y.
2.56pm: There’s about 20 minutes to go and Liverpool are 1/9 to hang on for the win – which frankly seems kind of mental given some of their defending.
2.55pm: CHANCE! Kind of. Lowton tries to put in a cross, but it’s crap, goes towards goal and Reina is forced to make a save. Villa waste the corner like it’s the finances of a wealthy American owner.
2.50pm: Johnson and Benteke have a coming together and the ref gives Villa a free basically because they asked for it.
Villa turn it into a corner and from the set piece, Steven Gerrard clears a Benteke header off the line. Great clearance from the captain. It’s turned into a very good game now. Well, maybe not ‘good’ in the sense of quality, but it’s exciting nonetheless.
2.48pm: GREAT CHANCE and SUBS! Andreas Weimann wastes a good, but tricky chance. The ball comes to him unmarked, seven yards out and his first time shot baloons over. It’s his last contribution as Delph and N’Zogbia come on for himself and Bannan, who has been pretty useless today.
2.45pm: GOAL! 2-1 LIVERPOOL Gerrard converts with a level of authority he doesn’t always show from the penalty spot. Aston Villa really haven’t come out for the second half.
2.44pm: PENALTY FOR LIVERPOOL! A stupid tackle from Nathan Baker on Suarez. It’s so bad, Suarez doesn’t even have to jump in the air theatrically to win it. No doubt. Gerrard to take.
2.43pm: WOODWORK! Liverpool hit the post. A Johnson shot gets deflected.
2.41pm: GREAT CHANCE! Suarez turns provider as he picks out the run of Countinho. The brilliantly haired Brazilian is about 16 yards out to the right of Guzan’s goal and his shot just stays wide of the far post by an inch or two. A great chance to put Liverpool ahead that he should have taken.
2.40pm: I’m still here. It’s just not much has happened in the last few minutes. A lot of huff and puff in midfield and Suarez giving out the the linesman.
2.35pm: YELLOW CARD! Gerrard goes into the book for a bad tackle.
2.33pm: GOAL! 1-1! Henderson! Lovely stuff from Liverpool at the start of the second half. Coutinho picks out Henderson with a lovely pass. Henderson gets on the end of it and about 14 yards out with just Guzan to beat, he clips it into the back of the net.
I would eat humble pie about Henderson, but he hasn’t done a whole let else this afternoon apart from that. Still though, it was a classy finish.
2.32pm: After all the wisdom I can handle from Jamie Redknapp Liverpool kick off the second half.
2.27pm: Oh my god. There’s a Scary Movie 5 – that actually is scary.
2.16pm: HALF TIME! Villa go in for their half time bollocking with the lead, but Liverpool have created chances and they’re far from out of it.
2.13pm: Brad Guzan is called into action again. This time to make a decent Steven Gerrard shot from the edge of the box look more dangerous than it really is. He bats it away, the commentator says it moved in the air, I can’t really argue because that’s a fact of physics, but it wasn’t as difficult as Guzan made it look.
2.10pm: GREAT SAVE! Suarez takes advantage of a terrible mistake from Barry Bannan. He gets into the box, tries to stick his shot between Brad Guzan’s legs, but the keeper gets it away. That pass from Bannan was so bad, he should have been credited with an assist if it went in.
2.07pm: Benteke creates a chance out of pretty much nothing. Well, not nothing, but not far off. He gets a head onto a poor cross and directs it towards goal. Reina back gets on his line to keep it out.
2.06pm: Luis Suarez skins a Villa player in midfield and spots Guzan off his line. Sadly, that’s were the good work ends and the shot ends up closer to the corner flag that the goal. It’s a great chance – for the Villa fans to cheer ironically again.
2.03pm: While Villa are busy patting themselves on the back, Gerrard bursts through and nearly equalises. Villa get the block in and a couple of corners come to nothing other than a boost for the corners count.
2.01pm: GOAL! 1-0 VILLA After Suarezx wasted a good chance at the other end, Villa responded by going a bit route one. The ball gets played up to Agbonlahor who knocks it down to Benteke and he fires a half volley low to Pepe Reina’s right. Nice goal unless you’re a Liverpool fan or the fan of another club in relegation trouble.
2pm: Suarez creates a good chance for himself, but his shot is poor and Guzan holds it.
1.54pm: Coutinho and Suarez link up to create a half-chance for the Uruguayan. Baker puts him off and he scuffs it wide. The Villa fans cheer ironically despite the absence of any irony in the situation.
1.50pm: Lucas commits the latest in a series of fouls. The ‘cloak of unbookability’ card he clearly used at the start of the game must be running out soon.
1.49pm: It’s a bit of a wake up call for Liverpool and they string some passes together. Suarez fires a shot at Guzan who parries it over the crossbar.
1.45pm: GREAT SAVE/TERRIBLE MISS! An extended phase of pressure for Villa, they have couple of half chances before Gabby Agbonlahor hits a glorious chance from five yards out straight at Pepe Reina and Liverpool scramble it away. Villa should be ahead.
1.43pm: Villa press and earn a corner, but the eventual delivery is as misguided as appointing Alex McLeish as manager and it goes harmlessly wide.
1.42pm: Exhibition stuff so far at Villa Park – if you want to see an exhibition of midfielders playing a succession of woeful passes.
1.38pm: The Villa fans are gleefully booing Stewart Downing every time he gets the ball. Or maybe shouting ‘shooooooooooot’ – both options are just about equally ineffective.
1.36pm: There’s a slight change to the Liverpool set-up I predicted earlier. It seems Jordan Henderson will be letting the game pass by him as an attacking midfielder and not letting it pass him by as a more defensive midfielder as I guessed before kick off.
1.33pm: Liverpool have started brightly, but it’s Aston Villa who have the first surprisingly good wasted chance of the game. Bennett puts a good ball into the Liverpool six yard box, but neither Benteke or Agbonlahor can get something on it.
1.30pm: After some particularly lame commentary, Aston Villa kick off wearing there traditional colours. Liverpool are wearing their ugly away shirt, which has also become something of a tradition each season.
1.26pm: The teams walk out onto the pitch as Jamie Redkanpp tells us ‘this cannot be a 0-0’.
That’s all the excuse I need to lump on the scoreless draw! It’s 12/1
1.21pm: Sky Sports point out that if Villa managed to win today, it would be the first time they recorded a league double over Liverpool since the 1992/93 season. The season in which Ronnie Rosenthal did this:
1.18pm: Brendan Rodgers is asked to explain his reasons for starting with Jordan Henderson. He tells us it’s
to give us the superiority in that area of the field
And he even keeps a straight face while saying it!
1.07pm: Do not adjust your set, that really is Dwight Yorke’s shirt, tie and suit combo:
More shades of grey than your average chick-lit porno novel.
12.54pm: Here’s the team sheet on the off chance you thought I completely made up those starting line-ups:
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) March 31, 2013
I like the way Villa have an ‘enquiries’ email address on it. It’s for all your questions, such as ‘why does Paul Lambert seem to think Yacouba Sylla is a Premier League player?’
12.52pm: If you’re considering a First Goalscorer bet for this game, then Opta have a stat that you should probably pay attention to:
10 – Steven Gerrard has scored 10 Premier League goals against Aston Villa; more than against any other opponent. Menace.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 31, 2013
12.46pm: TEAM NEWS
Right, let’s get up and running with some team news. The Aston Villa team looks about as uninspiring as it has all season. Christian Benteke is expected to do most of the work with a handful of ‘possibly talented, but we’re not quite sure yet’ youngsters expected to provide the midfield industry.
Guzan, Lowton, Vlaar, Baker, Bennett, Westwood, Bannan, Sylla, Agbonlahor, Weimann, Benteke
Brendan Rodgers has named a strong team. Despite having to travel all the way back from Uruguay during the week, Luis Suarez leads the ‘being a bit of a nuisance’ duty. Jordan Henderson starts, which may surprise a few people, although it looks likely he’ll be playing a more defensive role than we’ve generally seen from him.
Reina, Johnson, Enrique, Carragher, Agger, Lucas, Henderson, Gerrard, Coutinho, Downing, Suarez