The temptation to gloat was surely immense but Paul Lambert, a man with a poker face set to permanent, would not bite – even following a Darren Bent-less, Christian Benteke-inspired defeat of Liverpool with the youngest Aston Villa team of the Premier League era. "I have my own thoughts," was all he said when invited to respond to those who questioned his faith in the young of Villa Park. Whatever they are, the dividends are starting to show.
With Brendan Rodgers lamenting a sobering afternoon for Liverpool – their recent improvement brought into perspective with an abrupt halt – and Lambert presenting a straight bat throughout the press conference, the significance of Villa's victory was not reflected in the reaction of the managers. But the signs were there. The average age of a Villa team that absorbed constant Liverpool pressure for the opening 25 minutes, struck superbly on the break and then defended stoically once more was 23 years and four months. Remove the goalkeeper Brad Guzan from the equation – Liverpool would still have struggled to hit the target – and the outfield average falls to 23.
There was clear unity between an impressive three-man defence of Chris Herd, Ciaran Clark and Nathan Baker, who came through the Villa academy together. Lambert's tactics, and admittedly Liverpool's final ball, stifled the home side's attacking threat while his signings Matt Lowton, Ashley Westwood and Benteke in particular showed his eye for rich yet modestly-priced potential. The Belgium international took his Villa tally to eight this season with two emphatic finishes while his part in Andreas Weimann's sublime team goal – one that drew applause from some Liverpool supporters – left his colleagues and the travelling fans in rapture.
Even Lambert was effusive on the subject of his £7m signing from Genk. "He is brilliant. He can be anything he wants," the Villa manager said. "He might not hit his peak until he is about 28, you never know. But he has been incredible for us. Everyone loves playing alongside him, he is really popular in the dressing room and his two goals were outstanding. He is playing in an unbelievable Belgian side, which is bringing him along as well. He is still learning and he has got to keep learning.
"Before we signed him I spoke to a few people that he has played under and they gave a glowing report about him. Not just as footballer but as a guy, which is important."
Benteke's first came from outside the Liverpool area with a low shot that deceived José Reina and bounced in via the near post. Villa's second arrived after a move began with Barry Bannan and was finished by Weimann after Benteke's exquisite back-heel in the penalty area took out two Liverpool defenders. Their third typified Liverpool's failure to handle Benteke's physical menace all game as he muscled into the area, ignored Martin Skrtel and Joe Allen, and finished from close range. Luis Suárez and Joe Cole had lost possession prior to both Benteke goals, adding to Rodgers's frustration at the "self-inflicted" end to Liverpool's encouraging recent run.
The Liverpool manager said: "I find it hard to know where that performance came from to be honest. In some ways it was the most disappointing game we've had since I came here. We couldn't have arrived in the game on a better moment, but we must learn from this that no matter which team you play against, you have to be right on it. We must learn."
Steven Gerrard's late consolation denied Villa their biggest league win at Anfield since 1914, but nothing else. Appeals for a penalty when Clark man-handled Daniel Agger were refused by the referee Neil Swarbrick and Liverpool discovered the cost of Suárez having an off day and Lucas Leiva showing the effects of his recent absence through injury. "We are trying to build something here," said Lambert, who faces a similar task to Rodgers but with less expectation. "The signs are looking really, really good."
Man of the match Christian Benteke (Aston Villa)