That was a fairly curious game. For an hour, it was actually a pretty decent one, but once Liverpool scored the second goal, Villa subsided into a muttering, wheezing heap of effluence. They ought to have enough to stay up, given how far behind Reading and QPR are, and given Sunderland, but that was not the performance of a side especially mithered. It's not that they weren't trying, but they showed not the remotest gumption once things went awry.
Liverpool, on the other hand, will be pleased with that. They came back well after going behind, and in Coutinho have a player who properly understands what to do. His vision, imagination and composure were the major difference between the sides, and having a serious non-Suarez threat is the most significant reason for Liverpool's recent improvement.
Anyway, thanks for all your emails - sorry I couldnae use them all. Ta-ra.
FULL-TIME: Aston Villa 1-2 Liverpool
90+3 min Disallowed goal! Enrique larrups a clearance straight up into the air, and when it comes down some hours later, a touch from Vlaar - I think - finds Benteke in space in the box. As the linesman raises his flag, he turns into a hooked half-volley, which burns past Reina and sets him off celebrating for a brief shining moment, before reality announces itself.
90+2 min Westwood acquaints his studs with Henderson's knee and is booked. That can't have been far off earning him a red card, because it was not a pleasant thing to do to a person.
90+1 min Alan Smith gives his man-of-the-match award to Steven Gerrard, which seems a little odd to me. Apart from the save off the line, which was brilliant, he's done very little - Coutinho and Suarez have both played better.
90 min There shall be three further minutes in which nothing shall eventuate.
89 min N'Zogbia does something, pointlessly fouling Sterling deep inside the Liverpool half.
89 min Things done by Charles N'Zogbia today:
87 min "If Coutinho were a car," offer Paul Ewart, "he'd be a Ford. If Fabian Delph were an oracle...."
Or an old television news service.
86 min Villa huff and puff worthily, but without even hinting at hinting at accomplishing anything.
83 min Suarez skates along the right and away from Vlaar, then nutmegs Bennett, chuckling as he passes - his ability to scramble through, past and away from challenges really is something else - and suddenly he's a sight of goal, cutting across Guzan and preparing to shoot. But the keeper does just enough, and he overruns the ball, experiencing a mild frustration.
81 min "Only a man can paint a self-portrait, but only a man would want to."
What does that make Brendan Rodgers?
79 min Suarez takes the ball for a little mosey, easing away from Delph and bracing himself for the inevitable foul which follows. Downing then invites himself to take the free-kick, 35 yards out and left of centre, clumping it bare high over the bar and inviting bare ridicule.
78 min The way Liverpool have disappeared the last ten minutes is fairly smart, if fairly tedious.
77 min And a change for Liverpool - Sterling for Coutinho, who's been, if not the best player on the pitch, the most incisive. He's already looking like a very good signing.
76 min Final change for Villa - El Ahmadi replaces Sylla.
75 min Gerrard attempts to force some tempo into the game, chasing down Baker and then his consequent backpass. Nothing changes.
74 min There's not that much going on now. Villa are trying to do passing, Liverpool are trying to do composed.
72 min Villa are easily the least horrific of the sides threatened with relegation, or at least capable of the best football - and have a couple of winnable games after this one, against Stoke and Fulham. And then there's Sunderland. But still, they'll not be chuffed to have chucked away the lead in this one.
70 min In all my looking at pictures of Gabby Agbonlahor career, I have yet to see a single one in which he doesn't look about to sneeze.
69 min Lowton attempts a cross from out on the right that's so miserable it forces Reina to back-peddle and tip over the bar, for a corner which comes to nothing.
68 min "Dearest Daniel," begins Mac Millings. I'd happily just leave it at that, but there's more. "I have no idea what Hubert O'Hearn (1.44pm) means by a "glorious *** dream". I am forced to assume that he has misspelled 'humiliating'."
67 min Bennett chucks his leg into the path of the ball and limps off, then on again.
65 min Brilliant work from Gerrard! Villa win a corner on the right, which Benteke rises to meet, heading towards the right corner. But Gerrard has anticipated the manoeuvre, and nips into the goal and contorts his body in such a way that he manages to introduce forehead to ball while diving full-length into the net.
63 min Ch-ch changes for Villa - Weimann and Bannan off, Delph and N'Zogbia on.
62 min As they did following the first Liverpool goal, Villa come back well. They work the ball wide to Sylla, out on the right, and his cross is low, hard, and perfect for Weimann - who doesn't read a little bobble, and skies his finish.
GOAL! Aston Villa 1-2 Liverpool (Gerrard, pen)
Guzan guesses right, diving low to his right, but Gerrard's caught his kick perfectly, and the ball skims into the side-netting far too quickly to be stopped.
PENALTY TO LIVERPOOL!
This is very silly from Baker. Suarez takes the ball close to the by-line on the right of the box and skips inside Baker, who thunders into him anyway because he's decided to.
58 min Johnson hits the post! Coming in from the right, he wellies one that deflects hard onto the far upright. But...
57 min Oddly, that miss actually showed that Coutinho knows how to finish - though his measurements weren't quite right, he didn't panic and clearly knew what he was doing.
55 min Craig Burley is right! Coutinho is useless! Suarez nips into space, maybe forty yards from goal, drifting right to left, and seeing Coutinho ahead of him, cuts a cross a brilliant pass with instep and suddenly his man is one-on-one. Very deliberately taking his time, he waits for Guzan to commit himself, then rolls a finish wide of the far post. Useless!
52 min Paul Ewart is not at all happy with Craig Burley, reminding us of the following pronouncement: "He's a bit lightweight, Inter Milan don't sell good players."
It's always an odd one, that - the notion that clubs don't sell anyone who's any use. Dennis Bergkamp is another example.
49 min "Self-righteous, insulting, often ruddy faced and indignant, yet annoyingly intelligent and convincing? Dawkins would manage United" reckons Dan Lucas.
Meanwhile, Villa craft a pleasant attack on their left-hand side, Agbonlahor setting Weimann away down the left and accepting a return on the edge of the box. With Sylla hurtling forward outside him and in plenty of space, he elects to thunder a ridiculous effort over the bar, receiving a very stern glare for his trouble.
This is another excellent goal. A clearance from a Liverpool player of some description or other - Gerrard I think - turns into a very handy pass, finding Coutinho on the left touchline. He controls and waits for Henderson, who is charging through the middle, then lifts a ball that arrives perfectly in his stride. But there's still plenty to do, and Henderson keeps calm, advancing before wedging a finish over Guzan as he goes to ground in anticipation of a low shot.
GOAL! Aston Villa 1-1 Liverpool (Henderson)
46 min Good news for Sunderland - yes, really. Yesterday I learned that they sing the following song:
He's our keeper, our Belgian keeper, he's Simon Mignolet. He's our keeper, our Belgian keeper, he's Simon Mignolet. A Mignolet, a Mignolet, a Mignolet, a Mignolet, a Mignolet, a Mignolet, a Mignolet, a Mignolet.
46 min We beginagain.
More from Paul Ewart: "Does Craig Burley know anything about 'soccer'? He complains that Liverpool aren't pressing then states that the only player who is pressing effectively (the split infinitive rule is only appropriate to latin Trek fans) should be given the hook (The Makem Messi Jordan Henderson). One of Liverpool's main problems is that Gerrard doesn't press in a pressing team meaning there's no point in outnumbering the opposition in midfield. Andy why's Our Cilla playing for Villa? Sturridge for Downing please!"
It's that generation-old Gerrard issue isn't it? Benitez did the best job of solving it, in mine, letting him charge around wherever he fancies and with no defensive responsibility.
Words of wisdom with Paul Ewart: "Feh! It's that maven Daniel Harris, always kibbitzing about how bad Liverpool are how life sucks, the poor shlemiel. He's gornisht helfn."
I'm not sure it's possible to be a maven and a shlemiel. Still, better a shlemiel than a shlemuzzle.
Fight, fight, fight:
Here's Matt Dony:
"Richard Dawkins - Well spoken, educated, a bit aloof, and even many of his supporters think he's a bit too clever for his own good. Left wing for Arsenal. He could only be more Wenger's type if he was French."
And here's Gary Naylor:
"Richard Dawkins would have played for Liverpool last season - he did write The God Delusion."
Half-time advert break.
HALF-TIME: Aston Villa 1-0 Liverpool
Though Liverpool have had the better chances, Villa deserve to be ahead on account of being ahead, because it's been a fairly even game. Benteke took his goal exceptionally well - what a signing he was - but Suarez is buzzing around in menacing fashion, and if Villa allow him many more sights of goal, they'll wind up all regretful.
45+1 min During which nothing happens.
45 min There shall be a single, solitary, additional minute.
43 min Another decent save from Guzan - Gerrard ducks inside off the left and flings his body into a vaporiser that the keeper sees late. He sensibly brings up his forearms, and punches it away.
41 min There really ought to be more footballers called Barry Bannan. But the one called Barry Bannan almost wishes he wasn't on account of wishing he'd never been born, attempting a first time pass on the left edge of the centre circle which somehow winds up as perfect through-ball for Luis Suarez in the inside left channel. He draws Guzan and attempts to slot it between his legs, but the keeper adjusts himself well and deflects clear with a foot.
39 min "More Easter fun" with Matt Dony: "Of course, Villa could bring Dawkins on and forget the whole Easter shebang.."
If Richard Dawkins were actually a footballer, would he play for Liverpool? I can't quite decide.
38 min Liverpool concede yet another free-kick towards the left-hand side and around 40 yards from goal. Again, Bannan clips it towards a defender who's come forward, this time at the near post, and Reina has to intervene when it's knocked across.
36 min Suarez wellies a shot miles away from anywhere and everyone laughs. Oh what larks, dear old Pip, dear old chap.
34 min Gerrard, who has been silent so far, feeds Suarez on the left corner of the box and continues his run. Picking up the return, he picks past Bennett and advances on goal, cocking his right stick and applying laces to ball. But Baker is wise to the ruse, and blocks with his sternum
This is very nicely done. Westwood nips a pass over the top, right-to-left, for whoever happens to be in the vicinity. Agobonlahor challenges with Carragher, and the ball deflects off the Villa man's knee and into the stride of Benteke, just outside the box, and he pulls a first-time shot past Reina that's not quite in the corner but hit well enough to give him no chance.
GOAL! Aston Villa 1-0 Liverpool (Benteke)
30 min Pepe Reina, forgetting he's clad in all-buttercup, takes possession, leans back, and lofts a ball over to Johnson on the right touchline like he's Glenn Hoddle. He is not Glenn Hoddle. Pulitzer please! As it makes its way there, Bennett charges into an interception, but can't quite control.
28 min Benteke pastes Carragher on his inside, forcing him to concede a free-kick thirty-five yards from goal - which Enrique flicks behind for a corner. It comes to nothing.
26 min Managers you wouldn't enjoy fighting, with Dan Lucas: "Lambert may be tough, but I reckon Wenger would be the scariest. He'd be cold and merciless about it; fighting Lambert would be like fighting Avon Barksdale, but Wenger just needs to shave his head and he'd be Walter White."
He was the kid in school who knew all the pressure points - I imagine his style is a bit like Dhalsim's.
24 min Villa have been knocking the sphere around nicely these last few minutes, but a stray pass allows Coutinho to break. He's made a real difference to Liverpool - another player, besides Gerrard and Suarez, who doesn't rely on those around him to makes things happen. Racing down the left, he espies Suarez running across the line and threads through a brilliant ball that has him bearing down on goal for a moment. But Baker is alert to the danger, and cleverly runs him out of it.
22 min Easter fun with Gary Naylor: "My money's on Christian rising to a cross from Gabriel to bring some redemption to Villa."
It would have to be from the right hand side.
20 min For the first time in the match, Glen Johnson finds some space down the right, cutting inside, pausing and continuing. With Villa's defence braced for a shot - a compliment to his ability to do so, accurately, with either foot - he instead clips a reverse ball for Suarez, which is only just too heavy.
19 min Downing slings over a cross from the right at which Vlaar flings a leg, almost twisting his torso in two. Racing in behind him, Coutinho almost slides onto the lose ball, but can't quite reach it.
17 min Miserable miss! Villa maintain the pressure, and Bennett clips over a perfect low cross, right into the path of the onrushing Agbonlahor. But blades from goal, he sidefoots his finish against Reina as if on purpose, who saves without the slightest notion of what's come to pass.
16 min Benteke does a handy job of shielding a bouncing ball with his back to goal and Lucas loses patience, kicking him to the ground. Bannan clips the free-kick to the back post, where Lowton climbs and knocks across - but Liverpool scramble away.
15 min Roy Keane is in the audience. I have no idea why.
13 min Oh to be Hubert O'Hearn: "If one believes in dream interpretation, I'm taking Liverpool to win 2-0. Here's why. Last night I had two very odd dreams. The first was having a booze-up with barry Glendenning in an airport bar. That to me is a comedy goal. The second was a glorious *** dream with the woman I love. Hence, a lovely tiki taka goal with a proper Steven Gerrard finish. Yeah it's weird, but it beats listening to Sky pundits..."
I'm not sure there's much I can to add to that.
11 min Bannan loses the ball to Downing in centrefield and Liverpool break, Coutinho picking up possession on the left of the box and jinking inside to prepare for a shot. But Vlaar is wise to the danger and thrusts his body in its way. Villa, after starting acceptably, are not loving this.
10 min Footballing pop songs:
Don't be fooled by the brains he got, he's still, he's still Brenny from the block. Used to have a little, now he's got a lot, no matter where he goes, he's Brenny from the block.
8 min Stewart Downing is a footballer. I know! Meandering down the right, he finds Henderson inside him, and he sends the ball on one more to Coutinho. Liverpool win a corner, and Suarez accepts possession on the left edge of the box. He attempts an outside of the foot prod which scoots well over the bar, and everybody laughs.
6 min Villa have started well here, pressuring Liverpool when they're in possession and charging forwards when they win it. Liverpool haven't settled yet, but Coutinho and Suarez have had a couple of runs and look in the mood.
4 min Eliot Carr-Barnsley has an observation: "Joe Bennett is playing against Luis Suarez. My £5 is on the team who doesn't have Joe Bennett in their side."
As if by magic, Bennett suddenly arcs over a cross from the left, which is perfect for Benteke, who jabs his frontal lobe in its direction. But somehow he can't quite make proper contact, and nor can Agbonlahor behind him.
2 min I don't think it's all that controversial to speculate that Luis Suarez isn't that nice a chapsy, but does anyone care that he tickled an opponent in midweek?
1 min Stewart Downing is receiving much abuse from the home crowd after daring to prefer earning more money playing for a better team. DISGRACE.
1 min It hath commenceth. Villa kick off.
Managers I would not enjoy fighting: Paul Lambert.
The players are upon us. Whatever happened to the slightly inclined tunnel run?
For those of a certain age, this fixture means only one thing: a dark Friday in 1984.
So what does it all mean? Well, Villa make one change to the team which beat QPR - Ciaran Clark busted his shoulder in midweek, so is replaced by Joe Bennett. For Liverpool, Henderson and Lucas come in for the injured Allen and the benched Sturridge.
Let's have some teams.
Aston Villa: Guzan, Lowton, Vlaar, Baker, Bennett, Sylla, Westwood, Bannan, Weimann, Benteke, Agbonlahor.
Subs: Given, El Ahmadi, N'Zogbia, Delph, Bowery, Dawkins, Lichaj.
Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Agger, Carragher, Jose Enrique, Lucas, Gerrard, Henderson, Coutinho, Downing, Suarez.
Subs: Jones, Sturridge, Coates, Suso, Sterling, Shelvey, Skrtel.
Referee: Lee Mason (Lancashire)
DWIGHT YORKE'S GET-UP.
Preamble I was just thinking: like a moth to a flame, burned by the fire, their love is blind, can't you see their desire, that's the way life goes.
It can't be easy
existing supporting either of these teams; just when it looks like they've cracked it, it turns out to be distinctly uncracked.
Take Villa, for example, who've endured a thoroughly miserable season. They've been done at home by Southampton, Wigan and Reading, been knocked out of the cups by Bradford and Millwall, and accidentally lost 8-0 to Chelsea. They're third bottom of the league, which makes them worse than Sunderland. Sunderland!
And yet it's not been all bad. They led Manchester United 2-0, beat Manchester City 4-2, won 4-1 at Norwich and 3-1 at Liverpool. They've given young players given a chance and seen Christian Benteke announce himself. You could argue that Paul Lambert is doing a good job. And yet they're third bottom of the league, worse than Sunderland.
Take Liverpool, for example, who've endured a thoroughly peculiar season. They've lost badly to Southampton and Stoke, beat no one in the top seven until a lucky scrape against Spurs, and were embarrassed out of both cups by Oldham and Swansea respectively.
And yet it's not been all bad. They won in Udine, scored nine against Norwich and were unlucky not to beat both Manchester clubs. You could argue that Brendan Brendan is doing a good job. And yet they lost badly to Southampton, Stoke and Oldham.
This should be decent.