Liverpool FC ease to 2-0 win at Aston Villa
THE Villa Park stadium announcer wishing the home supporters a safe journey home at the final whistle may as well have been speaking to himself.
That so few of the Midlands faithful remained inside the ground spoke volumes for yet another impressive away performance from Kenny Dalglish’s side yesterday.
Liverpool FC ensured their manager celebrated a landmark afternoon in the ideal manner with a victory that helps them keep pace in the battle for Champions League qualification.
On Dalglish’s 350th game in charge, two goals inside the opening 15 minutes sealed a seventh win in eight away matches and a fifth league triumph on the road this season – equalling Liverpool’s tally for the whole of last season.
The margin of victory should have been greater; a lot, lot greater. But the season’s recurring profligacy and affection for the woodwork this time merely underlined the visitors’ supremacy rather than give any cause for regret. Certainly, Dalglish couldn’t have asked for more compliant opponents. Shorn of leading strikers Gabriel Agbonlahor and Darren Bent, Villa were toothless going forward.
By contrast, Liverpool’s danger was consistent and widespread, with Craig Bellamy the chief tormentor. The Welshman set the visitors on their way with an 11th-minute opener before turning provider for Martin Skrtel’s fine header four minutes later.
Both goals came from corners – so often an Achilles heel for Liverpool, but this season an increasingly rich source of reward.
With this the first of six games in 19 days, the hectic festive schedule will go a long way towards shaping the second half of Liverpool’s season.
Indeed, a Premier League in which an unremittingly average Manchester United team can still challenge for the title suggests there remains plenty at stake for Dalglish’s men.
Luis Suarez helped take Liverpool’s woodwork tally to 17 times in 16 Premier League games by twice striking the frame of the goal following the interval.
It may be the Uruguayan’s last appearance for some time with the Football Association expected to pass their delayed verdict tomorrow on the striker’s racial abuse charge towards Patrice Evra.
If so, this was some parting shot, Suarez forming a lightning triumvirate alongside Bellamy and the returning Stewart Downing that continually struck terror into the hearts of a ragged Villa defence.
There was a time when this fixture would have been an automatic sell-out. But with the recession beginning to bite, redundancies widespread and just a week until Christmas, there were plenty of empty spaces around Villa Park even before the late mass exodus.
Rotation is inevitable given the heavy festive workload, but there were eyebrows raised at Dalglish handing Jonjo Shelvey his first-ever Premier League start.
Shelvey had impressed during a loan spell at npower Championship side Blackpool, scoring six goals in 10 appearances before being recalled following the season-ending injury to Lucas Leiva.
However, if it was a major surprise the teenager was preferred to Maxi Rodriguez and Dirk Kuyt, Dalglish’s decision paid rich dividends with Shelvey encouraging in support of lone striker Suarez.
The pair were heavily involved in Liverpool’s opening goal on 11 minutes.