Downing strike sinks Reds
Aston Villa secured a top-10 finish on the final day as Stewart Downing scored to beat Liverpool.
By Mike Barton
Last Updated: 22/05/11 6:32pm
Aston Villa secured a top-10 finish on the final day of the season as Stewart Downing scored to give them a 1-0 win over Liverpool at Villa Park.
In a game where most of the home crowd appeared focused on events elsewhere, the England winger netted to cap an excellent personal season with a well taken half-volley in the 33rd minute to seal Villa's first home win over Liverpool in 13 years.
The Villa fans appeared more concerned with the news surrounding bitter rivals Birmingham, who were fighting for their lives at Tottenham to preserve their Premier League status - ironically a game Liverpool were looking for Spurs to lose to possibly snatch a Europa League place.
It gave a fairly welcome distraction to proceedings in the actual match where, despite a much-improved second half, especially from the visitors, neither side appeared to exert themselves too much.
As expected, there was no sign of Villa manager Gerard Houllier against his former employers, so Gary McAllister took charge against the club he played for 10 years ago.
Dalglish brought midfielder Joe Cole into the side for his first Premier League start under the Scot since he took over in January.
Raul Meireles and Fabio Aurelio also made the team, leaving Glen Johnson, Maxi Rodriguez and Andy Carroll out of the side completely.
Villa were unchanged from their victory at Arsenal last week, as McAllister looked to get one over the club he became a hero at for his exertions in landing a cup treble under Houllier in 2001.
The game began in a typical end-of-season fashion, with neither side willing to make any early inroads and instead preferring to build slowly.
It was not the blistering beginning from the Reds that blew away Fulham in the opening minutes in their 5-2 win two weeks ago, but the first card of the game went to midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker for a late tackle on Jay Spearing in the seventh minute.
Despite coming back on to the pitch briefly, Spearing could not continue and was replaced by Jonjo Shelvey, as Liverpool dominated possession in the early stages.
The first real chance of the game came Liverpool's way, with Meireles' sharp turn and shot from a good through ball by Aurelio being turned away for a corner.
From the resulting set-piece, Richard Dunne failed to clear with a header and Lucas managed a side-footed volley from close range, but Ashley Young was on hand to clear off the line.
Villa started to respond, with Stiliyan Petrov having two efforts on goal from outside the box that were blocked by the visiting defence.
The first half could not get going however, with a catalogue of players going down with various injuries - Jamie Carragher going off for treatment to a bloodied forehead and Fabian Delph struggling with an Achilles knock to be replaced by Marc Albrighton.
And the winger had an impact almost straightaway as the breakthrough came from Villa as the club's player of the year Downing peeled away to the back post and chested down an excellent cross from Albrighton before smashing in off the underside of the crossbar on the half-volley.
The second period began much the same as the first, with Liverpool taking control of possession but offering little going forward and seeing their attacks break down in the final third - Luis Suarez especially looking starved of service.
It was testament to the game's lack of quality that the home supporters found their voice after finding news elsewhere that bitter rivals Birmingham were 1-0 down at Spurs, meaning they would be relegated to the Championship.
The game was failing to ignite at any point, with the visitors constantly losing the ball in the danger areas as a huge gap appeared between the midfield and the front men.
However suddenly Liverpool opened Villa up, with Suarez getting out on the left wing to expertly feed Meireles to get the chance to slide the ball home.
But Brad Friedel got across brilliantly to parry the ball away, although Richard Dunne looked suspiciously like conceding a handball as he dived across the box.
James Collins then almost converted as he tried to strike in the box after being left unmarked from Downing's free-kick, but he could not connect and the ball trickled wide.
Meireles then got through to shoot on the right-hand side of the box after being fed by a smart ball from Shelvey, but instead of pulling the trigger, the Portuguese opted to pass and was closed down well by Reo-Coker.
It could prove to be the out-of-contract midfielder's final contribution in a Villa shirt, as he was replaced immediately by Gabriel Agbonlahor.
It was all Liverpool as the game headed into its final quarter, Aurelio going close with a viciously struck free-kick that went just wide of Friedel's right-hand post.
Suarez then got a good opportunity, firing over from Meireles' cross, but Agbonlahor missed a golden chance to make it 2-0 as Darren Bent broke the offside trap to feed the ball across goal, but the substitute failed to turn it home.
Two more final chances went to both teams, with Petrov hitting a low, hard shot which was well saved by Pepe Reina, and Suarez seeing his side-footed attempt fail to beat Friedel.Ashley Young was Villa's final substitution, going off to a standing ovation in what could be his final contribution in a claret and blue shirt, and also got the news they wanted to hear as Birmingham's relegation was confirmed.
|Aston Villa||Team Statistics||Liverpool|
|1||1st Half Goals||0|
|3||Shots on Target||3|
|1||Shots off Target||6|