Monday 26 June 2017

Timely Sturridge double a lifeline for under pressure Rodgers

Liverpool 3 Aston Villa 2

Daniel Sturridge celebrates after scoring his team’s third goal yesterday
Daniel Sturridge celebrates after scoring his team’s third goal yesterday
Aston Villa's English defender Joleon Lescott (R) vies for the ball with Liverpool's English striker Daniel Sturridge
Liverpool's English striker Daniel Sturridge celebrates his team's second goal
Aston Villa's Idrissa Gueye is tackled by Liverpool's James Milner

Andy Hunter

The magnitude of his 164th game as Liverpool manager did not show in Brendan Rodgers' reaction to a precious victory over Aston Villa. A handshake for Tim Sherwood, a pat on the back for Gary McAllister, a thumbs-up to the directors' box and he was gone.

Rodgers has waited a damaging length of time for Daniel Sturridge to regain fitness and the clinical touch his team has desperately lacked this year.

He was repaid when it mattered most, the England international scoring twice to seal a first win in five league matches after James Milner had driven Liverpool into a swift lead.

Of course, it could never run smoothly for a manager in Rodgers' predicament. He endured unnecessarily nervous moments after poor defending allowed Rudy Gestede to score twice and give Villa hope their naive and careless play scarcely deserved. But Liverpool, sharper in all facets than of late and showing the obvious benefit of a proven marksman in their ranks, held firm to release some of the pressure on Rodgers.

"It is not rocket science," said the Liverpool manager. "The last time we scored three goals was when Daniel started against Tottenham (in February).

"If you want to compete at the top you need quality. Daniel has shown in his time here that he is a real top talent. He's probably disappointed he didn't get a hat-trick but his overall game and touch were outstanding."

Rodgers went on to suggest he is the victim of a conspiracy by people "outside of here" who want him removed from his job.

When the emotions had faded, it was Sherwood who was left with the greater problems given the paucity of his team's performance. A young Villa side have not won in the Premier League since the opening day.

The Villa manager said: "We will always score goals and if you score two at Anfield you expect to take something from the game but we didn't do that."

He added: "It is a young group of players we acquired. The club decided it was the best way to go forward. I am very privileged to have the chance to work with them but it comes with its ups and downs and you can see that now."

You'll Never Walk Alone may have started on a bum note - because of a problem with the pre-match music - but mercifully for Rodgers his Liverpool team did not.

A goal on 66 seconds from Milner, the stand-in captain's first for his new club and the quickest in the Premier League this season, provided the perfect release for a besieged manager and frustrated crowd.

Gestede headed wide from Jordan Amavi's cross but otherwise Villa's brightest moments in the first half stemmed from Liverpool errors.

The Kop displeasure appeared to ease when Sturridge scored his first goal since March. It was the first time Liverpool had scored more than once in a game since May. Villa were gifted unlikely hope when Mamadou Sakho, Martin Skrtel and Mignolet all left Hutton's cross from the right and Gestede arrived to convert at the back post.

Seconds later Sturridge restored Liverpool's two-goal lead.That should have sufficed for Liverpool but a fourth goal in 13 minutes, from Gestede once again, set up a nervous finale for the Anfield crowd.

Coutinho, Sturridge and Ings all missed decent chances in the dying moments but Liverpool deservedly secured victory and Rodgers a lifeline.

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