Sport Soccer

Wednesday 11 December 2019

Agbonlahor sinks Reds

Gabriel Agbonlahor, second left, celebrates scoring the winner
Gabriel Agbonlahor, second left, celebrates scoring the winner

If Liverpool needed any needed a reminder how tough life will be without last season's two leading goalscorers, it was provided by Aston Villa.

Paul Lambert's side grabbed an early lead in the Barclays Premier League match through Gabriel Agbonlahor and then clung on for a 1-0 success as their hosts struggled to create clear-cut chances.

With Daniel Sturridge sidelined for up to three weeks with a thigh injury - for which manager Brendan Rodgers has still not forgiven England - it meant Liverpool started a game without him or Luis Suarez, a summer departure to Barcelona, for the first time since December 2012.

Last season the pair scored 56 league goals between them so it was immediately apparent where the Reds were most likely to be under the greatest strain.

Lambert knew this, and also the fact their opponents have still not entirely cracked the defending set-pieces thing, and that was what he targeted.

Liverpool were denied space in the final third which stifled much of their forward progress, while the visitors attacked with speed when they had the chance and were aggressive at corners and free-kicks - which ultimately produced their winner.

Mario Balotelli was brought in by Rodgers last month to provide additional firepower but he spent much of the first half either being kicked or trying to avoid being kicked by Philippe Senderos.

The Swiss defender got away with at least one blatant hack at the former Manchester City striker off the ball which would have likely resulted in a red card had referee Lee Mason or either of his linesmen seen it.

Whether it knocked Balotelli, making his home debut, off his stride or not it was the latter stages of the half before he started to show signs of life with one viciously-dipping shot with the aid of a deflection off Andreas Weimann dropping just wide of the post.

He also created a good chance for Adam Lallana, making his debut after injury in pre-season delayed his first appearance since a summer move, but the former Southampton midfielder drilled a half-volley just wide from Balotelli's lay-off on the edge of the area.

By that time Liverpool were already behind after mistakes by their two centre-backs.

First Mamadou Sakho tried to control the ball close to his own goalline instead of playing safe and ended up conceding a corner, from which Dejan Lovren got the wrong side of Senderos whose header created a scramble from which Agbonlahor scored in the ninth minute.

The goal was against the run of play as Lazar Markovic, also making his first Anfield appearance, had already volleyed over Alberto Moreno's far-post cross and headed wide after being involved in good build-up play with Jordan Henderson and Javier Manquillo.

While Lallana was deservedly booked for a late challenge on Tom Cleverley, making his debut after a deadline day loan move from Manchester United, Mason missed Senderos' kick at Balotelli and chose to take no action after Alan Hutton appeared to rake his studs down the Italian's knee.

Senderos could have rubbed further salt into the wound but blasted wide from close range at another corner.

Balotelli had the first chance of the second half, heading wide Steven Gerrard's corner.

Sterling's introduction, having been rested after international duty, on the hour raised the temperature a notch or two with Hutton booked for scything down the youngster within seconds of his arrival.

Villa's plan to smother Liverpool continued to work, however, and even the introduction of Rickie Lambert and Fabio Borini for Balotelli and Markovic failed to produce the chances needed to rescue a point.

The closest they came was when Philippe Coutinho bent a shot around goalkeeper Brad Guzan only for it to rebound back off the post as Villa left Anfield having taken their tally to eight points from their last four visits.

Their fans left chanting 'We're going to win the league' after a third win in four matches put them second in the table.

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