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Liverpool end losing streak as fallen giants play out stalemate

After losing five of their last six matches Liverpool needed to stop the rot, and by coming back from a goal down against Aston Villa they just about did that.

Liverpool never used to be grateful for points shared with opponents from the bottom half of the table, but both these clubs have fallen a long way from grace. This was an undistinguished mid-table game, no more no less.

The idea that Anfield used to be some sort of football fortress is quickly becoming laughable. The Villa fans were certainly laughing after a mere 11 minutes when their side followed Wigan a fortnight ago in discovering that even relegation-haunted teams can boost their hopes at Liverpool. "We're winning away," the travelling supporters in the Anfield Road end chorused when Villa took an early lead. "How crap must you be, we're winning away."

There was not a lot the home side could offer by way of argument. There was an early moment of promise when Stewart Downing galloped away from Alan Hutton to cross smartly from the left corner flag, but Shay Given was equal to Dirk Kuyt's low shot. Then, before Liverpool knew it, they were behind.

Playing instead of the suspended Pepe Reina, Alexander Doni did not distinguish himself in dealing with Steven Warnock's cross from the left, and after retrieving the ball from the goalkeeper's half-clearance, Barry Bannan had all the time he needed to look up and place the ball exactly where Chris Herd was indicating, so that the Australian could open his Villa scoring account with a confident first-time shot.

It would have got worse for Liverpool before half-time had James Collins managed to hit the target with a free header from a corner, though at least the home side exerted some pressure and created a few chances as the interval approached. Martin Skrtel headed narrowly wide and Luis Suarez had an appeal for a penalty turned down when tackled by Hutton, before Kuyt somehow turned the ball over the bar from two yards out having done the hard bit by getting on the end of Steven Gerrard's shot across the face of goal. Right on the stroke of the break Suarez found himself with a clear sight of goal, albeit from a slight angle, but only managed an almost apologetic shot straight at Given.

Suarez thought he had scored with a glancing header from Gerrard's deep cross at the start of the second half -- Given probably thought he had too -- yet at the last moment the ball bounced onto a post and back across goal, to be pawed away to safety by a surprised but relieved goalkeeper.

By the time Emile Heskey departed after an hour, Villa were holding their own quite comfortably but beginning to defend too deep. Only a comedy mix-up between Skrtel and Doni threatened another away goal, and though Collins was outstanding at the heart of Villa's defence they were fighting a rearguard action with most of the game in their half.

Enter Andy Carroll and Craig Bellamy, the former giving the away fans further amusement by replacing the hapless Downing, a former Villa player who had been attracting "what a waste of money" chants all afternoon. That has been Carroll's function for most of the season, and he duly missed his first two chances, one in the air and one on the ground.

Liverpool could have had a penalty when Eric Lichaj miscontrolled in the box and the ball bounced up and hit him on the arm, but the referee missed it. Villa got lucky with that one, for though the offence was unintentional the contact was clear.

Bellamy hit a post as the game entered the last 10 minutes, adding to Liverpool's list of close encounters with the goal frame this season, but it was the third substitute, Daniel Agger, who finally made a difference. Meeting Gerrard's cross at the far post with a powerful header, Agger brought a sharp reaction save from Given, who was unable to prevent Suarez stealing in to divert the loose ball across the line from close range.

After a booking for diving a few minutes earlier, Suarez was at least able to claim he saved a point. Whether that represents a satisfactory outcome for Liverpool at home these days is another matter.


Sunday Indo Sport