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By Chris Whyatt
2210: Some nascent shoots of recovery then for Liverpool while Aston Villa will be scratching their heads on their way back to Birmingham. Plenty of time between now and the business end of the season and perhaps they will spend a bit of Christmas cash in the January transfer window. That's all from me folks. Thanks as ever.
LIVERPOOL 3-0 ASTON VILLA Full-time snapshot from BBC Sport's Phil McNulty at Anfield: "Long, cold and miserable night for Aston Villa's supporters - superb in adversity - and utter misery for Gerard Houllier, despite some late sympathy from The Kop. Liverpool were able to make light of the absence of Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Fernando Torres. A sign of their good performance, and Villa's dreadful one."
Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson: "We are playing better with every game. In the end it was a comfortable victory, but they have to be worked hard for." Interesting to hear him hail the partnership between Ngog and Babel. They showed some chemistry tonight, real promise as a pair.
Pepe Reina, referring to the daunting Carra-Gerrard-Torres absences, on Sky Sports: "We are really confident, especially at home. We have a big squad. There are not only three men in our team. We are really pleased with the clean sheet."
Celtic67 on the text: "Hopefully Villa fans will now realise how good they had it with the legend that is Martin O'Neill. The players are probably realising that now too. Such a spineless performance would never have happened under Martin!"
2155: So, Liverpool up to eighth in the Premier League table - just four points behind the most entertaining team of the season so far Tottenham - while Villa stay down in 16th. That was goalkeeper [and captain for the night] Pepe Reina's 100th clean sheet for the Anfield club, achieved on his 198th appearance. That's quicker than any other Liverpool goalkeeper has achieved it. Nice.
FULL-TIME: LIVERPOOL 3-0 ASTON VILLA
2151: Admirable ambition from Downing as he grafts hard to work an opening but his shot flies high, wide and... Is it back to the drawing board for Villa or just a bad day at the office?
2149: We're into two minutes of added time...
2147: Lefty Villa winger Downing cuts in from the right but his shot is blocked. And Liverpool search for a fourth on the counter... to no avail. Nice one-two between Johnson and Ngog but the latter cannot trap the return pass as the ball bobbles out of play on the frost-tinged turf.
2145: Babel earns a free-kick with some snappy street football skills. But it comes to nothing.
2142: That was hard-working Dirk Kuyt off for Joe Cole. And Kyrgiakos makes his way to the bench as young England hopeful Martin Kelly jogs on. The raft of changes indicative that this match is over now, as a contest. Has been for a while in truth. The impressive Meireles has a decent shot saved. Damage limitation for Villa.
2137: Carew tries to jink between Lucas and Johnson in the box, but the 6ft 7in striker is not a jinky sort of player and is pole-axed by the pair. No penalty. Aurelio is on now for Maxi. Ah, and here's Joe Cole sprinting forth...
Phil McNulty at Anfield on Twitter:"Villa fans singing "It's Just Like Watching Brazil." Heavy irony - as are the chants of "Ole" when they string two passes together."
2132: Close to a fourth for Liverpool but Jonathan Hogg clears off the line from a textbook Kyrgiakos header. Houllier looking dejected, quelle surprise...
2128: Then, strangely, Johnson lashes a wild shot high into the Kop faithful when presented with much more time and space. Guess instinct was not at work there - too much time to think about it. Poise was certainly missing. Liverpool streaming forward.
2125: Superb jinking run from Glen Johnson, eliminating challenges from Pires and Warnock before lashing a vicious shot down Freidel's throat. But the American manages to palm it away.
2123: Will that come in the form of Robert Pires, the former Arsenal man trotting onto the pitch (minus full-on crazy facial hair chin-stripe) for Marc Albrighton? John Carew has also replaced Gabriel Agbonlahor. So a couple of experienced campaigners slip down into the trenches.
2121: Babel tries to slalom through Villa's defence but, despite his positive display this evening, he's no Thierry Henry in his prime. Plenty of ability in Villa's young side, but looking like they need some leadership in the middle of the park...
2118: Must be hard to hear a distracted crowd starting to make oles in the stands. But that's what Villa players are having to cope with. The visitors need a goal. Quick.
Anonymous on the text: "The cracks are beginning to show at Villa. Lerner's cheap appointment has backfired And drop Dunne, he is weak and being targeted..."
Liverpool goal: And so, with Villa committing more to attack, they leave a gaping wound into which Liverpool plunge what looks like a fatal blow. Maxi breaks, feeds Ngog, the return ball arrives 20 yards later as he skips into the box to open up his body and guide a perfect high shot which curls away from Freidel into the rippling net.
GOALFLASH: LIVERPOOL 3-0 ASTON VILLA (Maxi)
2108: Delfouneso beats a man or two but Konchesky snuffs out the danger. Cross from Albrighton is met by Red shirts... Oh, great save from Reina! Downing darts to feed Agbonlahor but his close-range shot is smothered at the feet of the England international and cleared from trouble for the hosts. Villa improving.
2106: Positive move from Houllier. He's taken Ciaran Clark - a defensive midfielder - off, and replaced him with Nathan Delfouneso... a striker. Agbonlahor rampages down the right but his cross comes to nothing.
2102: Second half under way folks, Liverpool attacking the Kop. Still 45 minutes left, Villa not out of this yet.
Mike Symmonds in Sutton: "What has happened to Richard Dunne and James Collins? Houllier HAS to bring in Cueller now - he is slowly losing Villa fans already! Ireland looks like he really doesn't wanna be at Villa. Shocking first half."
Phil, Reds fan, in Loughborough on the text: "Yes, Liverpool look good. And yes, excellent finishes from both strikers. But its just papering over the cracks! This is a very poor Villa side and Hodgson is still out of his depth!"
HALF-TIME SNAPSHOT from
BBC Sport's chief football writer Phil McNulty
at Anfield: "Liverpool's brilliant start knocked the stuffing out of Aston Villa - who did not help their cause with dreadful defending. Gerard Houllier has given some inspiration half-time team talks at Anfield in the past. He needs to find another now."
BREAKING NEWS: EX-SPURS BOSS MARTIN JOL HAS LEFT AJAX By 'mutual consent'. And I'm saying absolutely zilch about the newly-created Newcastle job...
HALF-TIME: LIVERPOOL 2-0 ASTON VILLA
2045: One minute of added time before the oranges come out.
2044: Ireland playing very high up the pitch, almost as a second striker to Agbonlahor. Shouldn't he be dictating from the middle? Villa, however, do string some passes together but their bench sound very tetchy. "Open up!" I hear an assistant coach screech (minus the expletives)...
2041: Dying down now the action as both managers no doubt turn their attention to half-time team talks. Glen Johnson has impressed, I should also point out.
2037: Babel looking bang up for this. Is that the confidence gleaned from starting a match instead of collecting splinters? Benitez never seemed to have much faith in him. He and Ngog, both quick and powerful, a real handful for Villa's back-line. Babel shoots just wide, cleverly cushioning a volley with admirable technique. Is this a new front-two pairing for Liverpool with Papa Torres busy in the maternity ward?
Sam Gos in London Town on the text: "Gerrard's absence clearly allowing Lucas to really shine in the last few matches, much as Rooney was able to do when Ronaldo left United. Lucas really turning into a good central midfield player."
2030: Sad to such a gifted player like Stephen Ireland looking so lost. His passing engine really hasn't purred for a while now, and no change tonight. Still time though. Agbonlahor leading the line for Villa like a Tasmanian Devil. Nice nod-down from Babel but Kuyt's touch is poor and the danger is swept away.
2026: Villa grafting hard to get back in this/ stay afloat. As you'd expect. Collins headed over weakly in front of the Kop but - whoa that's poor, down the other end, from Kyrgiakos. He's nodded tamely over when unmarked at the back post. The hosts should be 3-0 up and cruising.
BBC Sport's chief football writer Phil McNulty
at Anfield: "The start from Gerard Houllier's nightmares on his return to Anfield. Shoddy defending has allowed Liverpool to help themselves to a two-goal lead in 15 minutes. They may be missing Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Fernando Torres - but not too much so far as Aston Villa look so vulnerable at the back. Very good finish by Ryan Babel and Raul Meireles a big early influence."
Liverpool goal: Incredible. Villa lose the ball from the restart, Liverpool pounce like starved tigers fror Lucas to ping a nice floated pass over the top. Ryan Babel looks a shade offside but carries on regardless: control, hold off the defender, and fire across Freidel to double our lead? You bet. Villa staring down the barrel.
GOALFLASH: LIVERPOOL 2-0 ASTON VILLA (Babel)
Liverpool goal: A corner which Ngog bravely nods home from six yards after Skrtel's leaping header back across goal. Anfield goes mad. Hang on...
GOALFLASH: LIVERPOOL 1-0 ASTON VILLA (Ngog)
2012: Argentina's Maxi with a natty snood. Wondered if he bought that from the club shop? Bit frenetic this but you can't fault the commitment. James Collins pumps long. No joy. Good work from Kuyt to force a corner...
2009: Young Villa winger Marc Albrighton unlucky not to get a better connection there from Downing's cross. The visitors settling now.
2007: Tasty opening, all Liverpool. Hot breath billows in front of the players freezing faces. James Collins traps Ryan Babel in his offside web. But the Dutchman is looking lively. Big chance for him, this.
2004: Just a quick clarification on team news for you. Liverpool make two changes from the team that lost at Spurs. Sotirios Kyrgiakos comes in for injured Jamie Carragher, while Ryan Babel replaces Fernando Torres, who is with his wife after she went into labour. Villa are without the suspended Ashley Young for manager Gerard Houllier's return to Anfield, and big night for Stephen Ireland as he struggles to prove himself after his move to Villa Park from Manchester City. Reina is the home captain. Kuyt goes close(ish) with a volley after pinball in the box.
2000: And Liverpool get us under way, Villa aiming to score in front of the Kop first...
1957: And here's Gerard Houllier. Lovely. Not too schmaltzy. A wry smile, quick wave. Huge banners bearing his name stretch across the singing fans. Walk on with hope in your heart, they smile...
1952: This is fast developing into a brilliantly unpredictable Premier League season, don't you think? It really is tight if you
examine the league table;
very compact. Liverpool can go up to eighth with a win against the man who led them to an FA Cup, League Cup, and Uefa Cup 'treble' in 2001. Villa would move up to 11th if they nab the three points. Players emerging from tunnel now.
1947: Managers seem to be the chief theme of the day then, what with Houllier's return and the
remarkable sacking of Newcastle manager Chris Hughton.
Spurs boss Harry Redknapp has just told BBC Radio 5 live: "I can't believe it. You couldn't get a better fella than Chris". Does that echo your sentiments? Do get in touch, and lend me your thoughts on all things football including predictions for the big match at Anfield, on the text via 81111 (UK) or +44 7786200666 (worldwide). Or even
good old 606.
Ten minutes until kick off...
Gerard in Derby via text: "No Gerrard, Carra or Torres? Blimey, Babel needs to take this rare chance. We are desperate for a win. Good to see Houllier back as well."
1940: LIVERPOOL v ASTON VILLA TEAM NEWS Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Kyrgiakos, Skrtel, Konchesky, Kuyt, Meireles, Lucas, Maxi, Babel, Ngog. Subs: Jones, Aurelio, Cole, Jovanovic, Poulsen, Shelvey, Kelly. Aston Villa: Friedel, Luke Young, Dunne, Collins, Warnock, Albrighton, Clark, Hogg, Downing, Ireland, Agbonlahor. Subs: Guzan, Pires, Carew, Delfouneso, Cuellar, Lichaj, Herd
1937:BBC Sport's Phil McNulty
at Anfield: "Gerard Houllier makes a managerial return to Anfield for the first time since he left Liverpool in 2004 - and he will be desperate to mark it with victory to win over some of the Aston Villa fans who remain sceptical about his appointment. Liverpool counterpart Roy Hodgson will want to spoil his return, but he will have to do it without Liverpool's "Big Three". Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher were already ruled out through injury, now Fernando Torres is missing because his wife has gone into labour."
1934: Yep, there should be a tremendous reception for Gerard Houllier as the former Liverpool manager returns to his old club to sit on the opposition bench for the first time. But will he be able to smuggle away three points with new club Aston Villa? His chances have increased due to some important late team news at Anfield. No Carragher, no Gerrard. And - now - no Spanish World Cup-winning striker. Let's get more from our chief football reporter at the scene.
1930: Imagine going back to your old office. But, instead of meekly trundling round repeating the same line of conversation while the broken old photocopier whirrs away miserably in the background, you're given a rapturous standing ovation by 40,000-plus people who worship the woolly socks off you...
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