Such Has Been His Team's Schizophrenic [...]; 'As a Captain to a Manager, Gerrard Has Be Be En Phenomenal for Me' - Brendan Rodgers

Article excerpt

Byline: IAN DOYLE at Villa Park

on against Nathan Baker PREMIER LEAGUE ASTON VILLA 1 Benteke (31) LIVERPOOL 2 Henderson (47), Gerrard (60 pen) IF defeat to Aston Villa back in December left Brendan Rodgers pulling out his hair, then victory yesterday would surely have left the Liverpool manager scratching his head.

Such has been his team's schizophrenic season, a campaign of wildly contrasting fortunes neatly encapsulated during 90 entertaining minutes at Villa Park.

What at half-time appeared to be heading towards a second successive demoralising away defeat was transformed into a morale-boosting and deserved triumph.

With Rodgers convinced the 3-1 home loss to Villa before Christmas was the kickstart for Liverpool's Premier League campaign, then yesterday's win against the Midlanders at least ensures their season remains alive.

Certainly, there is no indication the Northern Irishman's side are willing to throw in the towel while there remains a glimmer of hope of claiming fifth place.

How Liverpool needed a response having had a fortnight to brood over the disappointing reverse at Southampton, a result which exposed the shortcomings and maddening inconsistency that have undermined Rodgers' debut campaign.

In the case of the latter, it could be argued nothing has changed.

The signs were ominous when Christian Benteke, who scored twice in Villa's Anfield win, thumped in a first-half opener. But, inspired by the remarkable Luis Suarez, Liverpool were transformed after the interval, Jordan Henderson equalising before Steven Gerrard coolly converted from the spot.

Gerrard, who has now reached double figures for the eighth campaign, clearly loves playing Villa. This was his 12th career goal against the Midlanders; no Liverpool player has scored more in the fixture.

But, once again, it was the irrepressible Suarez who most captured the imagination.

Although failing to add to his 29-goal tally for the season, the Uruguayan was nevertheless the chief tormentor of a youthful Villa backline ultimately belied by their inexperience, most notably when teasing Nathan Baker into conceding the decisive penalty.

Suarez, though, would frighten defenders of any vintage in this form. Rodgers spoke before the game of how Daniel Sturridge - rested to the bench yesterday - could learn from his strike partner's work ethic, and rarely can there have been a better example.

There was encouragement elsewhere. Philippe Coutinho, busy, brave and creative, proves a more canny purchase with every outing, the Brazilian's perfectly-weighted pass compelling Henderson to bag the equaliser.

It was a timely goal for both team and player. Henderson has been curiously overlooked in recent weeks - this was his first Premier League start in almost seven weeks - and with Joe Allen ruled out until the summer, the England under-21 man knows he must grasp the opportunity to prove he has a long-term future at the club.

Having been dragged back into the drop zone the previous day, Villa's greater desire meant they began the brighter against a strangely listless Liverpool.

Pepe Reina, returning to the starting line-up along with Jamie Carragher and Lucas Leiva, was in the right place on 16 minutes to prevent Rodgers' men falling behind, saving from point blank range after Gabriel Agbonlahor met Ashley Westwood's invitingly curled cross from the right.

But the Spaniard could do nwhen Villa's enterprise earned dreward on 31 minutes. …