Liverpool favoured by fortune
IF, in this most unpredictable of seasons, luck is a requisite requirement for winning the title, the engravers can beginning inscribing the name of Liverpool on the Premiership trophy.
A capricious game ended with Liverpool returning to winning ways, after claiming one point from their previous three games, with a winning goal from Vladimir Smicer.
Fortune presented itself in the shape of their first goal when, after eight minutes, Peter Schmeichel launched one of his trademark missile-like throws.
Through no fault of anybody, least of all Andy D'Urso, the ball struck the referee in the back and bounced invitingly to Jari Litmanen. With Schmeichel still at the edge of the area, the Finn, from 35 yards, had the simple task of returning the ball.
Villa responded, through Lee Hendrie, but the game also saw John Gregory sent from the dugout after questioning two decisions, including a penalty awarded to Liverpool after Steven Gerrard, sent off at Anfield for an unpleasant challenge on George Boateng, fell under the weight of a tackle from the Dutchman.
That Litmanen struck the right post was of little consolation to Gregory, who had previously complained when Owen appeared to be offside. On both occasions, Gregory directed his angst towards assistant referee Ray Gould who, having warned him, called over D'Urso, who advised the manager to leave.
Giving his past indiscrections with officialdom, Gregory can expect another touchline ban, to follow the two-month, 11-game punishment of two years ago, which followed two separate incidents.
Gregory, also warned after an incident last season at Sunderland, said: "I was sent off. Mr D'Urso told me to sit back in the stand. I presume it was for questioning a couple of decisions the linesman made. I must have hit a nerve and he took umbrage at the comments I made and no doubt I'll be reported.
"I'm not proud of them, but I felt I was 100 per cent correct at what I said. I was amazed at the penalty."
While victory keeps Liverpool in third place, three points behind leaders Newcastle with a game in hand, Villa have just one win in nine games since topping the Premiership in October.
The bizarre incident which led to the opening goal bemused Gregory who, while ruing the day's events, still had time to quip: "The referee took it down well and showed a bit of skill, and I think he said: `Go on Jari, have a go.' But I think it was a bit strong when he ran to the Kop and celebrated."
After that goal, Villa levelled, in the 20th minute, when Juan Pablo Angel's volley was parried by Jerzy Dudek but finished by Hendrie.
The penalty decision was harsh and as the crowd sang "the referee's a Scouser," Litmanen struck the post.
Liverpool were recipients of further fortune midway through the second half when Ian Taylor hit the post and, from the rebound, Paul Merson's attempt was cleared off the line by John Arne Riise.
The visitors introduced new signing Nicolas Anelka for the last 22 minutes and he showed promising signs, though his new team had to rely on Dudek to make an outstanding save to deny Darius Vassell before they went ahead again.
In the 73rd minute Patrik Berger's long ball dropped invitingly to Smicer who chested and volleyed beyond Schmeichel.
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