Press Association match report
Gareth Southgate suffered another penalty hell as Robbie Fowler easily upstaged former partner Stan Collymore's return to Liverpool.
But another brilliant goal from Steve McManaman and a last-minute strike by substitute
Karlheinz Riedle ensured Villa could have no complaints about their fifth consecutive Anfield defeat.
Southgate, infamous as the man whose spotkick miss cost England their Euro 96 dream, was astonished when Liverpool teenager Michael Owen was awarded a 55th minute penalty by referee Martin Bodenham. The lithe little striker certainly took the Villa defender by surprise with a stunning turn and acceleration to spin round him and break clear into the penalty area.
But Southgate never tripped or even touched the Liverpool striker as he tumbled in front of him, Owen's sheer pace and excitement seeming to take his legs from under him as he got within shooting distance. The Cornish official ignored Southgate's anguished protests to point to the spot as Villa became the latest club to bemoan the absence of a 'spy in the sky' official in front of the television monitors. Up stepped Fowler to open his seasonal account after all his summer injury problems.
Collymore, roundly booed at every touch by fans angered at his attack on players who up until this summer were his team-mates, could not match that despite wholesale changes in Liverpool's defence. He has now managed just one goal in nine appearances for his new club, who got him for £1.5million less than Roy Evans paid for him two years ago, but can hardly regard the £7million as anything like a bargain at the moment.
Villa looked a club in turmoil - Ian Taylor angrily storming past manager Brian Little when substituted - as they suffered a now traditional reverse. They have managed three goals for and 14 against in their last five visits to Anfield.
It was no more than the rubber stamp on their first defeat in five games when McManaman scored. The baffling midfielder, made skipper for the night in the absence of Paul Ince, broke away in the 79th minute for the conclusive strike that was a carbon copy of his goal against Celtic in last week's 'Battle of Britain'. Riedle won a tackle deep in his own half, McManaman picked the ball up and set off on his loping run, with Southgate never able to get in a blow at the ball beneath his dancing feet. As the Liverpool midfielder cut into the area, he lashed his shot low across Mark Bosnich into the bottom far corner for his third goal of the season.
Owen weaved through in the final minute, but chose to feed the unmarked Riedle to his left to put the icing on the cake, the German's goal being his third since leaving European champions Borussia Dortmund.
The full extent of Liverpool's problems just 72 hours after the shambles at the Dell became apparent with a team announcement missing nine major names. Injuries certainly accounted for Ince and Riedle, but though Mark Wright, Dominic Matteo and Jason McAteer all had knocks, they might not have survived Evans' slating of their defensive fumblings at the weekend.
With Jamie Redknapp, Rob Jones, Steve Harkness and Oyvind Leonhardsen longer-term absentees, Evans gave first starts of the season to Fowler, Patrik Berger, Danny Murphy and Jamie Carragher. The 19-year-old Carragher had an excellent game alongside Phil Babb in the reshaped defence and there were plenty of other men with points to prove to ensure the passion and commitment missing on Saturday.
Michael Thomas had Bosnich sprawling to save in the opening stages and the Australian then blocked Fowler's header as Villa took the first force of the storm.
But Liverpool's passing is well below the standards Anfield used to enjoy and they still conceded enough possession to allow the visitors to contain them with increasing ease as the half progressed.
David James - whose confidence is like a barometer, rising and falling dramatically - made two great stops to parry Collymore's shot and then deny Dwight Yorke when he looked certain to sweep the rebound inside the near post.
Collymore's best chance came from Alan Wright's 32nd minute pinpoint cross, which saw him leap high on to, but head wide. Once the penalty went in, Villa were always up against it and Liverpool, passing much better and running with more incisiveness, pushed home their advantage. Collymore, showing little appetite for his big comeback, had his best chance right at the end, when Yorke reached the byline. But his glancing header flew just wide of the far post. It was another one of those nights.
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