Villa clear relegation zone
By Peter Lansley of PA
The most important pair of goals Dwight Yorke has yet scored in his life lifted Aston Villa three places up the Premiership table and away from the relegation zone.
The Trinidadian international struck in the 25th and 36th minutes against a disinterested Liverpool side to became the first Villa striker to score since the calamitous 4-4 draw here with Leicester on February 22.
That was the date Villa men count as the night their season started spiralling out of control. But Yorke's double, taking his season's tally to eight, earned Brian Little's team only their second win in 12 games and so stopped -- or halted at least -- the downward plunge.
This was the first time Liverpool have lost away since November. But, European qualification already assured, this was a summer stroll for them at a ground where they have not won a League game for 11 years.
Results from elsewhere provided practically all the excitement of the second half after Yorke's goals had been the highlight of a thrilling first period.
With Norwich now relegated after their defeat at Leeds, today's results keep the Premiership relegation battle going right to the final day -- when Villa go to Carrow Road.
Villa, buoyed by Wednesday's draw with Manchester City, were intent on going for the jugular right from the off, although it was only after Yorke breached David James' goal for the first time that conviction was coupled with commitment.
Midweek scorer Ugo Ehiogu decided to join in the attack, breaking into the Liverpool penalty area and exchanging a high-risk one-two with Ian Taylor. James saved bravely, but from Staunton's corner and with James possibly impeded by Ehiogu, Yorke was unmarked to head in.
Sloppy defensive work from Liverpool helped set up Villa's second, Dean Saunders, named before the match as the club's player of the year, collecting Mark Wright's poorly-judged header and whipping in a near-post centre which Yorke dived at to head home.
Staunton, sent clear by Townsend, and Taylor, almost put in after Saunders sprinted away from a Liverpool defence melting in the sun, threatened a third Villa goal before the break.
But common sense -- and the heat -- took over in the second half as Villa shut up shop and played neat possession football.
The final whistle was marked with great cheering which the players followed up with a lap of honour, although whether that is for securing their Premiership safety will not be finally clear until a week Sunday.
Yorke's double puts paid to lax Liverpool
By Colin Malam of "The Daily Telegraph"
ASTON VILLA gave their manager, Brian Little, the victory over Liverpool that he craved, and it could be just enough to save the distinguished Birmingham club from relegation.
Even so, they may need more heroics at Norwich next Sunday to be absolutely certain of staying in the Premiership. Depending, to some extent, on the results of the midweek games involving Coventry, West Ham and Crystal Palace, Villa are likely to be among a gaggle of clubs struggling on a final, nerve-wracking day of the season to avoid joining Ipswich, Leicester and Norwich in the Endsleigh League next season.
But this result gives Villa as good a chance as any of skirting the one remaining relegation place. Especially as their goal difference is superior to most of their fellow strugglers' and Norwich are unlikely to offer stiff resistance at Carrow Road now that they are down.
"Basically, we've got to do the same again," said Little afterwards. "A couple of things could happen in midweek that could make the game at Norwich a relaxation for us, but the way the season has gone so far, I doubt very much whether that will be the case."
Talking of resistance that is less than stiff, Liverpool were little short of a disgrace yesterday. "A win against Liverpool would be the biggest of my career," Little had said before the game, but he was obviously thinking of the real Liverpool and not the pale imitation that wilted badly in the baking heat of Villa Park yesterday.
Liverpool have been coasting quite blatantly towards the end of the season
Ever since they qualified for Europe by winning the Coca-Cola Cup early last month, Liverpool have been coasting quite blatantly towards the end of the season. Yesterday, though, their uncharacteristic sluggishness and sloppiness plumbed new depths, as manager Roy Evans acknowledged.
"This was our worst performance since the Coca-Cola Cup final," he admitted. "It was a deckchair day for us, and not acceptable. The biggest losers were our fans. I'm not saying we didn't turn up, but we didn't entertain. The most movement we had all day was when the streaker came on at the end."
By the time that gentlemen bared all in the closing minutes, the teams had long settled for the 2-0 scoreline at half time. Villa's goals had been a fine pair of headers by Dwight Yorke, their Trinidadian striker, who had not scored for 10 games.
Little put the win down to the changed, more committed attitude he has encouraged among his players since they lost 4-0 at home to Arsenal on Easter Monday. "If ever there was a kick up the backside, that was it," said the Villa manager. "We sat down and talked and decided that unless we pulled our fingers out, we were going to go down."
For 25 minutes, however, Villa's nervousness was a more relevant factor than their renewed determination. Not until Ugo Ehiogu, one of the markers in Villa's three-man defensive system, decided to support his attack did the home side achieve any kind of penetration.
Liverpool players complained bitterly that the goal should not have been allowed to stand
Ehiogu found space behind the Liverpool defence by playing a neat one-two with Andy Townsend. Ehiogu looked certain to score for the second time in successive games until David James came out to deflect his shot wide of the near post.
The corner was taken on the right by Steve Staunton and he swung it into the far post with his left foot. There, Yorke found himself with a free downward header into the net as James struggled to get past Ehiogu and to the corner kick.
As the packed ground exploded into a paroxysm of delight and relief, the Liverpool players complained bitterly that the goal should not have been allowed to stand because Ehiogu had impeded James. Referee Robbie Hart was not having any of it, though, even though the Liverpool protest continued while Ian Rush was receiving treatment following a tackle by Townsend that earned the Villa man a yellow card.
Liverpool could complain about nothing but their own ineptitude and lassitude when Villa increased their lead after 36 minutes. Dean Saunders was allowed all the time in the world on the right to deliver the ball perfectly to the near post for Yorke to dive in front of James and head his second goal in nine minutes.
There might have been others for Villa before half time. Another simple one-two, between Saunders and Staunton, meant James had to get his body in the way to stop Staunton thumping in a left-footer at the near post.
Saunders was enjoying himself against his former club and a quick break by him should have led to a goal. He misjudged his pass to Ian Taylor, however, and then Mark Walters got back to make a saving tackle as Gary Charles shaped to put away Saunders' low centre.
The second half was almost a complete non-event
Liverpool had very little to offer in return. The only real threat to Mark Bosnich in Villa's goal was Steve McManaman, who was just about the only Liverpool player to approach anything like his normal form.
McManaman very nearly beat Bosnich in the closing minutes of the first half. After bemusing the Villa defence with one of his mazy runs, the Liverpool player aimed a curling shot for the top corner, only to see Bosnich beat it away to safety.
That was just about that. The second half was almost a complete non-event, devoid of excitement, entertainment and real scoring chances at either end. Liverpool did not disturb Bosnich at all, and Villa were only marginally more active at the other end. Given the high level of his overall performance, though, it would have been nice if Yorke had completed his hat-trick, instead of shooting over the bar, when he bamboozled the Liverpool defence again five minutes before the end.
Little relief as Villa get back on the Dwight line
by Ray Matts of "The Daily Mail"
Villa Park was a place for circumspection as much as celebration as Brian Little's men completed their home programme with three vital points.
The air of relief that swept through a stadium superb enough to grace any Premier Division in the world after a 2-0 win against a team with Liverpool's pedigree was perfectly understandable.
But, as Little and many of his players took the trouble to spell out, this long-overdue and isolated victory merely improves their chance of survival. It doesn't guarantee it.
They must now sit back and await the outcome of midweek fixtures involving other endangered species like Crystal Palace (at Leeds), Coventry (at Spurs), Everton (at Ipswich) and West Ham (home to Liverpool), before knowing what will be expected of them in their final assignment at Norwich.
A draw might be enough - a win might not. The situation is still that close.
Only a fool would assume that the club, so deeply in despair at their own relegation fate, and wracked by fan fury at club chairman Robert Chase, will be a soft touch. The East Anglians would, no doubt, positively gloat at seeing one of the so-called glamour clubs who have creamed off their best players suffer a similar demise to themselves.
Little, satisfied but subdued, said: "We will still need to demonstrate more of the commitment we showed against Liverpool. We've got it all to do again on the last day of the season, because there is no doubt in my mind that the midweek matches will change nothing."
It would be expecting too much to find Norwich in the same lethargic mood as Liverpool, whose non-performance forced manager Roy Evans into making an apology on their behalf. He directed it towards supporters who have come to expect Liverpool to play in the red-blooded manner epitomised by their famous strip. On this particular afternoon, they wore their green and white away uniform. It is not Liverpool: they were not like the competitive professionals we have come to admire.
"It was unacceptable," Evans said. "I told them to be relaxed and get on with their job but they did not perform." With a reference to the streaker who shook hands when he made his late entrance, Evans added: "I am thinking of signing him because he showed more movement than we did all afternoon!"
Poor though the Merseysiders were, Aston Villa still had to demonstrate resolve and conquer their own crisis of confidence to beat them with headed goals in the 25th and 36th minutes by Dwight Yorke - the kid from the Caribbean who may have convinced Little where his future lies.
Yorke has played centre midfield, wide midfield and as a winger. But the 23-year-old has a striker's predatory instinct and, despite the 1.3 million pound investment in Tommy Johnson, Little would be well advised to leave the Trinidadian alongside Dean Saunders for more than the one remaining game of the season.
It was the second time in 12 months that Yorke had bagged a brace against Liverpool. He said: "I just hope I get the chance to do the same against them next season."
That will be as much in his hands as the rest of the Villa team at Carrow Road next weekend - and he knows it.
"We have to maintain our Liverpool form to the final whistle of the season," he said.
"I have become a stronger player physically and mentally but I still think the best is to come."
Villa, and Yorke, hope it will be on show in the Premiership.
Liverpool's indolence eases Villa workload
by Russell Kempson of "The Times"
A stark warning, printed on a board by the Villa Park dugouts, left no room for argument. "It is a criminal offence to go onto the pitch, for which you will be arrested and fined 400 pounds," it read. At the end of a thoroughly unsatisfactory FA Carling Premiership match on Saturday, the sign should have been taken down and repositioned in the away dressing-room.
Liverpool, at a conservative estimate, were eligible for a collective penalty of about 4,600 pounds - 400 pounds for each of the 11 starters and, say, 100 pounds each for Clough and Matteo, the second-half substitutes.
Though they had broken no law nor committed any misdemeanour, they had entered the field of play and insulted the intelligence of many. Their effort was negligible, their achievement nil. It is not often, down the distinguished years at Anfield, that a Liverpool manager has had to concede sheepishly that his side had given so little.
"We were not committed enough. It was not acceptable," Roy Evans said. "It was not as if we didn't turn up, but we certainly didn't entertain. The biggest losers were our fans and, to them, I apologise."
Evans, for the second time in five days, was forced to confront the less palatable aspect of players collecting monstrous wages for miniscule work. Against Wimbledon, in the 0-0 draw at Selhurst Park on Tuesday, Liverpool at least showed some inclination for a fight. Wimbledon, as usual, had provoked them. Against Villa, though, sweat only stained their shirts because of the oppressive heat. It had little to do with graft.
"I've got to take a bit of the blame," Evans said. "With all the pressure in the game today, I've tried to create a more relaxed attitude, but we still want to finish as high as we can in the table." Of course, of course. Yet qualification for Europe, via their triumph in the Coca-Cola Cup, has evidently drawn the sting from even the most conscientious of clubs. A bad, sad day.
Not that Villa, or their supporters, were grieving. One win in 11 matches, and two goals in nine, had pulled them inexorably towards the edge of the relegation abyss. Brian Little, the Villa manager, said: "We sat down, talked about it and quickly realised that if we didn't pull our fingers out, we were going to go down. I think we responded."
Villa merited their victory, the first at home for almost three months, without having to resort to anything spectacular. Staunton, the captain, served them well and Saunders scampered incessantly, a lesson in perpetual motion. All Liverpool could create, poor things, was a series of midfield triangles that inevitably ended with the ball further back than where it started.
Yorke headed home twice, unchallenged, in the 25th and 36th minutes. First from Staunton's corner, aided by Ehiogu's illegal yet undetected block on James, the Liverpool goalkeeper, and then from an enticing near-post cross from Saunders.
The second half was dire, enlivened only by the bouncy appearance of a male streaker. "He showed more movement than we did," Evans said, his endearing Scouse humour erasing the prospect of more awkward questions.
Whatever the public address announcer felt - "see you all next season in the Premiership," he boomed - Villa could still take the plunge. Their final fixture is away to Norwich City, now consigned to the Endsleigh Insurance League, on Sunday, with Staunton relishing a similar challenge at Carrow Road. "Hopefully they won't be trying then, either," he said.