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Liverpool are miles ahead, admits Villa boss

by Ken Gaunt of "Press Association"

Robbie Fowler got back in the goal standard today as Liverpool consolidated their position at the top of the Premiership.

Anfield idol Fowler took his tally for the season to 20 with his first goal of the New Year.

And he loves nothing better than facing Villa, whose championship challenge may now have ground to a halt.

Fowler has now scored 10 goals against them in just eight games and was the man visiting manager Brian Little feared most of all.

Jamie Carragher marked his Liverpool debut by making the breakthrough with Stan Collymore getting the second.

Manager Roy Evans also gave a first start to Norwegian defender Bjorn Kvarme. The 24-year-old former Rosenborg defender was able to play as international clearance came through minutes before last night's 1700 deadline.

Carragher, born in Bootle and only 18, immediately made an impact when he caught Republic of Ireland international Andy Townsend with a stiff challenge.

Referee Roger Dilkes had no hesitation in handing the youngster a yellow card after just 20 seconds of the game.

Kvarme was left standing in the opening minutes as Dwight Yorke, who had recovered from a thigh strain, cut inside to fire a 20-yard shot over the bar.

Then Tommy Johnson saw a well-directed shot turned away by the legs of Liverpool keeper David James.

But it was the turn of Villa's No 1 Mark Bosnich to show his agility after 20 minutes.

Steve McManaman picked out Jason McAteer on the edge of the box and he whipped in a fiercely-driven volley.

The home fans were already celebrating, only for Bosnich to get down quickly and turn the ball away.

A minute later, Villa defender Alan Wright reacted instinctively to clear a header from Mark Wright off the line.

But it was the Midlands side, lying sixth this morning, who ended the half on top.

Yorke played a delightful one-two with Riccardo Scimeca only to side-foot the ball into the side netting with James beaten.

Then James diverted another Yorke effort with his foot after Sasa Curcic had played the ball into the box.

The second half was a completely different story. Carragher set the ball rolling in the 50th minute, marking his first start by scoring in front of the Kop.

Stig Bjornebye delivered a precise corner and Carragher made space to power a header beyond Bosnich.

Villa were on the rack and suffered a further setback in the 57th minute when Collymore got the second goal.

McManaman picked out Bjornebye, patrolling the left touchline and he sent the ball high into the penalty area.

Collymore got up well to flick on a header that left the bewildered Bosnich stranded.

It was vintage stuff from Liverpool and they added a third goal after 63 minutes with Villa looking distinctly second rate.

Bosnich, who must have wished he was on international duty with Australia, managed to get a hand to Redknapp's fiercely driven shot.

But the ball broke to Fowler who steered the ball into an empty net from two yards out for his first goal since December 23rd.

Aston Villa manager Brian Little reflected on the 3-0 defeat by Premiership leaders Liverpool today at Anfield and admitted: "We were miles behind them."

Goals from Jamie Carragher, Stan Collymore and Robbie Fowler in the second half thrilled the Kop and kept Manchester United at arms' length.

Liverpool are now 10 points clear of Villa and the defeat may just have ended their championship challenge.

Little said: "Hand on heart, 10 points behind Liverpool at the end of January is not a good situation to be in to win the title."

"My players are very tired mentally and physically. I cannot remember the last time I saw them so quiet and so down."

"But a lot of them dropped their heads in the second half and that was disappointing in my view."

"Sometimes in previous games with Liverpool we have felt we are getting close to them. But not today, we were miles behind."

"I didn't feel relaxed at all and thought we were second best for all but 10 minutes of the game."

"I felt we were not balanced as we were without one or two key players. But Liverpool were also in a similar position."

Liverpool manager Roy Evans gave a debut to 18-year-old Carragher and he marked the occasion by scoring in front of the Kop following a cross by Stig Bjornebye after 50 minutes.

Collymore added the second with a delightful header from Bjornebye's cross before Fowler got his first goal of the new year after keeper Mark Bosnich had beaten away Jamie Redknapp's shot.

Evans also gave a first start to 24-year-old former Rosenborg central defender Bjorn Kvarme.

The Anfield boss was delighted with both his new boys and also that his side had re-discovered their home form after only two wins in their previous seven matches.

He said: "We got the first goal today and that gave the lads confidence. It was a great team performance."

"It is a tough old league and it is nice to stay on top and due to our own efforts rather than relying on other teams."

"We put Villa under a lot of pressure today. There was a lot of quality in our play and we got our reward."

"Jamie would probably have played at the back if Bjorn had been unavailable. But we moved him into midfield and he did a fantastic job."

"Now he needs to do it week in week out. But he is not phased by it, all lads of his age want to do is play football."

"Bjorn coped magnificently after Villa threw Dwight Yorke at him early on and he looked more composed as the game wore on."

Copyright - Press Association

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