Premier League - Liverpool cruise to win over Villa

Mon, 06 Dec 22:53:00 2010

Gerard Houllier's return to Anfield did not go to plan as his Aston Villa side was comfortably beaten 3-0 by Liverpool in the Premier League.

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Liverpool striker Fernando Torres was not at the match as his wife went into labour earlier on Tuesday, but David N'Gog and Ryan Babel stepped into the breach and each scored first-half goals.

Maxi Rodriguez added a third 10 minutes after the break to send the Reds up to eighth in the table.

The defeat means Villa remain just two places and two points above the relegation zone.

Villa had looked uncertain defending set pieces right from the start, and were unable to clear Raul Meireles's third-minute free-kick which came back to Dirk Kuyt. The Netherlands attacker fired wide from 12 yards.

Liverpool soon capitalised on that weak spot as they went ahead on 14 minutes. Kuyt's persistence forced Stephen Warnock into conceding a corner which was swung in to Martin Skrtel at the far post. The big Slovak defender headed back across goal, and the unmarked N'Gog was free to head past Brad Friedel for his eighth goal of the season and first in 13 games.

Villa were still reeling from that opener when Babel scored two minutes later. Lucas Leiva lifted a ball over the top for Babel, who was a shade offside. The flag stayed down, however, and the Dutchman fired across Friedel for his first goal since his first appearance of the season back in August.

Liverpool dealt well with the absences of Torres, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher but Villa, without the suspended Ashley Young and with target man John Carew starting on the bench, struggled to create anything for lone striker Gabriel Agbonlahor.

Houllier brought on Nathan Delfouneso for Ciaran Clark at half-time, and while the young striker did not make a significant contribution personally, the switch to 4-4-2 did give Villa a boost.

They started the second half brightly, and Agbonlahor had his first real sight of goal when Stewart Downing pinged a low ball across the six-yard box. Agbonlahor stuck out a toe to steer the ball goalwards, but Pepe Reina spread himself well to make the save.

That was the most the Spanish goalkeeper - wearing the captain's armband - had to do all evening as he recorded his 100th clean sheet in the Premier League.

Three minutes later Liverpool were out of sight. Maxi played the ball out to the left and found N'Gog in plenty of space. The French striker pulled a return pass into Maxi's path and the Argentine sidefooted his first-time effort into the far top corner for his third goal in seven games.

Houllier introduced Carew and Robert Pires from the bench, but it was a lot to ask of the pair to change the game at that stage. By contrast, Roy Hodgson used his three allotted changes to give Joe Cole, Fabio Aurelio and Martin Kelly a late run-out.

Liverpool showed plenty of the attacking instinct that was evident in their last match against Tottenham, and they continued to push for a fourth.

Glen Johnson stung the palms of Friedel with a rasping strike at the near post before Sotirios Kyrgiakos's header from a corner was blocked on the line by Jonathan Hogg.

Downing went for the spectacular in injury time, but even a late long-range effort would have been scant consolation for Villa and Houllier, who had his homecoming well and truly ruined by his good friend Hodgson.

Tony Mabert / Eurosport

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