Aston Villa 0, Liverpool 0

By Administrator on Aug 31, 08 06:07 PM in

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Rafael Benitez suffered a torrent of abuse and saw his Liverpool side miss out on the chance to go top of the Barclays Premier League after a goalless draw at Villa Park.

Aston Villa fans taunted the Reds boss with chants of 'There's only one Gareth Barry' after the collapse of the England midfielder's move to Liverpool, and some of the crowd aimed personal insults at the Reds manager.

Benitez was met with a crescendo of abuse from Villa fans when he made his way to the dug-out before shaking hands with home manager Martin O'Neill, with whom he became embroiled in a war of words over Barry.

But the game itself was mostly disappointing, with both sides cancelling each other out and for long periods adopting a safety-first approach until an exciting finale.

Liverpool needed to win to go top but they could not find their way through a home rearguard in which
captain Martin Laursen was a rock-solid performer.

Midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker had one of his best games for Villa on the right flank, before switching to full-back in the closing stages to accommodate £12million new recruit James Milner.

The encouraging factor for Villa was that they looked a match for Liverpool, an established member of the Premier League's 'big four', in a season where they are expected to challenge to break into the elite group of teams.

But Villa also found it difficult to create decent opportunities, with Javier Mascherano impressing in the Liverpool midfielder after his return from Olympic action with Argentina.

The first incident of note saw Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel booked after 13 minutes for hauling back John Carew on the left flank.

Liverpool suffered a setback after 27 minutes when striker Fernando Torres pulled up sharply when chasing an innocuous-looking pass and was immediately taken off.

It led to Benitez giving a debut to striker David Ngog who was signed from Paris St Germain earlier in the summer.

Then, after 35 minutes, Carew squandered the first clear-cut chance.

Barry's fine pass played in Ashley Young who had beaten the offside trap and he laid the ball back invitingly into the path of Carew, only eight yards out from goal.

But the Norwegian international opted to place his low shot rather than go for power and Reina was able to block his attempt.

Liverpool threatened for the first time when a deep cross from Andrea Dossena was only headed by Nicky Shorey into the path of Dirk Kuyt but his side's midweek Champions League goal hero shot into the sidenetting.

Then a superb reverse pass from Robbie Keane opened up the Villa defence for Ngog and his left-footed curler was only inches too high.

The visitors stepped up their game in the second half and Keane teed up a shot for Xabi Alonso which was deflected over Brad Friedel's bar by Shorey.

Then Friedel did well to tip over, at full stretch, a superb cross on the run from Dossena.

Villa enjoyed pressure of their own and Curtis Davies made good ground to get on the end of Young's free-kick but summed up the game by heading the ball away from the Liverpool goal.

The biggest cheer of the afternoon came with the introduction of Milner in place of Luke Young whose right-back berth was filled by Reo-Coker.

Dossena was booked a minute later for throwing the ball away after disputing a throw-in awarded to Villa.
Benitez brought on Fabio Aurelio for Kuyt after 70 minutes, and Petrov was just off target with a dipping volley.

Benitez then appealed in vain for a penalty after Reo-Coker's tackle on Keane who shot wide when under pressure from the Villa midfielder.

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