Aston Villa remain in the Premier League bottom three after Liverpool came from behind to claim the three points and keep alive their faint hopes of securing a UEFA Champions League spot with their 2-1 win at Villa Park.
Villa looked on course for a third successive win after leading at the interval through Christian Benteke's 18th goal of the campaign. But the Reds equalised through Jordan Henderson early in the second period and then captain Steven Gerrard's penalty sealed victory for the visitors.
The home side, who yesterday slipped into the relegation zone for the fifth time this season, are level on points with Wigan Athletic but have an inferior goal difference. Villa posed plenty of threat to Liverpool in the first half with Benteke and Gabriel Agbonlahor linking well and Ashley Westwood pulling the strings in midfield. But Liverpool upped their game a gear in the second period as they closed the gap on sixth-placed Everton to three points.
Luis Suarez was a handful throughout the 90 minutes, despite his FIFA World Cup™ qualifier exertions in Uruguay in midweek, and came close on several occasions to notching his 30th goal of the season. Villa were the first to threaten and a probing pass from Westwood found overlapping left-back Joe Bennett in plenty of space. He delivered a teasing cross to the near post which Benteke just failed to make contact with as it flew across the six yard box.
Andreas Weimann had a volley blocked but Agbonlahor should have put Villa ahead after 17 minutes. Matt Lowton delivered a superb curling cross into the danger area which picked out the run of Agbonlahor. But the England striker turned his shot straight at Jose Reina when it looked easier to score.
Brad Guzan was called into meaningful action for the first time when finger-tipping a shot from Suarez over the bar after good play by Glen Johnson. Then Nathan Baker had to be alert to nick the ball off the feet of Suarez inside the Villa area. Benteke had scored twice in the 3-1 win at Anfield earlier in the season and after 31 minutes he put Villa ahead.
Westwood's cross was turned back by Agbonlahor to Benteke who drilled a fierce shot past Reina who got a hand on the ball but could not keep it out of the net. It was the 18th goal of the season from the Belgian international. Liverpool tried to retaliate and a misdirected pass from Barry Bannan allowed Suarez a free run at goal but Brad Guzan managed to keep out his low drive. The Villa keeper then fingertipped aside a long-range drive from Liverpool skipper Gerrard.
Henderson sparks Reds comeback
Liverpool needed only three minutes of the second half to get back on level terms. Philippe Coutinho's defence-splitting pass was seized on by Henderson who flicked the ball past Guzan into the corner of the net for his fourth goal of the season.
Gerrard became the first player to be booked for a foul on Agbonlahor. Coutinho should have put Liverpool ahead in the 56th minute after beating the offside trap to run onto a pass from Suarez but he dinked his shot wide of the post. But Liverpool were not to be denied and went ahead three minutes later.
Suarez was brought down in the box by Baker and the resulting spot-kick was converted by Gerrard. Weimann could have made it 2-2 but scooped his shot over the bar from ten yards. Then Gerrard headed Benteke's header off the line at full stretch from a Westwood corner.
But Liverpool had succeeded in taking much of the string out of Villa's attacking threat and quietening the Holte End. Suarez had a shot on the turn saved by Guzan after some trickery inside the Villa box. Benteke had the ball in the net in injury time but was clearly a yard offside.