Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard was predictably delighted with his free-kick winner against Aston Villa today, but Villa manager Martin O’Neill was hugely disappointed, claiming it shouldn’t even have been a free-kick. Either way the 2-1 result sets Liverpool off on the right track, with the Reds determined to put an end to the slow starts they’ve made to previous seasons.
Gerrard told Setanta Sports: “Over the last few seasons we have been frustrated with the start we’ve made, we’ve lost silly points and been playing catch-up, the idea this time is to come out of the blocks quickly and stay in the title race. We were pleased with the first 60 minutes – I thought we controlled the game. Villa came back into the game but we managed to pull it out of the bag late doors.”
Gerrard said of the free-kick: “It’s about time the lads let me take one, I managed to catch one right today, but the most important thing was three points. It was a great three points and nice to go into the Chelsea game with three points on the board.” In terms of the actual award of the free-kick, Gerrard acknowledged how Villa can be upset, but said this is all part of the game: “These things happen and some decisions you get, some you don’t. I’m sure over season decisions will even themselves out.”
His boss, Liverpool coach Rafa Benítez, said that the Reds should have won, and could have done earlier were it not for Villa’s ‘keeper Stuart Taylor, who was having a final chance to show what he could do before Liverpool’s Scott Carson arrives on a season-long loan at Villa Park. Rafa said: “The team deserved to win – we were really good and for me there were two or three positive things but thanks to their ‘keeper we couldn’t score.”
When Jamie Carragher handled the ball in the final stages of the game it seemed accidental and in many games the referee would have played on, like he had done with an earlier incident of accidental handball in this game. However Rafa said that perhaps Carra had made some movement towards the ball and wasn’t complaining about the award of a penalty. Whether he’d have felt the same without Gerrard’s winner minutes later we’ll never know, but in these circumstances he was happy enough to let it pass: “The ball was going to the hand but you could see a little bit of movement of Carra’s hand.”
What Rafa liked most was the way the team responded to the setback: “After conceding the goal, to score ourselves tells me we are going forward. It was a fantastic goal and because the team deserved to win it was the right final for us.”
His opposite number, Martin O’Neill, wasn’t happy with the free-kick award that led to Liverpool’s winner: “I just think he has overrun the ball and he has played for the free-kick. I don’t think it was a foul. He has tried to get the ball himself, but it doesn’t matter what 42,000 people think, the referee has given a free-kick and he has scored from it, so it is disappointing as far as we were concerned.”
Of the game as a whole he felt his Villa side performed well: “We started off wanting to be as bright as they are. But when they scored the goal we lost a wee bit of self-belief and we were chasing the game, so I was pleased to come in just a goal behind. In the second half we matched them but there was always the possibility of them hitting us on the break.”