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07 Dec 2010

Gerard Houllier suffered a miserable return to Anfield as struggling Aston Villa were comprehensively swept aside by Liverpool.

Houllier received a warm welcome from Liverpool's supporters on his managerial comeback to the club he left in 2004, but that was as good as it got for the man who won four major cup competitions in a six-year Anfield reign.

And on the grim evidence Aston Villa produced here, Houllier will have to undertake major reconstruction if he is to enjoy even a slice of that success at Villa Park.

Liverpool strolled to victory, even without the injured Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and striker Fernando Torres, who missed the game after his wife went into labour.

It meant Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson fielded an unfamiliar strike force of David Ngog and Ryan Babel, and they made the most of their opportunity with the early goals that set their side on the way to victory to leave Villa with just two wins in their last 12 games.

Ngog headed Liverpool into a 14th-minute lead with a header as Villa failed miserably to deal with a corner, and Babel added a second two minutes later with a fine low finish.

Liverpool provided the scoreline with an even more convincing look after 55 minutes when Maxi Rodriguez warmed an Anfield crowd shivering in sub-zero temperatures with a delightful finish from Ngog's pass.

Villa's fans did themselves far more credit than their players - although the heavy sarcasm and gallows humour aimed at their team will have hurt Houllier as he tries to win over those still sceptical about his appointment.

Liverpool never needed to hit top gear to dispose of Villa, but Hodgson's side deserve full credit for the manner in which they made light of the absence of three such influential figures.

It was also a landmark night for Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina, who kept his 100th clean sheet for the club in record time.

Houllier, however, looks to have inherited a Villa defence in terminal decline, and the cracks were apparent early on as Liverpool established a lead they never looked like relinquishing.

Martin Skrtel was unmarked when he met Raul Meireles' corner, and Ngog was in even more splendid isolation as he headed past the badly exposed Villa keeper Brad Friedel.

Liverpool doubled their lead two minutes later when Villa were guilty of more shoddy defending as Babel took control of Lucas's pass on the turn ahead of Stephen Warnock to beat Friedel with a low drive into the bottom corner.

The rest of the half meandered to an uneventful conclusion, but any slim hopes Villa had of hauling Liverpool back evaporated with a superb third goal 10 minutes after the break.

Gabriel Agbonlahor had wasted Villa's best chance when he allowed keeper Reina to block from close range, and he paid the price for his generosity as Liverpool wrapped up the game in style.

Maxi found Ngog on the left, then continued his run to take the return pass and place a precise side-foot finish high into the top corner, a move and a finish that drew full appreciation from a frozen Anfield gallery.

Houllier made a double change, sending on John Carew and Robert Pires for Agbonlahor and Marc Albrighton, but by this stage the game was well beyond Villa's reach.

And Liverpool almost added to Houllier's misery with a fourth after 67 minutes when Glen Johnson broke into the penalty area, only to be thwarted by Friedel's fine block.

Sotirios Kyrgiakos was even closer with a header that was goalbound until Jonathan Hogg smuggled it off the line by the post.

Liverpool closed out the win with the minimum of fuss, to leave Hodgson delighted with another home win and Houllier with a graphic demonstration of the scale of the work he has to do to revive floundering Villa.


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