Fabio Borini on target as Liverpool see off struggling Aston Villa
Fabio Borini scored his first Liverpool goal in almost two years as they comfortably despatched Aston Villa 2-0 in the Premier League.
Rickie Lambert clinched victory as the Reds extended their unbeaten run to eight games in all competitions. Martin Skrtel also hit the post while Christian Benteke and Nathan Baker missed decent chances for the powderpuff hosts.
Villa’s goal misery continued and they have now gone eight hours and 42 minutes without scoring.
Paul Lambert’s side have won just twice in their last 18 league games and are just three points above the drop zone, while Liverpool sit sixth.
Steven Gerrard failed to recover from a hamstring injury with Raheem Sterling back after his planned winter break in Jamaica.
Fabian Delph made an immediate return for Villa after suspension, replacing Joe Cole, and Nathan Baker came in for the suspended Ciaran Clark.
Any planned protest from Villa fans – boycotting the first eight minutes to signify eight years under chairman Randy Lerner – flopped with few taking part.
They missed little, though, aside from Alan Hutton’s fine tackle to thwart the lurking Borini and Benteke heading at Simon Mignolet.
Alberto Moreno did beat Brad Guzan – with a fine low shot in the 17th minute – but his celebrations were pulled back after he was correctly ruled offside.
Liverpool were comfortable, patient and probing as they waited for a chance – and their persistence was rewarded on 24 minutes when Borini netted his first goal for the club since April 2013.
Jordan Henderson was allowed time to cross and, after pulling away from Jores Okore, Borini volleyed in at the far post.
Sterling should have made it 2-0 eight minutes before the break but blew a golden chance when Lucas’ header put him clean through and he could only chip weakly at Guzan.
Villa offered little going forward although the previously anonymous Tom Cleverley fired over after Ashley Westwood’s pass.
It was a rare chance and the hosts were fortunate not to be further behind five minutes into the second half.
They relied on Guzan as the keeper turned Skrtel’s header onto the post before he parried Henderson’s fierce drive.
Carles Gil was handed his debut after signing from Valencia on the hour with Villa struggling for ideas and they almost levelled a minute later when Mignolet parried Benteke’s 10-yard volley.
Borini blasted over two minutes later but Liverpool were being pinned back by a revitalised Villa as Baker headed over and then produced an air shot from just six yards.
But the hosts were left to rue the misses when Lambert sealed Liverpool’s victory with 11 minutes left.
Sterling received the ball on the edge of the box and he found Lambert, whose fine touch took him away from Carlos Sanchez before he drilled into the corner.