No happy Liverpool send-off for Gerrard
Liverpool skipper will finish his final season empty-handed
ASTON VILLA 2
(Christian Benteke 36, Fabian Delph 54)
(Philippe Coutinho 30)
The world watched Steven Gerrard's every move, wondering if the Liverpool skipper's final game for the club would be in the FA Cup final.
Every pass was scrutinised in yesterday's semi-final against Aston Villa, his performance was dissected at half-time as the value of his presence was a hot topic.
It wasn't to be Gerrard's day. It wasn't one of his better performances.
It was the men in claret and blue who stole the show, and who would have thought?
Underdogs Aston Villa extinguished whatever remaining hopes of a romantic end to Gerrard's Liverpool career with a 2-1 win at Wembley.
Christian Benteke scored a timely goal to cancel out Philippe Coutinho's opener. Fabian Delph struck the killer goal to end Liverpool's FA Cup dream and possibly their season.
Villa entered the game with more fight and bite. They showed the greater desire. Liverpool almost didn't look too interested.
Gerrard will be resigned to watching an Arsenal-Aston Villa final on May 30, the day he turns 35. But it will be the least of manager Brendan Rodgers' worries.
Of much greater concern will be how he lifts his players to continue an uphill battle for a top-four Premiership spot after a disappointment like this.
Twelve months ago, they were battling for the league crown.
Now, even a cup consolation has slipped out of their grasp.
They never looked comfortable from the start, even though they made the breakthrough first.
Coutinho, one of Liverpool's better players in recent weeks, collected an excellent through ball by Raheem Sterling, and found the back of the net with a deflected shot on the half-hour mark.
But six minutes of superiority were all they had.
Benteke has made it a habit of finding the net against the Reds, having scored against them four times in five Premiership appearances.
Once again, he showed his class, powering a side-footed shot that gave goalkeeper Simon Mignolet no chance to draw Villa level.
Liverpool were rattled, and they never recovered from the blow of losing their lead.
There was a lethargy about their play which was hard to explain for an occasion as massive as a cup semi-final.
Villa had no such problems.
They could smell blood. They came back from the half-time break looking even more determined.
In the 54th minute, Delph punished the Reds for their chaotic defending.
Receiving a pass from Jack Grealish in the penalty box, he cut inside defender Dejan Lovren and finished the move with aplomb.
Most expected a Liverpool fightback. And Gerrard has a reputation of masterminding the improbable in the competition.
But, with only 27 minutes of football under his belt since Feb 10 because of injury and a three-game suspension, he never looked capable of pulling one last rabbit out of his hat.
There was a long-range shot that went horribly wide, a deflected free-kick that dropped tamely into the goalkeeper's arms, and a cross-field pass that went nowhere near its intended target.
Only for a brief moment did he threaten to roll back the years. But Kieran Richardson headed his goal-bound effort to safety from under the crossbar in the 86th minute.
It was clear from much earlier on in the season that Gerrard would leave Anfield without a Premiership winner's medal to show for.
But this result just made things worse. It must have stung Gerrard.
Because Villa rubbed a very generous amount of salt into his wound.