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Aston Villa’s Paul Lambert Defiant Despite Drawing Fifth Straight Blank

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LONDON – The pressure is piling up on Paul Lambert and Aston Villa, just three points above the relegation positions, no goals in the last five league games and Arsenal then Chelsea up next, but the manager intends to remain calm and carry on.

“I’ve been in pressure situations before. If you think this is pressure you should have seen me before the [1997] European Cup final,” Lambert said. “High level football comes with pressure and you have to handle it. I still love doing this job because it has been my life and I don’t know anything else.”

At least the Villa supporters spared Lambert and his players the ignominy of a protest demonstration. The Holte End got behind the team, as the manager had requested, and saw a much better performance than the one the previous week against Leicester, even if it was never likely to gain a reward against a slickly professional Liverpool.

Once Fabio Borini put the visitors ahead from Jordan Henderson’s cross midway through the first half the result was never in doubt and the only interest lay in seeing whether Villa could end a barren spell now stretching to more than eight and a half hours by scoring a goal. They could not, largely due to Simon Mignolet’s excellence in keeping out two worthy attempts from Christian Benteke.

“Simon has always been a great shot-stopper,” Brendan Rodgers said of the goalkeeper he dropped last month. “But now you can see the confidence returning to his all round game. He’s coming for crosses and making decisive contact and that in turn spreads confidence through the defence.”

Lambert suggested that only Mignolet had prevented Villa taking something from the game, though Rodgers made a valid point when he claimed Liverpool could have scored more goals on the counter. Raheem Sterling failed to convert a clear opportunity in the first half while Borini’s scoring touch deserted him after ending a personal goal drought of his own. It was his replacement, Rickie Lambert, who applied the coup de grâce with a composed finish from the edge of the area after being sent on for the last 20 minutes.

The former Southampton player went straight over to celebrate with the Liverpool fans in the Doug Ellis Stand and picked up an unnecessary booking, but Rodgers was in conciliatory mood.

“I’m so pleased for Rickie, it must be a really special feeling for a Liverpool boy to score for the club,” he said. “He is making exactly the contribution we wanted from him, he’s coming off the bench and having an effect.”

How Villa must wish they could find someone to do the same. Yet Lambert was only one of several Liverpool signings in the summer and his namesake at Villa Park just does not have the same sort of resources at his disposal. The Villa manager did proudly point to an encouraging debut from his own substitute Carles Gil, newly arrived from Valencia, but as the club prepares for another relegation dogfight it is clear they will not be attempting to buy their way out of trouble.

“We were in a relegation struggle last season and the season before that,” Lambert said. “The club isn’t where it was six or seven years ago, it is difficult financially now in this league.”

Rodgers had some sympathy for a rival he regards as a friend. “I’ve got a lot of time for Paul, we came through the Championship together,” the Liverpool manager said. “The resources don’t seem to be here any more to aim for top four or top six, so he is having to bring in young players and try to work with them. He is an outstanding manager though, he will maximise what he has.”

Man of the match Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool) – The Guardian

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