Reds ease past struggling Villa
Alan Hutton and Craig Bellamy (AP)
Birmingham - Kenny Dalglish secured his first ever victory at Villa Park as a manager as Liverpool once again enhanced their aspirations of a top four finish with a 2-0 win on Sunday.
Dalglish will probably not enjoy a more comfortable afternoon this season, with goals from Craig Bellamy and Martin Skrtel securing Liverpool's fifth away win of the campaign as they moved to within sight of the leading quartet in the Premier League.
This canter also ensured a successful return for England international Stewart Downing, who will feel even more vindicated in his decision to move from the Birmingham club to Anfield in pre-season.
Despite Villa's win over Bolton Wanderers last weekend, these are increasingly fraught times for manager Alex McLeish and on Sunday his team never looked like threatening the Premier League's best defence.
The absence of England internationals Darren Bent and Gabriel Agbonlahor, through injury and suspension respectively, was glaring and only Charles N'Zogbia appeared capable of lifting the gloom as Villa crashed to a third home defeat of the season.
Dalglish cannot have envisaged such a stress-free afternoon, after six previously fruitless visits.
Downing received a predictably frosty welcome at Villa Park, making his first appearance since his acrimonious £20 million move.
But the winger, who spent two years in the West Midlands, produced Liverpool's first goalscoring chance when his low shot was saved by Brad Guzan before he was involved for the opening goal in the 11th minute.
Downing's corner was flicked into the danger area by Jonjo Shelvey and though Guzan repelled Luis Suarez's close-range effort, Bellamy could not miss the rebound from three yards.
Liverpool inched further ahead four minutes later after Villa's defenders once again displayed a propensity to go absent without leave.
This time it was Alan Hutton who was caught out as he allowed Skrtel to rise unopposed and nod Bellamy's corner past a static Guzan.
Villa did manage something of a response, however, with £9.5 million signing N'Zogbia producing flashes of individual brilliance and drilling a shot into the side netting.
But Liverpool's pace always caused the hosts problems and it was merely a question of how many goals they would add.
Suarez had one of his quieter afternoons but came close early in the second period, arrowing a drive against the upright.
The Uruguay forward, still waiting on the outcome of an FA disciplinary hearing into allegations he racially abused Manchester United's Patrice Evra, hit the woodwork for a second time just before the hour, sending an exquisite chip over Guzan only to see it come back off the post.
Incredibly, it was the 17th time Liverpool have hit the woodwork this season.
Villa battled to find a goal as time ebbed away but were well beaten.