London - Fabian Delph destroyed Steven Gerrard's hopes of a fairytale
Liverpool send-off by scoring the winner as Aston Villa reached the FA
Cup final with a 2-1 victory on Sunday.
Liverpool captain Gerrard,
who turns 35 on the day of the final, had hoped to bring down the
curtain on his Anfield career with a third FA Cup winner's medal, but
instead it is Tim Sherwood's Villa who will tackle holders Arsenal on
Philippe Coutinho gave Liverpool the lead at Wembley with a
deflected finish in the 30th minute, but in-form Villa striker
Christian Benteke equalised six minutes later before Delph snaffled a
"I'm delighted. We were underdogs, but we believed we could win it," Sherwood told BT Sport.
final will be a great occasion. You can't win this cup with an easy
route. If you win it, you have to beat the best, and Arsenal are right
It is 15 years since Villa last reached an FA Cup final
and 58 years since they achieved the last of their seven successes in
the tournament, but victory was just reward for a side who have been
transformed since Sherwood succeeded Paul Lambert as manager on
Liverpool, without a trophy since Brendan Rodgers became manager in 2012, could have few complaints about the outcome.
with seven points now separating them from the Champions League places
in the Premier League, Gerrard's farewell before he joins the Los
Angeles Galaxy would appear to be the last significant occasion on their
calendar this season.
"You can always lose a game, but you hope
you play well and give yourselves an opportunity. But we were
second-best," Rodgers said.
"We looked as if the occasion got to us. Sometimes you can want to win too much."
tactic of looking to hit Benteke at the earliest opportunity quickly
forced Liverpool back and Simon Mignolet was forced to tip over a shot
from Charles N'Zogbia, who was deputising for the injured Gabriel
Mid-way through the first half, both teams made
changes that contributed to the opening goal, with Jores Okore replacing
the injured Nathan Baker at the back for Villa and Liverpool reverting
to a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Minutes later, Okore's failure to deal
with Jordan Henderson's tame square pass enabled Raheem Sterling to roll
the ball into the path of the onrushing Coutinho, who stole into the
box and scored via a deflection off Okore's knee.
Rodgers's tactical switch had brought immediate dividends, but his side's lead would not last long.
Liverpool still readjusting to the new system, Delph raided into space
down Villa's left and cut the ball back for Benteke to steer home his
ninth goal in seven games.
Liverpool's play was crying out for an
attacking focal point and at half-time Rodgers sent on Mario Balotelli
for Lazar Markovic, which saw Gerrard repositioned in front of the back
four in another re-shuffle.
But it was Villa's football that
bristled with attacking intent and nine minutes into the second half
they went in front with a neatly worked goal.
down the left flank and back-heeled the ball to Jack Grealish, Villa's
apparently nerveless 19-year-old playmaker, who rolled a pass into the
box for Delph, and the England man stepped inside Dejan Lovren before
scoring with his right foot.
It should have been 3-1 just after
the hour, but when the ball rolled into Kieran Richardson's path after
Lovren had slid in to thwart Grealish, the former Manchester United man
miscued his shot.
Gerrard has made a habit of producing Hollywood
endings, but this time the occasion proved beyond him, with his
goal-bound header cleared off the line by Richardson four minutes from
Liverpool might yet have snatched an equaliser, but
Balotelli saw a goal ruled out for a marginal offside call and with
that, Gerrard's dream evaporated.