Aston Villa go second in Premier League after win at Liverpool
Liverpool 0 - Aston Villa 1
Alan Pardew was always the even-money favourite to become the first Premier League manager to lose his job but, when the season opened, Paul Lambert was among the runners and riders.
When Graham Taylor resigned as manager of Aston Villa in 2003, he said it was because the biggest sporting institution in the Midlands was "more than about finishing 16th". Lambert's first two seasons at Villa Park saw them finish 15th each time and when the club's owner, Randy Lerner, put it up for sale, there were many who thought his manager was in a cul-de-sac with only one way out.
It will not last but after Saturday's 1-0 victory at Anfield, Villa are second, having conceded one goal in four games.
Lambert said Lerner's decision to sell had gelled a young squad rather than sent them scurrying for their agents.
The next four junctions see them turn off to face Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Everton. But while Villa's performances in their last two seasons have been generally underwhelming, they have tended to over-perform against the big teams. Saturday's 1-0 win at Liverpool was the third time Villa have come to Anfield under Lambert, and their tally is seven points.
Lerner may be ready to leave but Gabby Agbonlahor has signed and the club is hopeful Fabian Delph will do the same.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers insisted he did not make a mistake resting Raheem Sterling in the defeat to Aston Villa but the teenager will be straight back in the starting line-up for their Champions League opener.
Sterling has emerged as a key player for the Reds over the last 10 months but having played 180 minutes in England's two matches last week he was benched for the game.
He was introduced after an hour with Liverpool struggling to break down their opponents but even he could not unlock a resilient Villa rearguard.
The 19-year-old will be back in the team for Tuesday's visit of Bulgarian outsiders Ludogorets as Rodgers looks to get the club's return to Europe's elite off to a flying start.
But the Northern Irishman stressed that did not mean he got it wrong against Villa.
"We have an exciting couple of months and this was a game I felt we could do that," he said. "If he didn't have international football then it would have been the case.
Liverpool's starting XI contained five summer signings – with midfielder Adam Lallana making his debut after an injury in pre-season – but Rodgers said that was not the reason for defeat.
"We had new players against Tottenham (whom they beat 3-0 before the international break) and we were outstanding," he said. "The players we have brought in are very good players and I am delighted with them but we just failed to open them (Villa) up.
"We just lacked that bit of quality. We have seen many games here where we ended up with 15-20 shots on target but that didn't happen."
For some time Liverpool's Achilles heel has been set-pieces and they conceded from another when from an avoidable corner Philippe Senderos's header created enough confusion for Gabriel Agbonlahor to score.
Senderos had a couple of opportunities to double their lead in the first half but also escaped punishment for what looked like a kick at Mario Balotelli.
Lambert said: "It was a massive three points."
"Tom Cleverley (signed on loan from Manchester United) was outstanding, Fabian Delph carried on where he left off the other night (for England) and Ashley Westwood is a lad who is unfairly not spoken about because his performances have been excellent.
"We are only four ga-mes in but we had a fabulous start. It has been a big start."