FA Cup: Steven Gerrard's fairytale ends!
London: There will be no fairytale end to Steven Gerrard's Liverpool career after Aston Villa came from behind to deservedly book their place in the FA Cup final with a 2-1 win over the Reds.
A dejected Steven Gerrard (centre) looks on after Liverpool’s semis loss against Aston Villa at Wembley Stadium. Pic/Getty Images
Wembley was supposed to be the scene for Gerrard's grand send-off, with the final falling on his 35th birthday and supposedly destined to be the last game of his long Anfield career before embarking on a new challenge with Los Angeles Galaxy.
Instead the national stadium proved to be another venue where Liverpool came up short, just like last season at Anfield against Chelsea and Selhurst Park against Crystal Palace when their title challenge faltered.
It was a familiar foe who set the wheels of defeat in motion as rejuvenated Belgium striker Christian Benteke, who memorably terrorised Liverpool's defence with a two-goal show at Anfield in December 2012, cancelled out Philippe Coutinho's opener with his ninth goal in his last seven games.
Fabian Delph's strike 10 minutes into the second half booked Villa's first FA Cup final appearance since 2000 as Liverpool's pressure was too little and far too late.
There was nothing for Gerrard to cling to on the evening. He was given the chance to lead the side out at Wembley after Lucas Leiva sustained a thigh injury in training but he looked like a player with just 27 minutes' football behind him in the last two months as a result of injury and suspension.
This was not the Gerrard who took the 2006 final by the scruff of the neck at the Millennium Stadium and at times it looked like he was playing from memory, making runs but not quite getting on the end of things and then seeing Villa pass the ball around him.
Even a mid-half change in formation as manager Brendan Rodgers switched to 4-2-3-1 — mainly to combat Villa's dominance — with the captain moved into his supposedly most effective position behind the striker failed to get any more out of him.
The Liverpool skipper knew it was not to be his day when his near-post header was cleared off the line by Kieran Richardson.
As Villa manager Tim Sherwood ran along the touchline celebrating at the final whistle Gerrard stood motionless, hands on hips, before dropping onto his haunches.
He knew it was not meant to end like this but, unlike in those famous episodes of his heyday, he could do nothing about it this time.