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Gerrard penalty keeps Liverpool's European hopes alive

updated 5:25 PM EDT, Sun March 31, 2013
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard fires the winner against Aston Villa, with the England midfielder's second-half penalty earning a 2-1 victory in the English Premier League clash. Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard fires the winner against Aston Villa, with the England midfielder's second-half penalty earning a 2-1 victory in the English Premier League clash.
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Gerrard gives Liverpool victory
Gerrard gives Liverpool victory
Gerrard gives Liverpool victory
Gerrard gives Liverpool victory
Gerrard gives Liverpool victory
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Steven Gerrard's second-half penalty gives Liverpool 2-1 victory at Aston Villa
  • Win keeps Liverpool in the hunt for Europa League place, leaves Villa in bottom three
  • Both clubs have U.S. ownership and are struggling to regain past glories
  • Liverpool manager hails Luis Suarez and insists EPL's top scorer will not be sold

(CNN) -- It's been a weekend of contrasting fortunes for American club owners in the English Premier League.

The Glazer family can look forward to Manchester United's imminent record-extending 20th league title, and their fifth since a leveraged takeover in 2005 that left one of the world's wealthiest clubs saddled with hundreds of millions of dollars of debt.

For Ellis Short, owner of Saturday's beaten opponents Sunderland, the prospect of losing top-flight status is all too real after a 1-0 defeat that left his team just one point above the relegation zone and marked the end of the reign of manager Martin O'Neill after less than two seasons.

He was replaced Sunday by controversial former Italian forward Paulo Di Canio, whose previous managerial club job was with English third division side Swindon.

One of O'Neill's former players, Paul Lambert, has been seemingly on the verge of the sack for most of this season but the Aston Villa manager seems likely to see it out despite Sunday's 2-1 home defeat by Liverpool, which kept his side in the bottom three but only four points behind 12th-placed Southampton.

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"Yes, definitely," Lambert said when asked if his team could avoid the drop, with seven games to play.

"I think anybody who was here today would say the same. We're certainly playing well enough. We don't look like a team down the bottom at the minute.

"If we keep going the way we're going, we'll win more games than not. There will be so many twists and turns."

Lambert has been consistently backed by Villa's U.S. owner Randy Lerner, who has focused on Villa since ending his ownership of NFL team the Cleveland Browns in August 2012.

Lerner, who in 2006 became only the second owner of an EPL club, fell out with O'Neill ahead of the 2010-11 season and replaced the Northern Irishman with Gerard Houllier and Alex McLeish before appointing Lambert last June.

The Scot, with considerably smaller finances to work with than his predecessors, has stuck doggedly to his task of shaping a new team out of young talent -- the most notable being 22-year-old Belgium striker Christian Benteke, who struck his 18th goal this season to put the 1982 European champion ahead against Liverpool.

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has, likewise, been backed by his club's American owners -- Fenway Sports Group -- to overhaul the team and try to return to the glory days of the 1970s and '80s in which the team won four of its five continental crowns and 11 of 18 English championships.

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The experiment is still a work in progress, but a mixture of youth and experience came up trumps on Sunday as 22-year-old midfielder Jordan Henderson and veteran captain Steven Gerrard -- with a 60th-minute penalty after Luis Suarez was fouled -- replied with the goals that lifted seventh-placed Liverpool to within five points of European qualification.

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If the Reds can't close that gap then Rodgers won't again have the distractions of the Europa League next season, so one of his main aims will be to keep 29-goal striker Suarez at the club.

The Uruguayan heads the Premier League charts with 23 and has already suggested that he would consider any offer from clubs playing in top competitions such as the Champions League.

"We don't have to sell him for the money," Rodgers said. "He's very happy. We're trying to build a group here and add to it. We want to keep striving forward."

Suarez returned to England from his country's midweek South American World Cup qualifier against Chile, a 2-0 defeat in which he was booked -- triggering a suspension for the next match in June against Venezuela -- and also seemingly punched an opponent in the face, which may result in further action by FIFA.

"He came back late on Thursday," Rodgers said. "He was in training on Friday and I was thinking how tired he was -- his face, his body. He just looked totally shattered from all the travel and exertions from the game.

"But you look at him today -- his energy and willingness to work for the team, and then just his sheer quality. His imagination in the game is incredible.

"He really frightens defenders, and that led to a penalty."

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