LONDON // Before yesterday, the last time Steven Gerrard had started a game, Tim Sherwood had not been appointed Aston Villa manager.
Liverpool, perhaps, will in time come to reflect that their biggest failing in the FA Cup semi-final was to allow themselves to become so bound up with the narrative of their captain’s farewell.
The script said that Gerrard’s last game for the club should be the FA Cup final, which happens this year to fall on his 35th birthday, but it turned out the biggest obstacle to Gerrard achieving his dream was Gerrard’s selection.
There is no way of sugar-coating it: Gerrard was dreadful.
Perhaps it was unfair to expect too much of him, given how little he has played of late because of his hamstring injury and the suspension after the red card against Manchester United. But everything was set up for him.
When he could not get on the ball in the first half, the shape was changed so he played deeper after half time. He still was unable to exert a positive influence on the game.
“I’m bitterly disappointed with the performance,” Brendan Rodgers said.
“You can always lose a game but you’d hope to play well and give yourself the opportunity. I thought we were second-best today. Maybe the occasion and the energy got to us.
“Sometimes you can want to win too much and the focus comes away from what allows you to win.”
It was Gerrard who let Fabian Delph run by him in the build-up to the second goal, which was created by a superb interplay between Christian Benteke and Jack Grealish.
Grealish, 19, whose great grandfather Billy Garraty won the FA Cup with Villa in 1905, was superb throughout, playing a key part in setting up the equaliser for Benteke, who has scored nine goals in his past seven games.
Villa, generally, were excellent, defending with energy and attacking with verve and imagination; the turnaround Sherwood has enacted in his two months in charge has been remarkable.
There were moments late on that evoked glimmers of the Gerrard of old.
With 10 minutes to go, Liverpool won a free kick 25 yards out. The Roy-of-the-Rovers Gerrard might have smashed it in, but this one hit the free kick so weakly it barely reached Shay Given in the Villa goal.
Then, in the last minute, he met a Philippe Coutinho corner with a looping header that recalled the shape of his goal in Istanbul a decade ago.
This time, though, Kieran Richardson was in the way to clear the ball off the line.
As the final whistle went, the ball was in the air. It fell to Gerrard who caught it and threw it down, his face a picture of frustration and dismay.
This, rather than lifting the trophy, was his last act as a player at Wembley Stadium.
His final game will probably come at Stoke: where there should have been poetry, there is only the Potteries.
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