Birmingham // For Martin O'Neill and his protege alike, this has been a weekend to forget.
Paul Lambert was the Northern Irishman's captain at Celtic and among his successors for both Wycombe Wanderers and Aston Villa.
But while Sunderland dismissed O'Neill because they feared a precipitous slide into the Championship, Lambert's Villa are in a more precarious position.
Having lost a lead, they were beaten by Liverpool.
There has been top-flight football at Villa Park every year for a quarter of a century but, with seven games to go, Lambert's side sit in the bottom three.
Shocked at his mentor's departure, Lambert suffered another unwanted surprise.
At half time, comparative safety beckoned. Villa were leading through the terrific Christian Benteke and were on course to record a third successive win for the first time since O'Neill's reign.
Then Liverpool improved, Jordan Henderson and Steven Gerrard scoring to maintain their hopes of catching Everton and Arsenal and averting back-to-back defeats.
It was a 90-minute microcosm of Villa's season and not merely because they have lost leads and conceded second-half goals with unfortunate regularity.
Lambert's is a team with an impressive attacking armoury but pronounced defensive deficiencies.
"I would rather give it a go than not," said the manager. Attack is their best form of defence and they fashioned chances aplenty.
So, however, did Liverpool, rendering it an open and entertaining game.
"We don't look like a side that's down there," Lambert said.
Indeed, when they were in possession, Villa hardly resembled relegation fodder.
In the sharp, short passing, in the speed of the counter-attacking and the excellence of their movement, there are the seeds of a stellar side.
Survive and they could prosper. Go down and this side will be disbanded when the Premier League predators pick off their prize assets.
There is no doubting who would be the most coveted. After scoring twice at both Anfield and Goodison Park, Benteke has a status as the scourge of Merseyside.
He cemented it by tormenting the Liverpool defence and scoring his ninth goal in 10 games, a sweet half volley after Gabriel Agbonhalor cushioned Ashley Westwood's pass into his path.
There should have been other goals, principally when Pepe Reina made a point-blank save to deny Agbonlahor, who had accelerated beyond the Liverpool defence to meet Matt Lowton's inviting cross.
With Benteke dominant in the air and crosses whistling in from either flank, they could have scored more.
"We looked a threat every time we went forward," Lambert said.
So, too, were the visitors. Luis Suarez's search for a 30th goal of the season incorporated an audacious effort from 50 yards and a hat-trick of glaring misses, with suppliers ranging from Philippe Coutinho to, with a bizarre, misplaced pass, Villa's Barry Bannan.
Where he failed, Henderson succeeded. Coutinho angled a pass into a gap where the Villa defence should have been. Henderson, making a long run from deep, surged forward to meet it and beat Brad Guzan.
"Jordan Henderson made a brilliant run and showed great composure with the finish," Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said. "Coutinho was magical with the ball at times."
Inch-perfect with his passing, Coutinho's finishing was less accurate. When Suarez sent him clear, he dragged a shot to the wrong side of the post.
With Glen Johnson hitting the post, the pressure was mounting and Liverpool's two superstars delivered the winner.
Suarez's capacity to turn so sharply that he is one way while a defender heads in completely the opposite direction was apparent again.
A befuddled Nathan Baker slid in, missing the ball and catching the man.
"He frightens defenders, which led to the penalty," Rodgers said succinctly. Gerrard converted from 12 yards.
Scorer turned saviour within five minutes as Gerrard with a wonderful goal-line clearance to keep out Benteke's header.
"Nine times out of 10, players let the ball go over their head and don't get back in, but that is his professionalism," Rodgers added, paying tribute to his captain.
"He's a real inspirational man with a hunger and a desire for Liverpool to succeed. He is 32, England captain and he still wants to improve."
And, with five wins in six games, Liverpool can feel they are on the up. Villa, however, will settle for the status quo and a place in the Premier League again next year.
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