Aston Villa rocks Liverpool at Anfield
Aston Villa exposed Liverpool's flaws and the flakiness of its challenge for a top-four place by inflicting the Reds' worst home defeat for more than three years, 3-1 on Saturday.
It was the first time Villa had scored more than once in any half of league football this season and extended its own unbeaten run to five matches, with only a second away win in 17 away league games. Villa inflicted the same scoreline in August 2009, and although both sides are at a lower level now, this was a result no one would have predicted.
Liverpool's inability to take chances has hurt them in the past and it proved to be the case again in the 29th minute.
What a difference the goal made as Villa suddenly started playing 30 yards further up the field. It almost paid off when Weimann seized on Glen Johnson's weak header to lob Reina, only for the ball to drop on to the roof of the net.
The Austrian did not make the same mistake just before halftime with a brilliantly worked goal.
Liverpool should have gotten back into the game early in the second half when Ciaran Clark clearly pulled Daniel Agger's shirt in the penalty area, but referee Neil Swarbrick maintained Liverpool's record of not winning a penalty this season by ignoring the appeals.
It proved costly as when substitute Joe Cole was robbed by Holman on the halfway line, Benteke was sensibly quickly given possession and he danced through the Reds backline to chip a shot past Reina.
The visitors almost doubled their league away goals tally for the campaign, which now stands at seven, in recording only their fifth Anfield victory in 34 visits.
Yet barely 24 hours earlier Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers had been talking about targeting second-placed Manchester City so high was the confidence in his squad.
City is now 14 points ahead and, worse still, Liverpool failed to take advantage of Everton's draw at Stoke to close the gap on fourth place with many of its rivals playing Sunday.
QPR hauled itself off the foot of the table with a belated first win of the season, 2-1 over Fulham.
Adel Taarabt's quickfire double in the second half finally secured victory after 17 games and lifted Harry Redknapp's side above Reading, which hosts Arsenal on Monday night.
Mladen Petric pulled a goal back two minutes from time but it served only to make QPR sweat for a win that the home fans celebrated at the final whistle.
Chairman Tony Fernandes hailed QPR ending its winless league run as "the best Christmas present ever."
"That is all I wanted for Christmas -- three points," Fernandes told Press Association. "It was a great performance, it was awesome. I think Fulham only had one shot and they scored that goal. It was a great team effort, they deserved it. We've been threatening for a while and what a way to get the winning goal.
"Adel was awesome, the defence played well and everyone put their heart into it. It is looking good and we're undefeated under Harry. I feel like I have won the championship."
Kenwyne Jones scored his first league goal in more than a year as Stoke battled back to draw 1-1 at home to Everton.
In-form Everton midfielder Marouane Fellaini could find himself in hot water after he appeared to headbutt Shawcross during the second half, with referee Mark Halsey missing the incident.
Everton boss David Moyes admitted Fellaini should have been sent off.
"We will take the punishment if it is given for it," Moyes said. "I have told (Fellaini) in the dressing room that it is not acceptable -- I won't accept it as a manager that he does that."
Wes Hoolahan marked his new Norwich contract with the match-winner in a 2-1 success over Wigan.
The Canaries announced just before kickoff that Hoolahan had penned a new deal until 2015 and the Ireland midfielder took center stage.
Information from Press Association was used in this report.