Twenty minutes into the second half Sunday at Villa Park, Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina planted a kiss on Steven Gerrard after a particularly perilous attack petered out for the hosts. No surprise there. Gerrard was in the middle of an imperious second-half performance that, not coincidentally, reverberated throughout Liverpool's squad.
Gerrard, reveling in his role as captain, inspired a stirring second-half turnaround as Liverpool came from behind to win 2-1 at Aston Villa on Sunday in the English Premier League. Victory kept the Reds just about alive in the race for European football, five points behind fifth-placed Arsenal. Defeat saw Villa fall back into the relegation zone following a two-match winning run.
Credit for the comeback should extend throughout Liverpool's squad. Jordan Henderson equalized expertly and with composure. Philippe Coutinho again proved integral, involving himself in his fifth goal in five league starts (via BBC Sport). And Jose Enrique won possession 12 times, 10 in the defensive third, the most of any player in the match (via @AnfieldIndex).
But it was Gerrard, the captain, who held it all together. His influence was never more apparent, or vital, than in two incidents, one at either side of the pitch, in five second-half minutes.
First he converted a penalty, won by Luis Suarez, for a 60th-minute lead. Then, as Villa bombed forward for an equalizer, he cleared Christian Benteke's header off the line with a moving header of his own.
Both affected the scoreline and both turned into match-altering moments. The latter earned him the kiss from the keeper and held the winning scoreline intact.
For Villa, it was a disappointing development after a promising first half. But for Liverpool and Gerrard, it was a perfect 20-minute retort to the same.
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard: "Our performance was perfect in the second half." #AVLLIV— Premier League (@premierleague) March 31, 2013
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers: "We upped the tempo after the break and we were excellent. It is a terrific win for us."— Premier League (@premierleague) March 31, 2013
With seven matches left to avoid relegation, Villa are far from finished. Struggling Sunderland—winless in eight matches and now without a manager—might be favorites for the league's third drop spot along with QPR and Reading (both of whom are now seven points adrift).
But they'll need more of the same from Benteke, whose volleyed strike put Villa deservedly ahead at halftime. Even more, though, they could use a leader like Gerrard, whose guidance kept Liverpool going and whose contributions swung the match at both ends.
Gerrard, of course, is not exactly a common player, and captains of his quality and experience are not handed out for sixpence on the sidewalk. But with time running short—and matches against both Sunderland and Wigan approaching—the time is right for a leader to emerge.