LIVERPOOL (AFP) - Liverpool's Premier League title bid suffered a blow after they drew 2-2 with Aston Villa at Anfield on Saturday, Jan 18, 2014.
Brendan Rodgers's side fought back from 2-0 down after Andreas Weimann and Christian Benteke had given Villa a deserved two-goal lead.
But despite Daniel Sturridge's 11th goal league goal of the season and a Steven Gerrard penalty, Liverpool could only claim a point.
And with leaders Arsenal victorious earlier in the day, this missed opportunity left Liverpool eight points adrift of top spot and seven behind second-place Manchester City.
Liverpool made one change from the side that claimed a 5-3 win over Stoke City last time out, as Sturridge returned to the starting line-up, with Lucas Leiva dropping to the bench.
Villa manager Paul Lambert handed on-loan Chelsea defender Ryan Bertrand a debut, while striker Grant Holt, who has made a temporary switch from Wigan Athletic, was named among the substitutes.
The visitors missed a good opportunity to open the scoring after just 45 seconds when Benteke flicked the ball on for striker partner Gabriel Agbonlahor, who dragged his shot wide.
Liverpool's attacking formation struggled to find rhythm and Villa, without defensive midfielder Lucas to stifle their attacks, went close again in the 16th minute.
A counter-attack saw the ball drop to Ashley Westwood on the edge of the penalty area and Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet had to be alert to save his swerving drive.
Villa hit the post moments later when Westwood's corner picked out the head of Ciaran Clark and it came as little surprise when the visitors took the lead in the 25th minute.
After a slick move, Agbonlahor escaped down the left flank and cut the ball across goal for Weimann, who evaded three red shirts to finish from close range.
Liverpool registered their first meaningful effort on the half-hour mark when Raheem Sterling cut inside from the right flank and watched his near-post shot palmed away by Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan.
However, the hosts' defenders were caught flat-footed again as Villa doubled their lead nine minutes before half-time with Agbonlahor, this time on the right flank, again the supplier.
Neither Mignolet nor Glen Johnson dealt with his cross, which left Benteke free to guide a header into the vacant net.
Liverpool pulled one back on the stroke of half-time after a neat passing exchange on the edge of the box.
Jordan Henderson's clever flick from Luis Suarez's pass allowed Sturridge to get clear and lift the ball over Guzan.
Rodgers introduced Lucas for Philippe Coutinho at half-time, which immediately gave Liverpool a more balanced look and they got themselves on level terms from the penalty spot within eight minutes of the restart.
Gerrard's cross-field pass picked out Suarez inside the box. Guzan appeared to clip the Uruguay striker as he skipped past him and after Suarez went down, referee Jon Moss pointed to the spot.
Gerrard stepped up to take the spot-kick and confidently dispatched it into the bottom-right corner of the net, giving Guzan no chance.
Liverpool now looked the more ambitious of the two sides. Henderson's low drive brought a diving save out of Guzan shortly after the hour, while Sterling drilled a low shot just past the post.
Suarez curled a free-kick inches wide of the left-hand post in the 77th minute, but Villa's defence tightened up in the remainder of the contest and Liverpool were unable to find a way through.