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Sorry end for Liverpool’s captain marvel

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GERRARD-VILLALONDON, April 19- As the final minutes ticked down on Steven Gerrard’s Wembley farewell, the Liverpool captain’s waning influence on his team was painfully clear to see.

Brendan Rodgers’s side were pressing forward in search of an equaliser that would force extra-time in their FA Cup semi-final against Aston Villa, a scenario that would have brought the best from Gerrard at his peak.

But instead of seeking out their ageing skipper, Gerrard’s team-mates preferred to find the younger legs of Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho as Liverpool’s attempt to provide their departing leader with a Cup final send-off ended in failure.

The Reds’ 2-1 defeat means Gerrard, who is due to join LA Galaxy at the end of the season, is denied a fairytale finish to his Liverpool career, which he had hoped to conclude by playing his last game for the club in the final against Arsenal on his 35th birthday next month.

It was a day to forget for Gerrard, who, in keeping with much of his final season at Anfield, was a bit-part player for long periods as he struggled to keep pace with Villa’s midfield tyros Jack Grealish and Fabian Delph.

Gerrard had played just 27 minutes since his last start against Tottenham on February 10 due to a combination of injury and his three-match ban for stamping on Manchester United’s Ander Herrera 38 seconds after coming off the bench.

But his recent inactivity has been typical of a frustrating season spent on the fringes as Rodgers tries to ween his squad off their dependancy on a player who has been Liverpool’s talisman for nearly two decades.

– Little influence –

The blockbuster moments, blistering strikes and thunderous tackles that define his career have been replaced by a more cautious old pro getting by on his wealth of experience.

It was far from certain Gerrard would even start against Villa, but an injury to Lucas allowed the former England international to make his 36th appearance at Wembley for club and country.

Deployed in an advanced midfield role, Gerrard had the freedom to exert his influence on Liverpool’s attacks.

But little of Liverpool’s play went through Gerrard as the youngsters around him dictated the tempo, culminating in the opening goal when Coutinho surged onto Sterling’s pass to guide a deflected shot past Shay Given.

Gerrard had only 19 touches in the first half and Rodgers tried to remedy the situation by moving him into a defensive holding role in the second half.

But he was unable to get back quick enough to help his exposed back four when Grealish played in the tireless Delph for Villa’s winner.

Gerrard had two late chances to play the hero one more time, but he directed a weak free-kick straight at Given and then saw his header cleared off the line to bring a suitably downbeat end to his time on English football’s biggest stage.

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