Liverpool v Aston Villa: Defenders given a seal of approval from Shaun Teale

The moment Shaun Teale got off the team bus that day he sensed things would be different.

Aston Villa's Matt Targett
Aston Villa's Matt Targett

“It’s probably the first time I ever went out onto the pitch at Anfield and thought: ‘We will be leaving here with three points,’ he says.

“It was always a hard place to go and you know it is going to be tough, but we were on such a run at that point.”

The date was January 9, 1993 and Teale’s confidence proved well-placed as second-half goals from Garry Parker and Dean Saunders saw Villa come from behind to claim a 2-1 win over Liverpool to keep their challenge for the inaugural Premier League title well on track.

“I remember Parksy’s goals, right in the top corner,” chuckles the former centre-back. “We were well worth the win.”

The victory was Villa’s first at Anfield since 1977 and saw them complete the league double over the Reds, following a 4-2 home win earlier in the season which has gone down in folklore chiefly for visiting striker Ronnie Rosenthal’s incredible miss.

Tomorrow, Dean Smith’s men can become the first Villa team to beat Liverpool home and away in the same season since Ron Atkinson’s class of 92-93.

Last October’s 7-2 drubbing of the reigning champions is already one of the most famous results in club history and they will now face a Reds team suffering their worst-ever run of home form, having lost the last six in the Premier League.

“You do wonder with the way things are going whether this could be the year?” says Teale. “Liverpool got beat at Real Madrid in midweek so might not be in the best frame of mind.

“Hopefully that late burst to win the game against Fulham last Sunday has turned things round a bit for us.”

Though Villa were eventually denied the title by Manchester United in ‘93, they finished comfortably above Liverpool in the table.

That, too, has been a rare occurrence since, though Smith’s men still have a shot this term as they will arrive at Anfield five points behind the sixth-placed Reds, with a match in hand.

Whatever position Villa find themselves at the end of the campaign Teale, part of the team which lifted the League Cup in 1994 and who now very much classes himself as part of the fanbase, sees huge positives in what has already been achieved.

“You only have to look at last season to see how far we have come,” he says. “We would have given our right arm to be in this position a year ago when it looked like Houdini was needed to get us out of danger. I’m still not sure now how it happened.

“To win all those games at the start of the season and to have this defensive record, it shows the club is going in the right direction.

“Are we the finished article? Not yet. They need to become more consistent but that takes time.”

Villa’s defence remains one away clean sheet from setting a new club record in the Premier League era and it comes as no surprise to hear Teale, long-established as a cult hero for his exploits at the back, speak with enthusiasm about their performances.

Ezri Konsa has been particularly impressive, the 23-year-old last week committing his future to the club by signing a new five-year contract.

Konsa has spoken previously about watching videos of Paul McGrath, Teale’s former defensive partner, in order to improve his game.

Teale said: “Some of his defending this season has been unbelievable. He has a real knack of knowing where the ball is going and making sure he is in the way.

“They’re just a really good unit. Tyrone Mings made a mistake last week but that happens and when you are a defender your mistakes are usually costly.

“To be fair to Tyrone, in the previous games he had been immense and he always ready to take responsibility with the ball at his feet.

“The right-back Matty Cash has been a real find, so hard working. As for Matt Targett, I’m sure it is not the same player as last season! There were times last season he looked scared to tackle. This season he has been brilliant. Defending is never just about one player.”

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