Gabriel Agbonlahor's early strike was enough for Aston Villa to beat Liverpool 1-0, climb to second and continue their excellent recent form at Anfield.
Villa drew 2-2 at Liverpool in the Barclays Premier League last season after winning 3-1 in their previous visit and Brendan Rodgers' side were again found wanting against their visitors from the Midlands.
Agbonlahor capitalised on hesitant defending in the eighth minute to put Villa in front and there was no way back for Liverpool. Philippe Senderos could have doubled Villa's advantage during an impressive start from Paul Lambert's men. Senderos and his fellow defenders produced a successful second-half rearguard display, during which Liverpool struggled to create a clear opening until Philippe Coutinho crashed an 81st-minute shot against a post.
Three wins and a draw from their opening matches represents Villa's best start to a Barclays Premier League season for 16 years, while two wins and as many defeats mean Liverpool are six points behind early leaders Chelsea.
Tom Cleverley replaced Charles N'Zogbia in the Aston Villa midfield after his loan move from Manchester United, while Nathan Baker replaced Ron Vlaar at centre-back due to the club captain's calf injury. Liverpool's front three of Lazar Markovic, Adam Lallana and Mario Balotelli were all making their home debuts in a line-up featuring six close-season signings.
On the back of his midweek exertions for England and perhaps with an eye on Liverpool's UEFA Champions League return on Tuesday night, Raheem Sterling started on the bench.
Markovic crashed an early volley over the crossbar and also glanced a sixth-minute Javi Manquillo cross over when the onrushing Balotelli appeared better placed to finish.
But it was Villa who drew first blood as Agbonlahor turned home Senderos's header from Ashley Westwood's corner. An unmarked Senderos could have doubled Villa's lead in the 13th minute from a free-kick after Lallana’s a rash challenge on Cleverley, for which he was booked.
At the other end, Senderos blocked Lallana's 32nd-minute volley from Jordan Henderson's header down. Lallana sent a rasping 43rd-minute drive narrowly wide and Liverpool belatedly rallied in the closing moments of the first half, Balotelli's speculative strike looping over off Alan Hutton before Baker produced a vital stoppage time block as Alberto Moreno stormed into the box.
Liverpool pegged Villa inside their own half at the start of the second half, with Balotelli glancing a header wide from a 48th-minute corner as the home side were restricted to half chances.
Sterling replaced Lallana with an hour played and Hutton was booked for fouling the England forward with a robust challenge.
Fabio Borini and Rickie Lambert replaced Balotelli and Markovic with 20 minutes remaining and Liverpool came close to an equaliser when Coutinho's effort at the end of a jinking run came back off an upright.
It was the closest Liverpool came as they endured yet more frustration at the hands of Villa.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers: "We started a bit slowly in the game. We probably only started to quicken up our tempo when we went 1-0 behind.
"I think the players gave everything today. It was probably a mixture of us not being able to find that quality in the final third of the field and Aston Villa defending well.
"Once they went 1-0 up they defended tightly with lines together; back four, goalkeeper, midfield: they all defended well together. We just couldn't find the final pass. We had enough of the ball but we couldn't create so much."
"It's sometimes what happens in football. Normally we're a team that start very, very fast - our tempo and rhythm of the game is at a high level. For some reason we just didn't start like that. And, obviously, when a good team gets in front, it is difficult to break them down.
"I can't question the players in terms of their effort and commitment in the game; that was first class."
Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert: "Not many teams will come here and get a win. We showed a lot of character and I thought it was a brilliant performance.
"From Gabby upfront, I thought everyone did their job brilliantly. We showed some brilliant character. Everyone was fighting until the end. We hung on and it is a brilliant win for us."
"Tactically it was fantastic. You've got to have lads who will go and try to carry it out and right from the off they were outstanding. We started with two up front and then we changed it; it worked.
"In the first half we had two or three chances. Philippe should have scored with his header; Andi Weimann's shot, I don't know if that was going in, the one that got cleared. It was a fantastic performance and a fantastic result."
"We've worked a lot in training and the lads have grasped it, what we're asking them to do. There were great energy levels. Cleverley came in and I thought he was outstanding."
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|27 Sep 2014||v Everton (H)|
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|01 Nov 2014||v Newcastle (A)|