Gerrard affected by club specualtion

Jan 22, 2008 - 4:52 AM By Paul Walker Special to PA SportsTicker

LIVERPOOL, England (Ticker) -- Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard admits continuing off-field speculation about the club is making it difficult for the side to concentrate fully on soccer.

Uncertainty over the ownership of the Anfield outfit and the position of manager Rafael Benitez have made for recurring headlines recently.

The play on the field has also been disappointing and the Reds needed Peter Crouch's late equalizer Sunday night to earn a 2-2 Barclays Premier League draw with Aston Villa at Anfield.

"It is not just this week, it has been going on for some time and it is certainly not helping the players," Gerrard told Setanta Sports. "I have got to be careful what I say about the situation but it is certainly not helping the team.

"We know what is going on, but as players you have got a job to do on the pitch. You try to put what is going on off the pitch to the back of your mind but sometimes it is impossible, when it is every day."

The result left Liverpool outside the Champions League picture but Villa boss Martin O'Neill still believes they must be the favorites to claim the fourth spot.

Everton, Liverpool, Villa and Manchester City are separated by just two points in positions four to seven in the table.

"Liverpool are the strongest of the four sides going for fourth spot," O'Neill said. "We do not have a big enough squad and we would need a lot of luck to contest fourth spot.

"Everton have achieved fourth spot before, and they are a much bigger and strong squad now than when they achieved fourth a couple of seasons ago. I believe that we are the least experienced of the sides in the race for fourth."

Villa hit back after Yossi Benayoun's 19th-minute goal to take the lead at Anfield.

Liverpool paid for their failure to defend two set-pieces as Marlon Harewood struck and then Fabio Aurelio turned into his own goal in the space of three second-half minutes.

O'Neill hailed his side's recovery.

"In the first half we did not play the way we know we can," he said. "Maybe it was the Anfield atmosphere, but I told them at the break they needed to show self-belief. It took time to get there, but we started to turn the tide.

"Marlon Harewood made a big impression when he came on and I am just disappointed we did not see it through to the end and a victory. I suppose 2-2 was a fair result in the end. But it was a great effort from my team."

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