LONDON — It was supposed to be the dream farewell for Steven Gerrard. With the FA Cup final falling on his 35th birthday, it was an opportunity for a perfect send-off.
But Gerrard's 17-year stay at the club will end in May without another trophy, one more disappointment after seeing Liverpool's league title challenge falter toward the end of last season.
Liverpool was a big favorite in the semifinal against Aston Villa at Wembley on Sunday, but lost 2-1. And with Champions League qualification looking increasingly unlikely, this may have been Gerrard's last chance to make his mark on a big English stage.
"Is it a shame? Absolutely," Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said. "He did everything he possibly could to help the team. I thought he was excellent today. Collectively we didn't perform well enough."
Gerrard was restored to the starting lineup following his three-match suspension for a red card against Manchester United, but the former England captain and his teammates struggled throughout as Villa hassled and hurried them from the first to the final whistle.
His showing at Wembley was a shadow of the countless displays Liverpool fans have witnessed since he first forced his way into the team as an 18-year-old.
Gerrard led the side to their fifth European Cup title in 2005, scoring his side's first goal as they came from 3-0 down at halftime to draw 3-3 against AC Milan before winning on penalties.
The following season he struck in second-half stoppage time against West Ham in the FA Cup final, which Liverpool again won on penalties.
Despite those triumphs, the defeat at Wembley means Gerrard's time at Anfield will end on a low, adding to last season's misfortune as Liverpool chased its first league crown since 1990.
With three games remaining, Gerrard's slip against Chelsea proved costly as it allowed Demba Ba to score in a match that was crucial to the title race. Liverpool's loss handed Manchester City the initiative in the title chase and Manuel Pellegrini's side went on to claim the trophy.
After a disappointing World Cup with England, Gerrard has struggled to impose himself on games this season, leading to Rodgers reducing his playing time. He announced in January that he would join the Los Angeles Galaxy in the MLS after the Premier League season is over.
The frustration of no longer being a starter was evident in his dismissal against United within 38 seconds of his introduction after halftime in March. Liverpool went on to lose 2-1 and Gerrard apologized to fans after the match.
Before Sunday's game, Gerrard had played less than half an hour of football in more than two months. And despite his trophy-laden spell at Anfield, his career may now be remembered as much for the many near-misses as for his numerous successes.
So much for the perfect ending.