Liverpool 2 Newcastle United 0: Back On Track

Posted by Mark_P on September 21, 2006, 09:57:14 PM

Walking down Oakfield Road on Wednesday evening, there was a weird feeling about the match.  We were about to play a league game that wasn’t starting earlier than dinner time, and, to add to this shock to the system, we were actually playing a league match at home.  Not to worry though the time slot won’t catch, we are back at our normal, hangover-ridden early kick on Saturday.

Since Newcastle came back from two down in 2003, the Geordies have never even attempted to put up a fight when visiting Anfield, well all bar Lee Bowyer who does nothing but fight when he visits.  Whilst players like Damien Duff, Scott Parker and James Milner have undoubted quality,  seeing names like Titus Bramble, Jean Alain Boumsong and last night Craig Moore on the team sheet can’t fail to inspire optimism.  The injury to Shay Given, the only reason we haven’t won by five or six the past few years, meant that the only way Liverpool would suffer a third successive league defeat was through their own mistakes.

After a good display at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, the side stayed the same bar two changes, the unpredictable Luis Garcia replacing Jermaine Pennant and Fabio Aurelio replacing Stephen Warnock at left back.  Steven Gerrard switched to the right side of midfield with Garcia down the left, although he often drifted infield as the match went on. 

Although the Geordie song repertoire leaves an awful lot to be desired (“Shearer’s ‘rite, Bellamy’s shite” being the, ahem, highlight) there are not many sets of supporters who’d fill their allocation on a re-arranged Wednesday night game, a superb feat when looking at the constant disappointment they must have to contend with, especially having Glenn Roader as manager. 

The players took to the field, and Jamie Carragher’s name was, surprisingly, sung first with the captain’s name sung secondly.  Pepe Reina got a huge ovation from the Kop, maybe in light of recent mistakes and criticism levelled at him in the last fortnight. 

The first real shot of the match was Scott Parker’s drive, which, although straight at Reina, took the Spanish international two attempts to keep hold of the ball.  To be fair to Reina after this early nervy moment he went on and looked like he had done for the whole of last season, assured and reliable.  The Reds had most of the possession, but there was a lack of urgency or real movement in the final third as players seemed to wait for the ball to be passed to them statically rather than trying to make space.

Luis Garcia and Momo Sissoko had long range efforts saved by Steve Harper, but it wasn’t until nearly thirty minutes in that the Reds carved out a real chance for a striker.  Alonso, who had already produced some passes and tackling that suggested his early season form was merely a blip, passed through Babayaro to Steve Finnan, whose cross was put in by Kuyt for his first Liverpool goal.  Relief all round, as even with only a third of the game gone, this match already had the potential to become another three points lost through poor finishing and build up.

Half time came, with only an audacious overhead kick by Kuyt breaking up more periods of Liverpool having possession forty yards from the Newcastle goal before losing the ball or attempting a cross or through ball and losing it.  At half time though, it was clear that Newcastle were of no real threat offensively, with Martins as anonymous as a fifty year old (Which he may well be actually) and Damien Duff looking a shadow of the the player many still believe should be playing in a Liverpool shirt.

Liverpool looked to have doubled their lead when Luis Garcia flicked on a cross to beat Steve Harper, but he continued his habit of exciting and frustrating in a matter of seconds when he was cautioned as he’d actually handled the ball into the goal. 

A rare moment of anxiety was caused by the usually excellent Daniel Agger when he dived in on Ameobi in the Liverpool box, getting nowhere near the ball, to the sound of Geordie protests.  Agger shouldn’t have had to produce any kind of challenge on the forward as, on this form, he and Martins couldn’t score in a drugs den.

Garcia and Alonso were now buzzing in midfield and it was the formers cross that Kuyt should’ve scored his second for Liverpool, with the Dutchman steering his shot just wide.  Two penalty appeals from the Newcastle players and fans followed, both of which did hit the hand of Jamie Carragher twice, although both launched from a short distance.  This prompted a sarcastic cry of ‘Handball’ every time any player touched the ball from the Kop.

Steven Gerrard was in and out of the action all night, never really stamping his authority on the game, although his tackle in the middle put Craig Bellamy through for what seemed a certain goal against his favourite past club.  As Harper ran out, the Welshman lofted the ball over the keeper only to see his shot go a few inches wide.  Despite this miss, Bellamy did well, constantly running himself into the ground and never giving a defender in possession a minute’s peace.

Aurelio’s fast growing reputation as an excellent free kick taker was enhanced just after the hour mark, as his accurate shot from twenty yards that dipped as soon as going over the wall was saved by Harper at his bottom left post.  Garcia brought down Gerrard’s excellent pass to smash the ball at the Kop post, and it seemed a second goal was only a matter of time away.  It’s fair to say no-one could’ve predicted just how Xabi Alonso would add it!

One of Alonso’s first games for Liverpool was at Old Trafford and I always remember him trying to beat Roy Carroll from near the half way line, sending the United keeper scurrying back, relieved the ball ended up on the roof of the net.  Had any other player tried to score from where Alonso did there would be cries of fluke – but his other attempts, and his Luton goal mean that there is not a shred of doubt that Alonso’s goal was sheer skill.

Harper’s unfortunate (For Newcastle anyway) slip had as much to do with Alonso’s superb effort in the goal, but even without that to hit a ball such a distance with such accuracy shows what Alonso’s all about.  I won’t even mention the now predictable “St John scored from Hunt’s Cross” joke that has swept Liverpool in the last day!

A good win was needed after Goodison and Stamford Bridge, and it certainly was just that.  Although we still show inability to finish anywhere near the amount of chances our players are getting, little things across the pitch are starting to work.  Aurelio looked good at left back and has certainly improved physically in tackling and holding the ball after he was outfought and overrun against Everton.  Dirk Kuyt’s willingness to run and battle all day, coupled with Bellamy’s ability to do likewise make them an extremely hard pairing to face for defenders.  Elsewhere, Pepe Reina produced a safe performance, also perfecting the art of a ‘sweeper keeper’ meaning our defensive line did not have to drop deep and could afford to stay around the centre circle most of the time.

Steven Gerrard showed moments of class but didn’t really get going, while Momo Sissoko in the middle did well against Scott Parker.  Luis Garcia had us drooling at some of his touches and shooting, but spitting venom at his cheap giving away of possession and stupidity (The handball mainly).  New season, same Garcia it’s fair to say!  At the back Agger, Carragher and Finnan were solid and reliable, Finnan also providing a great source of attacking play as shown for Kuyt’s goal.

But it was Xabi Alonso’s night, even without looking at the second goal he’s scored from our own half in a calendar year.  His passes to the wings and through balls were back to his best, and he was also willing to break up Newcastle attacks at crucial times with interceptions and tackles.

It’s no coincidence that Alonso’s return to form in the last two games has also produced better Liverpool performances, as the Spaniard can turn any game with a moment of class.

Just ask Steve Harper and Marlon Beresford if proof is needed.

Redmen: Reina; Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Aurelio; Garcia, Alonso, Sissoko, Gerrard (Gonzalez 86'); Bellamy, Kuyt (Crouch 82').

Goals: Kuyt 29', Alonso 79'

© Mark_P 2006

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