Gerrard back to spark Reds into life
Published 31/12/2011 | 05:00
It had to be about a former Newcastle United striker and it was. Craig Bellamy took the headlines with two goals and a cut face, proving far more effective than Andy Carroll.
Yet there were signs that Carroll could come good with more of the exceptional service provided by Steven Gerrard, who delivered a magnificent 30-minute cameo.
Liverpool look so much better with Gerrard driving them on, the midfielder scoring a superb goal and joining Bellamy in ending Newcastle's hope of rare joy at Anfield.
Chasing their first league win here since 1994, Newcastle had known they were fighting history. They had lost their previous six visits but had dared to dream at the break, the game poised at 1-1. Alan Pardew had tweaked his team, removing Leon Best, and unleashing the highly regarded 19-year-old Slovenian, Haris Vuckic, who failed to cope with the pace of the first half.
Kenny Dalglish had made changes against his old club. Missing the suspended Luis Suarez, serving his one-game ban for giving Fulham fans the finger, Liverpool had lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with the excellent Bellamy and Stewart Downing wide, while Jordan Henderson pushed on towards Carroll.
Henderson, making his 100th league appearance, was swiftly involved, his touches earning brief derision from the visiting fans for his Sunderland roots.
The Toon Army, who had enlisted Big Bird and the Honey Monster amid the usual striped and shirtless, almost did not know where to begin booing: there was Henderson and the former Middlesbrough winger, Downing, not to mention three old boys, Jose Enrique, Bellamy and Carroll.
All eyes had inevitably been on Carroll, scorer of 31 goals in 80 league appearances for Newcastle. The tall striker was involved in a promising early move, ushering Bellamy down the left. The Welshman sent Enrique through on the overlap, and his low cross was perfectly placed for Downing at the far post. Unfortunately for Liverpool, Downing had checked back out again and the ball whistled harmlessly through.
Back came Liverpool again, attacking the Kop, Bellamy leading the charge down the inside-right channel before laying the ball off to Downing. He cut inside Ryan Taylor and laced a low shot which Tim Krul saved comfortably.
Liverpool had dominated possession but Newcastle have demonstrated many times this season their menace on the break, Pardew's well-drilled team taking the lead after 25 minutes.
When Vuckic took a painful blow to the face, the teenager signalled frantically to Newcastle's bench. His team-mates ignored him, going for the jugular with Liverpool's defence out of position. Taylor, a boyhood Liverpool fan, lifted the ball in from the left. Yohan Cabaye flicked it on and the rest was a blur, the ball hitting Demba Ba and then Daniel Agger before going past the wrong-footed Pepe Reina.
Anfield was stunned, Newcastle fans jubilant. Liverpool responded, drawing level within four minutes.
Having eluded Cabaye, Enrique's cross from the left arrived at the feet of Charlie Adam, who glided past Jonas Gutierrez before drilling the ball back in. It hit Cheik Tiote and bounced out to Bellamy, whose response was instant, the ball flying low from 15 yards past Danny Simpson on the line.
Liverpool were now in the mood, Martin Skrtel meeting Bellamy's corner with a flicked header just wide. Then Jay Spearing drilled a pass to the lively Downing on the right but he failed to pick out Carroll, whose choice of runs rarely paid off.
Liverpool looked for a second as the new half unfolded. Adam muscled his way 40 yards deep into Newcastle's half until Mike Williamson intervened.
Controversy then ensued. Spearing flew in, in his usual exuberant style, and Cabaye left his foot in, catching the Liverpool midfielder on the ankle. The Newcastle man could easily have been sent off by Lee Probert.
Cabaye somehow escaped. Spearing was able to resume.
Just before the hour, Anfield cheered in delight as Cabaye sent a free kick into the Kop and Liverpool's delight increased when Gerrard arrived, replacing Adam. Henderson dropped back alongside Spearing, allowing Gerrard to push on.
Still Liverpool pushed and probed. Still they looked like 10 men trying to work out how to bring the best out of Carroll.
Gerrard burst down the right, curling in a superb cross but Carroll failed to escape Williamson. Two minutes later, Carroll should have scored but his lack of confidence was palpable.
Gerrard lifted in another magnificent ball, perfectly designed to avoid Newcastle's centre-halves.
Here surely, in front of the Newcastle fans, was a moment for Carroll to savour but his first touch was clumsy and the ball fell through, almost sheepishly, to Krul. Newcastle fans cackled away.
Not for long. When Tiote was penalised for a challenge on Agger, Liverpool were awarded a free kick 25 yards out. Bellamy took charge. Carroll dropped off the wall and Simpson and Krul seemed confused by his presence, allowing Bellamy's fierce free kick to sweep past them.
Newcastle had just made a change, removing Vuckic for Hatem Ben Arfa, attempting to connect more between midfield and Ba. Cabaye played a fine ball through to Ba, who brilliantly turned the ball past Reina but there was Skrtel, somehow hooking the ball clear.
Down the other end, Gerrard swept in another cross that Carroll met firmly, showing more of his old Newcastle swagger, and crashing a header against the bar.
Newcastle's old strikers were the centre of attention, Bellamy sustaining a cut to his head after a collision with Fabricio Coloccini.
There was more. Released by Henderson, Gerrard glided in from the left and scored from the tightest of angles, condemning Newcastle to further misery here. (© Daily Telegraph, London)