Liverpool surrender two-goal lead to give Rafa Benitez' Newcastle survival boost
Published 23/04/2016 | 17:16
Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez knows a thing or two about second-half comebacks and he duly effected another as his side came back from two goals down to draw 2-2 with former club Liverpool.
The Spaniard is still fondly remembered at Anfield for the 2005 Champions League final when the Reds recovered from 3-0 down to beat AC Milan, but the locals were less enamoured with this effort.
Trailing to goals from Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana at the interval the Magpies salvaged a valuable point in their battle against relegation thanks to strikes from Papiss Cisse and Jack Colback.
They are still a point from safety, having played one match more than 17th-placed Norwich, but having looked out of the game after 45 minutes this result may turn out to have a galvanising effect.
The drama on the pitch matched that off it as Liverpool defender Mamadou Sakho's failed drugs test for an apparent 'fat-burning' substance grabbed the pre-match headlines.
The last time Benitez was here in April 2013 with Chelsea the match was overshadowed by Luis Suarez's bite on Branislav Ivanovic which earned the Uruguayan a 10-match ban. Sakho is facing a ban of his own if he is charged and found guilty.
The Frenchman was left out of the side - although Liverpool were keen to stress he has not been suspended - after receiving notification from UEFA on Friday that it was investigating a possible anti-doping violation.
Having lost a trio of key players - midfielders Jordan Henderson and Emre Can plus in-form striker Divock Origi - to injury in the last three week, the last thing manager Jurgen Klopp would have wanted six days ahead of a crucial Europa League semi-final was to have another player ruled out.
Although the centre-back has not yet been charged and is therefore still eligible to play, Liverpool's owners, Klopp and the player - after consultation with UEFA and the Football Association - decided to withdraw him from selection.
The furore appeared to matter little as just 58 seconds in Sturridge scored his seventh goal in as many starts. That took his tally in an injury-affected season to 11 goals in 21 games and he is just one behind leading scorer Philippe Coutinho, who has been available for the virtually the whole campaign.
Newcastle's central defensive partnership of Jamaal Lascelles and Chancel Mbemba allowed the England striker to get between them and he showed great close control to stun Alberto Moreno's long pass forward, spin and fire a shot past Karl Darlow.
A sustained period of dominance followed which culminated in Lallana curling home a shot from the edge of the penalty area on the half-hour after another assist from Moreno - the 50th goal in 26 league matches under Klopp.
Mbemba good recovery tackle on Roberto Firmino after being turned by the Brazil international was crucial in preventing a third and decisive goal.
Penalty appeals when the ball hit the arm of Paul Dummett from Firmino's cross were waved away, as were claims Sturridge's fancy footwork had drawn a foul from Cheick Tiote in the 52nd minute.
By then Newcastle's revival was already under way with Cisse powering home Vurnon Anita's cross after Simon Mignolet came to punch and missed.
The Belgium goalkeeper could do little with Colback's deflected shot which made it 2-2 in the 66th minute and gave Newcastle belief they could snatch an unlikely victory, having not won here in the league since 1994.
They could not manage it but the way their backroom staff - Benitez apart - celebrated at the final whistle suggested they were more than happy with the result.