Night of highs and lows for Liverpool as Raheem Sterling accusations overshadow Newcastle win
Raheem Sterling grabbed the headlines on and off the field as Liverpool reignited their Champions League hopes with a 2-0 defeat of 10-man Newcastle.
England forward Sterling struck the Reds' opener at Anfield just as reports of him allegedly taking legal high nitrous oxide were emerging in the press.
Pictures published on The Sun's website appear to show the England international passing out unconscious after taking the substance, described as a legal high.
A club spokesperson said: "We are aware of the story and intend to speak to the player. Any subsequent action will be taken internally."
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers told Sky Sports after the game: "Internally, we'll always look after with these type of items. He's a young kid that has been in the spotlight now, so he knows the demands of being a top class player and a top class professional, it's not just on the field, it's off the field.
"I will speak to him on it. We'll move on."
Tomorrow's front page: Raheem Sterling 'inhales hippy crack' pic.twitter.com/wyZuGgZWSc— The Sun Newsdesk (@SunNewsdesk) April 13, 2015
The matter comes at a time when considerable controversy surrounds 20-year-old Sterling following the apparent breakdown of contract talks with the club. Sterling risked the wrath of supporters by admitting he had rejected a £100,000-per-week deal in a recent interview that was not sanctioned by the club.
Another newspaper also published pictures of him allegedly smoking a shisha pipe over the weekend.
His superb goal laid the platform for an ultimately comfortable Barclays Premier League win, which was completed by Joe Allen in the second half.
Newcastle's night went from bad to worse when Moussa Sissoko was sent off for two bookable offences but they were controversially denied a penalty late in the first half.
The defeat was Newcastle's fifth in succession and means they are still not yet completely out of relegation danger, while Liverpool are back within for points of the top four.
It was an eventful night for Liverpool, with a spokesperson saying the club intended to speak to Sterling about the latest reports concerning his lifestyle.
They had also suffered a blow prior to the match with striker Daniel Sturridge ruled out with an injury that could make him doubtful for Sunday's FA Cup semi-final.
His absence initially appeared to matter little as Liverpool - looking to bounce back to form after back-to-back league defeats - made all the early running.
With Philippe Coutinho playing in the central role vacated by Sturridge with Sterling out wide, the Reds were mesmerising in their movement.
Coutinho looked in the mood but Sterling outshone him to hand the hosts the early lead.
The 20-year-old brilliantly controlled a crossfield pass from Jordan Henderson and cut inside to glide past Ryan Taylor and Gabriel Obertan and clip a shot over Tim Krul.
His goal was celebrated fervently by an already pumped-up Anfield, although it was too premature to suggest the youngster had been taken back to heart after his recent contract rumblings.
Liverpool could have been out of sight inside the first half hour as Alberto Moreno burst forward and tested Krul from out wide and Coutinho beat the defence only to err with his final ball.
Sterling shot at Krul and when Coutinho found Henderson with a nifty backheel it seemed Liverpool were in complete control.
But Newcastle, who had appeared jaded after their recent losses, found some life before the break.
Mehdi Abeid first brought Simon Mignolet into the game with a shot from the edge of the area and Liverpool appeared to have been caught out when Dejan Lovren felled Ayoze Perez in the area.
Surprisingly referee Lee Mason - not immune to penalty controversy this season - saw no reason to point to the spot.
Perez was denied again before the break, this time by a brilliant save from Mignolet, after directing a header towards the top corner. Abeid spurned another good opportunity when he shot over but Liverpool regrouped.
They should have doubled their lead just before the hour after Henderson broke down the right and Taylor failed to cut out his pass but Sterling somehow put a gilt-edged chance wide.
Liverpool cranked up the pressure and their second came after more poor defending from the visitors on 69 minutes. This time Mike Williamson failed to deal with a ball into the area and Allen lashed home from close range.
Things began to get worse for Newcastle as Sissoko became embroiled in a needless argument with Glen Johnson and both players were booked for pushing and shoving.
Sissoko was then given his marching orders just five minutes later after a poor challenge on Lucas which could easily have warranted a straight red card rather than a second yellow.
Sterling might have made the win even more comfortable six minutes from time but blazed over when well placed.
That might have given the forward a reality check but it mattered little in terms of the result.