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5 star Reds show title credentials

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Liverpool ended 2008 with a 5-1 thrashing of Newcastle and remain top of the League going into the new year. Steven Gerrard hit two with Ryan Babel, Sami Hyypia and Xabi Alonso (penalty) all on the scoresheet.

It could have been more had it not been for Shay Given in the Newcastle goal, although the home side, without many first team players were particularly bad.

Rafa Benitez, still suffering from a recent kidney stone operation, was in the stands leaving Sammy Lee to lead the team from the sidelines. Eyebrows were raised when in-form Robbie Keane was dropped to the bench, along with Alonso, and without Fernando Torres still, Dirk Kuyt and Gerrard lead the Liverpool attack.

Brazilian Lucas was particularly instrumental and has recovered from an indifferent start to the season to put in three impressive performances in recent weeks. He lined up alongside fellow South American Mascherano in midfield, with Benayoun retaining his place on the right and Ryan Babel coming in on the left of midfield.

With Chelsea later being held to a draw by Fulham, and Man United not playing till Monday, Liverpool are three and ten points clear of second and third respectively.

BBC Sport Match Report

Liverpool cemented their place at the Premier League summit with a ruthless demolition of Newcastle United.

Newcastle keeper Shay Given denied Liverpool before Steven Gerrard stroked home from 12 yards after 31 minutes.

Sami Hyypia headed a second five minutes later, but David Edgar pulled one back on the stroke of half-time.

Ryan Babel scrambled home Liverpool’s third five minutes after the break. Gerrard raced clear for a fourth and Xabi Alonso made it five from the spot.

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez surprisingly left Robbie Keane, a two-goal hero in the Boxing Day win against Bolton, on the bench – and how the Republic of Ireland striker must have wished he had been on the pitch in an encounter that was embarrassingly one-sided from start to finish.

Benitez was in the directors’ box recovering from surgery for kidney stones as Liverpool exposed Newcastle’s every flaw throughout 90 minutes of torture for the home fans – providing further confirmation that the Merseysiders’ are in this title race for the long haul.

Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley took the “For Sale” signs down from the club prior to kick-off – and their players then produced the sort of performance that would have sent potential purchasers heading for the hills.

Liverpool created chances at will, and only a combination of brilliant goalkeeping from Given and poor finishing from Liverpool stopped Newcastle from shipping at least six goals in the first half alone.

Given set the tone for his one-man show of defiance by blocking Dirk Kuyt and saving brilliantly twice from Gerrard inside the first 13 minutes.

Hyypia then headed wide of an open goal from Gerrard’s free-kick before Lucas somehow failed to turn in from a yard following a goalmouth scramble. The Brazilian then had a header turned away by Given before Charles N’Zogbia cleared another Hyypia header off the line.

Newcastle’s survival for the first 31 minutes had been almost miraculous – but it could not last and to say Liverpool deserved the lead Gerrard gave them was a massive under-statement.

Javier Mascherano carved Newcastle open down the right flank, and when Yossi Benayoun pulled back a cross for Gerrard the Liverpool captain obliged with a thumping finish high past Given.

Newcastle’s defending from set-pieces would have shamed a Sunday league side, and they paid the price again six minutes later when Hyypia rose to head Gerrard’s corner beyond Given.

Hyypia had another header saved by Given before Newcastle astonishingly gave themselves a lifeline seconds before the interval.

This time Liverpool’s defending was slack as Edgar got in front of Jamie Carragher to head past the previously unemployed Pepe Reina.

If Newcastle boss Joe Kinnear had ordered his side to improve their defending after the break, his plea had clearly fallen on deaf ears as they conceded another cheap goal after 50 minutes.

Gerrard’s unremarkable corner created an outbreak of mass confusion in the six-yard area, and as a variety of Newcastle defenders stood motionless, Babel jabbed home the simplest of goals.

Substitute Geremi almost gave Newcastle slim hopes of a revival when his 25-yard free-kick clipped the bar, but in reality Newcastle had been outclassed.

Newcastle had been appalling, but credit must also go to Liverpool for a hugely impressive destruction and Gerrard underscored their superiority with their fourth goal after 66 minutes.

Lucas slipped an inviting through ball into Gerrard’s path, and he was in no mood to let Given deny him again as he chipped a clever right-foot finish over the advancing keeper.

Gerrard was then withdrawn, even drawing applause from Newcastle fans in the season’s best 52,114 crowd, but there was no let up in the pressure on Newcastle.

Liverpool’s fifth goal came with 13 minutes left, substitute Alonso scoring from the spot after another replacement, David Ngog, had been hauled down by Edgar.

The game ended as it began, with Given saving brilliantly from Lucas’ header and Liverpool remaining at the head of the race for the Premier League title.

Reaction: Liverpool assistant manager Sammy Lee:

“This is a strong, focused and determined bunch of players. We are improving with every game and that is all we can look for but you haven’t seen the best of Liverpool yet.

“You win nothing in December but you can lose a lot and we’re pleased to be going into the New Year at the top, however we cannot rest on our laurels.”

Newcastle: Given, Edgar, Taylor, Coloccini, Jose Enrique (Ameobi 46), Gutierrez, Guthrie, Butt (Geremi 56), N’Zogbia, Duff, Owen (LuaLua 79).
Subs Not Used: Harper, Xisco, Kadar, Carroll.
Booked: Taylor, Given.
Goals: Edgar 45.

Liverpool: Reina, Carragher, Hyypia, Agger, Insua, Benayoun (Alonso 60), Mascherano, Leiva Lucas, Babel, Gerrard (Ngog 70), Kuyt (Skrtel 79).
Subs Not Used: Cavalieri, Keane, Riera, El Zhar.
Booked: Mascherano.
Goals: Gerrard 31, Hyypia 36, Babel 50, Gerrard 66, Alonso 77 pen.

Att: 52,114
Ref: Mark Halsey (Lancashire)

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