Liverpool swept aside a poor Newcastle Utd to maintain their pressure on Manchester Utd at Anfield thanks to goals from Yossi Benayoun, Dirk Kuyt and Lucas.
After a promising start from the visitors, they came undone on 21 minutes. Dirk Kuyt’s shot across goal was turned in by Yossi Benayoun, who poked home at the far post. Television replays appear to show Benayoun was offside when Kuyt shot, so Newcastle will feel hard done by.
Minutes later Kuyt scored himself. Awful marking let him have a free, powerful header on goal from a Steven Gerrard corner and Liverpool were in cruise control.
The Reds finished the first half with some beautiful attacking movement, seemingly at times queuing up to shoot.
Gerrard went close several times, in desperation to get on the scoresheet on his return from injury, whilst Daniel Agger, who signed a new contract with the club this weekend, saw a long-range effort turned round the post by Steve Harper in Newcastle’s goal.
Liverpool could have added to their advantage, but for stern defending from Damien Duff, playing out of position for the Magpies.
Xabi Alonso was given far too much space as he strided forward from midfield and unleashed a fantastic shot that smashed the crossbar, with Harper well beaten.
The second half started much the way the first had gone – Liverpool attacking with ease, taking advantage of sloppy Newcastle defending and finding space easily.
Gerrard tried his luck some more efforts from just outside the area and Riera chose to shoot when he should have crossed just after the hour mark. He was promptly replaced by Ryan Babel after a frustrating game which saw him lose grip of the pitch several times.
Liverpool continued their free-passing football, dissecting Newcastle’s defence apart and looking more and more likely to re-open the scoring flow and do damage of a lacklustre Newcastle.
Fabio Aurelio worked well down the left with Babel, overlapping well and creating great attacking moves together, whilst Mascherano kept things tidy in midfield and Benayoun’s work rate kept attacking flows alive, with Newcastle making schoolboy errors at the back.
On 68 minutes, Kuyt was put through on goal, but shaped wrong and dragged his low drill well wide of Harper’s right hand post.
Alonso hit the crossbar for the second time in the game with 18 minutes to go, his chipped shot from the edge of the area beat Harper and rebounded off the bar. Another lucky escape for the visitors and more fantastic vision from the Spaniard.
Just seconds later, Gerrard’s frustration of trying to get on the scoresheet continued when he found himself in loads of space just inside the Newcastle area, but his effort went narrowly wide.
Newcastle midfielder Joey Barton ‘“ on his return to Merseyside – was dismissed by referee Phil Dowd with 13 minutes remaining for a rash two-footed challenge on Xabi Alonso, which saw him stretchered off injured, by the corner flag.
In the aftermath of Barton’s exit, the Kop gave a warm welcome back to Michael Owen who came on as a substitute for Obefemi Martins, whilst Lucas replaced an injured Alonso for Liverpool.
As the game dwindled out much the same as it had been all game ‘“ Liverpool attacking and all over the visitors, but not quite finding the finish to score again, the Reds found it. A simple goal ‘“ Gerrard’s in-swinging cross from the right was met by the head of substitute Lucas for his first Premier League goal.
Mascherano pulled up with a knock to his left leg with 2 minutes left and was immediately replaced by David Ngog.
Seconds later, Gerrard had one more go to take a bite of the cherry. His long-range effort clipped the angle of the goal ‘“ hitting Newcastle’s woodwork for the third time in the game.
The Reds were brilliant, great passing, movement and awareness, whilst relegation-strucken Newcastle were woeful. The scoreline doesn’t do the performance justice and Liverpool should really have found the back of the net at least one more time, with Reina untroubled at the back.
The victory moves Rafa Benitez’s men closer to Premier League leaders Manchester United. They’re now three points behind Utd, with a better goal difference by three. The Reds have three games remaining ‘“ West Ham (a), West Brom (a) and Tottenham Hotspur (h), whilst Utd have four left ‘“ Man City (h), Wigan (a), Arsenal (h), Hull (a).
Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Agger, Aurelio, Alonso (Lucas 80), Mascherano (Ngog 89), Benayoun, Gerrard, Riera (Babel 63), Kuyt.
Subs Not Used: Cavalieri, Dossena, El Zhar, Skrtel.
Goals: Benayoun 22, Kuyt 28, Lucas 87.
Newcastle: Harper, Beye, Coloccini, Bassong, Duff, Smith, Butt, Martins (Owen 80), Barton, Lovenkrands (Gutierrez 46), Viduka (Nolan 80).
Subs Not Used: Krul, Guthrie, Edgar, Carroll.
Sent Off: Barton (77).
Booked: Smith, Coloccini.
Referee: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire)
Weather: Sunny, mild