Returning Gerrard inspires Reds to finish 2011 on a high

Liverpool 3-1 Newcastle Utd
Friday, 30th December 2011

Luis Suarez could only watch on from the stands; yet it was another star man who returned to ensure that Liverpool ended 2011 on a high.

Steven Gerrard marked his second appearance since his latest injury absence by scoring the crucial third goal and securing a much needed home victory.

Craig Bellamy returned to the starting line-up in place of the suspended Suarez and it was the Welshman who stepped up to fill the void vacated by the Uruguayan, courtesy of an inspired attacking display. Bellamy’s brace set the Reds on their way to victory after Daniel Agger’s early own-goal threatened yet another evening of frustration for the home fans.

But it was the sight of a returning Gerrard – showing no ill affects from his injury troubles during 2011 – who will have provided those fans with the greatest reason for comfort ahead of the coming year.

Within moments of entering the field, the Liverpool captain added the kind of energy and creativity in midfield which his team had been sorely missing up until that point.

Gerrard’s goal typified his influence. A forward thrust into the penalty area from midfield to collect Jordan Henderson’s lay off and roll the ball under Tim Krul from a tight angle. But it was his all round quality which was equally refreshing.

Andy Carroll – who again drew the disdain of some inside Anfield – will benefit more than most from a fully-fit Gerrard. The midfielder having provided Carroll with more ammunition during a 30 minute cameo than he has received in any game this season.

This may have been something of a taster of things to come. With a much more lengthy period of absence on the horizon for Luis Suarez, Gerrard may just be the man Liverpool need to make up for that dearth in creativity. Kenny Dalglish may even now be tempted to grant the skipper a return to the starting XI ahead of the trip to Manchester City, such was his influence here.

This was the first time that the Reds had come from behind to win a league fixture in just short of a full year – the last time being the victory over Bolton Wanderers on new year’s day.

This was also the first time Liverpool had scored more than 2 in a single league match since late August – quirkily, also against Bolton. Although Dalglish’s team have created many more chances than this and failed to win on more than one occasion this season.

Liverpool dominated possession and territory in the early stages but that all too common Achilles heal threatened to haunt them again, as the hosts failed to test Krul in the Newcastle goal.

Carroll, to his credit, held the ball up well and constantly occupied Fabriccio Coloccini and Mike Williamson. But he lacked the support and the service from midfield.

A tame Stewart Downing effort was all that Liverpool had to show for their early toil. And the Reds luck averted them for a second game in succession, as a 25th minute own-goal saw them fall behind. Yohan Cabaye turned Ryan Taylor’s left-wing cross in the direction of the goal and courtesy of defections against both Demba Ba and Agger the ball was beyond a helpless Pepe Reina for the opening goal.

The home fans dejected, they needed an immediate response and for once they got just that. The visitors defence could only half clear Charlie Adam’s cross and the ball came out to Bellamy just inside the penalty area. Bellamy confidently drove the ball into the corner of Kop end goal to the relief of the fans gathered behind.

The momentum was now with Liverpool again and they could have been in front before the break had Martin Skrtel’s headed not flashed the wrong side of the post.

Whilst the Reds could have found themselves with a numerical advantage had referee, Lee Probert not turned a blind eye to a studs up challenge by Cabaye on Jay Spearing. A challenge surely not any less dangerous than the one for which Spearing himself was recently banned for 3 matches.

Spearing was an impressive performer. Energetic and tenacious in midfield, he may be playing himself into a more regular starting role in the absence of Lucas. Yet, the combination of Adam and Henderson ahead of him failed to provide Liverpool with anything resembling the kind of spark which they require.

It was only when Gerrard came on to replace an off-the-pace Adam that Liverpool looked the side which they had threatened to be. Gerrard presented Carroll with a gilt-edge chance to silence the travelling Newcastle fans within moments. Yet, with time and space, the forward’s touch completely deserted him and Krul gathered comfortably.

It mattered little because Liverpool were ahead soon after. Bellamy lined-up a free-kick 25-yards out and, as Danny Simpson retreated to protect his goalkeeper from onrushing Liverpool players, he only contrived to obstruct Krul and prevent what otherwise would have been a routine save.

Despite the Magpie’s complete lack of attacking threat, they were very nearly level. A stunning goal line clearance from the immense, Skrtel was required to deny Ba. Whilst, at the opposite end, Carroll met another stunning Gerrard delivery with his head, only for the effort to strike the crossbar.

Yet, it was left for a returning Liverpool hero to have the final say.

Gerrard has a favourable habit of scoring against the men from St James Park and he was not about to spurn the opportunity here. Gerrard helped himself to his seventh goal from nine appearances against Newcastle in 78th minute to all but confirm victory.

Liverpool would be wise to note that they only genuinely took the game away from Newcastle once Gerrard had entered the field of play. There undoubtedly remain improvements to be made in both midfield and attack. But this was a significant result after recent stalemates and on this evidence there remains reason for hope as we reach the midway point of the Premier League season.

Man of the Match

The fact that Gerrard was in contention despite only having played 30 minutes says much but a brace from the excellent Bellamy was vital. Skrtel also deserves a mention.

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