Precarious and increasingly unstable times, it was with a strange sense of déjà vu that many people will have tripped along to Anfield with the feeling that this might just be the last Liverpool game before stadiums fall silent once again.
An ambiguous lateral flow test of my own meant that I wasn’t one of them, leaving me marooned at home watching on TV while waiting for my still elusive PCR result. I can never really get my head around watching games that take place at Anfield on TV. It’s akin to being locked out of your own house.
I wasn’t alone in having to stay away. Even on the pitch, a trio of Liverpool players had tested positive, two of them slated to play in this one.
With a slew of games postponed, both for the midweek and coming weekend, to go along with those that weren’t played last weekend, those who are able to fulfil their games in the days and maybe weeks ahead will find themselves as part of a diminishing minority. We’ve been here before, and we know the punchline.
A goal scored by a former Liverpool midfielder in Jonjo Shelvey handed the invitation to hit a fine shot from distance via not one, but two careless balls played by Thiago, even the visitors seemed shocked by this unlikely turn of events.
With focus not easy to come by, despite some excellent movement and ball retention, it took the perceived contentious nature of the equaliser for Liverpool to settle into their task. An innocuous collision in the penalty area and Newcastle players going to ground, Jota dispatched the ball into the net before Mike Dean could change his mind in allowing play to continue.
The magnificent Ibrahima Konate had contested an aerial ball with Newcastle’s Fabian Schar and Isaac Hayden. Nothing untoward, no real certainty that a clash of heads had even occurred, it simply looked like a heavy landing at worst.
Schär considered staying down but soon got to his feet after a glance at the referee to see that play hadn’t been halted, even Hayden had seemed to be coherent enough to be able to assess the reaction of Dean while he was in mid-air. An observation that was one of the few isolated perks of watching from home, where the incident was analysed and counter-analysed by a long succession of BT Sport replays.
Opportunism was at play, both from Jota in scoring and Hayden in trying to buy the favour of the officials. No raised flag, no whistle to mouth. Goal. It might be viewed as being an event that was sound and just, in the eye of the beholder, but I see no problem with players who needlessly stay to ground being left to their own devices if the officials aren’t completely convinced of the peril they are in, no matter what position they occupy on the pitch.
It’s the same rule where I still believe that a drop-ball should be contested by opposing players, rather than it being politely returned by one team to the other via a long hoof upfield or rolled out for a throw-in. There is a time and place for societal niceties and a football pitch doesn’t need to be it.
Yes, potential head injuries can’t be ignored but I am all for suspected defensive gamesmanship to be given short shrift by referees. For further reference, see David De Gea a few weeks ago against Tottenham.
A tool increasingly being used by goalkeepers and defenders, exaggeration of injury is something that has always been levelled at attacking players in attempting to gain advantages. Yet, those whose job it is to keep the ball out of the net are just as guilty of such dark arts.
Newcastle’s woes were further compounded just four minutes later when Mohamed Salah capitalised upon a Shelvey aberration, picking up and converting a loose ball when the alternative would likely have been a penalty and a red card for a trip on Sadio Mane. Sliding doors work both ways.
Intriguingly, a lack of ruthlessness in front of goal and a sluggish start to the second half left the game in the balance for longer than necessary, until Trent Alexander-Arnold’s majestic late thunder-bastard of a goal on an evening when he also provided the tackle of the night too.
A strike where there was just so much to love, be it the power, the technique, the bulging of ball in netting, the referee scurrying to get out of the way, or simply Trent killing off the growing narrative that there was a potential twist in the tail to the tale of the game that might somehow see the visitors depart with a point.
A deserved win for Liverpool.
With the footballing world purportedly in the palm of their hand, just what division Eddie Howe’s team will be kicking a ball around in next season is still wide open to debate but hats off to the top tactics from Newcastle though, in unnecessarily wearing their away kit, so as not to feel too ‘Newcastley’ going into this one. It just didn’t quite come off for them.
We can take many plus points from Thursday but what wider landscape we now carry them into is anybody’s guess.
At least my PCR result has just come back as negative. Up the Reds, and look after yourselves.