Saturday’s drubbing of Bournemouth was therapeutic, but Wednesday night brought Liverpool the opportunity to rise above a meticulously planned antagonistic maelstrom, writes Steven Scragg.
And it is the latter game that might prove to be the more valuable experience when the bigger picture develops.
As 98th-minute interventions go, Fabio Carvalho’s against Newcastle has the potential to be complete and utter rocket fuel. Crazy, unquantifiable things happen at Anfield, and occasionally on the road too for the team that plays in red, events that have the ability to sustain Jurgen Klopp and his players for the weeks, even months ahead.
These are events that usually bring with them a bit of a Scouse bounce, an intoxicating football high that sees them go on to sweep aside their next dozen or so opponents.
Liverpool were undeniably laboured during sections of the match, something that Eddie Howe’s amoral tactics contributed massively towards, at least for the first hour of the game. After the Lord Mayor’s Show and all that; beyond the feast of Bournemouth came the prospective famine of Newcastle.
It was concerning to fall back into the careless habit of conceding first, especially to what was the visitor’s first serious effort on target, and what followed was a dense period of frustration, as Newcastle didn’t just indulge but gorged on the dark arts.
Timewasting isn’t a new thing in English football, but the blatant flouting of it to such an extent as Newcastle did certainly is. These were the kind of negative and disruptive actions that are generally seen as the stereotype of the most aggressive continental teams, or in terms of being closer to home, the pragmatic Mr Potato Head demographic of British managers.
Howe is football’s latest lottery winner, handed an open cheque book and a remit to turn English football’s softest underbelly into a six-pack, yet if he has designs on stretching the ‘Big 6’ into a ‘Big 7’, then he will have to bring more than dogged Machiavellian intent to his duels with the biggest clubs.
Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand the approach, sometimes you simply you must do what you need to win, or draw as the case was set to be, but you need to wear it, rather than defend it. I can’t ever remember seeing an opposing team booed off the pitch at Anfield in the way that Newcastle were.
On the way back to my car after the game, one lone Liverpool supporter laid the situation on the line for a cluster of black-and-white-shirted lads, when calling their team out as a disgrace as they all wandered off into the darkness of Stanley Park. Rather than defend what had unfolded on the pitch, Geordie shoulders remained slumped and the potential for a flashpoint never escalated.
Unapologetic and mindful not to play the role of the victim of a footballing mugging, Howe attempted to brush off questions over his team’s time wasting by suggesting it was a ploy born of Liverpool having had 24 hours extra rest compared to his players. Karma can be a cruel mistress and he switched his attention to complaints over the disallowing of a second goal.
This was a different Newcastle to the one we had become accustomed to across the last 15 years or so. They are still armed with a punchline of misadventure, yet riches that stem from a questionable regime have very much emboldened them, and whether we like it or not they will be a significant force in the Premier League.
A massive departure from the laughingstock they had become under the ownership of Mike Ashley, while we’ve always looked amusingly askance of the Newcastle fanbase, Wednesday will mark a fork in the road for a brisk deterioration in relations, in the same way that we used to vaguely get on with Manchester City supporters, but now cannot abide one another.
Once upon a time, most non-Newcastle supporters would have fallen into the category of not begrudging them some much overdue success. St James’ Park hasn’t been the home of a major trophy since 1969, while a domestic trophy has remained elusive since 1955. It won’t be long until that concept is inverted, with honours looming yet rival supporters will be willing them to be denied for as long as possible.
Invited to open the scoring, as soon as Bobby Firmino netted the equaliser Newcastle were very much on the back foot but opted for stubbornness rather than immediate capitulation. Interspersed with the time-wasting there was plenty of hard work in closing down space and at times of peril, they deployed a string of eight across the back.
There was still an edge that spoke of the potential for Newcastle to break away again; Howe had taken the Crystal Palace blueprint and added teeth and an undisguised snideness to it. It was a pure joy that he didn’t prosper.
Then the lid came off everything with virtually the last kick of the game. It was ugly in its creation but beautiful in its culmination. Wind taken out of Newcastle’s sails and automatically transferred to our own, if we can follow up this with a victory at Goodison Park on Saturday then maybe plain sailing might be attainable before too long.
Everton are without a win to their name so far this season; this is exactly the type of derby day scenario that would have provoked sleepless nights in previous eras, but we need to be looking at it as the next step in the reclaiming of a heavy degree of mojo that was sorely missing just a week and a half ago.
It’s all about rising above the maelstrom again.