Liverpool 4 Newcastle United 3
It was not just the moon that was eclipsed last night, so were the Toon. After flaring as brightly as a supernova for an hour Newcastle United disappeared into a black hole at Anfield, beaten, not so much by their colander defence as by Liverpool's brilliance.
It was a fantastic match, one which almost defies superlatives. It was fast, passionate and gilded with genius. Encouragingly the latter was not just Colombian or French, there was magic in English feet as well, notably Steve McManaman and Robbie Fowler, but also Jamie Redknapp and Rob Lee, and John Barnes, whose vision ultimately decided the spoils.
That either side should be left with nothing at the end of it seems not just a shame, but a crime. Newcastle showed courage, in coming back from a 98-second goal from Fowler, and skill in scoring three delightfully executed goals from Les Ferdinand, David Ginola and Faustino Asprilla.
What they failed to show was the hard edge required to kill teams off, to close games up. Asprilla's goal put them 3-2 ahead - Fowler having scored a second two minutes beforehand - but left them with 33 minutes to go. It was too long, much too long. With Liverpool in such irresistible form Newcastle needed a another goal.
It failed to come, instead Stan Collymore levelled after 65 minutes then, 80 seconds into injury time, he got the winner. It was a great result for Manchester United as well as Liverpool. For the first time this season Manchester United know that if they keep winning they will be champions.
Newcastle's intentions were clear even before the game. There would be no compromise. The team was the one that finished the 2-0 defeat at Highbury - the controversial Colombian Asprilla in attack and Steve Watson preferred to the more defensive Warren Barton at right-back.
Watson had twice scored the winning goal against Liverpool this season but whatever talismanic qualities he had had were soon dissipated as Collymore skipped by him to make the first goal. Collymore had received the ball, on the left-wing, from Redknapp who had himself been found by Fowler. The striker was then just inside the Newcastle half, by the time Collymore's cross arrived he was at the far post heading it in.
Echoes of Highbury, where Newcastle were 1-0 down after two minutes and two behind and beaten after 17. This time the response was defiant, Ferdinand quickly setting the tone with a determined dribble and shot. By the 14th minute they were ahead. First Asprilla weaved by Neil Ruddock before cutting the ball back to Ferdinand who turned Mark Wright and drove through David James' hands. Then Ferdinand turned creator, releasing Ginola who scored with the Gallic sang-froid of his Manchester compatriot.
Perhaps Newcastle could cope with the pressure. It was too early to say, not with 74 minutes of high-octane football still to go.
Indeed, Liverpool were soon back on the offensive and both Peter Beardsley and (less surprisingly) David Batty, were booked, the latter for an awful foul on McManaman. Redknapp went close from long-range, Fowler, to general astonishment, missed from near in (he is human after all), while McManaman did well with a shot and badly with a header.
At the other end both Asprilla and Beardsley almost broke through on the counter-attack as the game's frantic pace betrayed both club's training ground preference for five-a-side.
Half-time failed to slow the game, or change the pattern, Lee going clear on the break but failing to produce a worthy finish. Liverpool's barrage resumed and, after 55 minutes, Newcastle cracked again. It was an encouraging goal for England. McManaman ran at the terrified Newcastle defence before picking out another young lion, Fowler, who scored with customary ease.
Now would Liverpool take over? No, two minutes later Lee put Asprilla through and he finished exquisitely. Had Ginola then matched Teddy Sheringham's pass at Wembley last week Ferdinand might then have settled it
He did not and Liverpool rallied. On 65 minutes Jason McAteer curled the ball behind Newcastle's defence and Collymore scored. Still Newcastle could have won the game, Ferdinand being denied by James on a one-on- one.
Chances came, chances went, mainly for Liverpool who had 26 goal attempts (to Newcastle's 12). Then Rush, on for Rob Jones, played a series of one- two's into the box. He and Barnes seemed to get in each others' way then, just as the chance seemed gone, Barnes spotted Collymore in space. The pass was perfect and as Stan the man thumped it inside Pavel Srnicek's near post the Kop exploded with joy.
Liverpool (3-4-1-2): James; Scales, Wright (Harkness, h-t), Ruddock; McAteer, Redknapp, Barnes, Jones (Rush,85); McManaman; Collymore, Fowler. Substitute not used: Warner (gk).
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Srnicek; Watson, Howey (Peacock, 82), Albert, Beresford; Beardsley, Batty, Lee, Ginola; Asprilla, Ferdinand. Substitutes not used: Clark, Gillespie.
Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).
Stoke on march,
Last night's results, page 31