The transformation is of comic-strip proportions – messiah turns to dust, Superman becomes a wimp. A matter of weeks ago Kevin Keegan was being hailed as the man who would guide Newcastle United to the promised land of trophies. Now there is every prospect he will be leading his team on a detour intothe Championship.
This made it eight games without a win since Keegan was reappointed as Newcastle's manager in January, and thegrim prospect of relegation is looming larger with everymatch. Go back further than the second coming and the record is dreadful – three points from the past 36 and a last League victory on 15 December. Most seasons one team charges from mid-table towards the bottom three, and this time the players are dressed in black and white.
Yesterday it would have taken a Geordie drunk on optimism to expect Keegan's side to get much joy at Anfield, particularlyas Liverpool are performing more smoothly than at any time this season, but the manner of the defeat would have been deeply depressing. For 43 minutes Newcastle were in contention, but as soon as they went behind they crumpled.
So much so that Rafael Benitez was able to declare with 20 minutes to go, withdrawing Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres in preparation for Tuesday's Champions' League match against Internazionale in the San Siro. Both scored, just as they had against West Ham United in midweek, after Jermaine Pennant had opened the floodgates with a fortuitous rebound.
Liverpool are homing in on fourth place in the Premier League and a place in the Champions' League quarter-finals, while Newcastle must pray their fortune and their resilience improve. Their next two games, Birmingham City away and Fulham at home, take on huge significance.
"There were some good things out there but as a team we didn't pass well enough or keep possession," Keegan said before returning to a more upbeat theme. "We are very together as a squad and I have no doubt we can pick ourselves up. The players have taken some hammer blows in recent weeks but I'm very confident we have enough ability to stay in this division."
While Keegan tried to invoke hope, Benitez could luxuriate in a good afternoon's work. "We must be happy," he said. "We scored three goals, didn't concede any and we had the chance to rest players. In many ways everything was perfect."
It is a long time since the words "Newcastle United" and "perfect" appeared in the same sentence, but to be fair to them they held their own for most of the first half, and might have taken the lead after nine minutes when Abdoulaye Faye lost his marker to meet Charles N'Zobgia's corner; his header almost embarrassed Jose Reina at the near post.
Torres was thwarted by a splendid save from Steve Harpera minute later and Gerrard also looked dangerous on occasions, but Newcastle were looking anything but the much-heralded accident waiting to happenwhen the accident happened. A spell of Liverpool pressure was going nowhere in the 43rd minute when a pass fell too far ahead of Pennant. Luis Enrique's clearance hit the Liverpool winger, however, and bounced unkindly over the head of Harper and into the net.
Newcastle appeared mortified, and things got worse two minutes later with a goal that summed up the predatory instincts of Torres. Gerrard played a deft pass into the area and the Spaniard's acceleration took him away from his marker and round Harper in a split second. From there it was merely a matter of rolling the ball into the net.
"It was the sort of goal that we needed, not them, a freak goal really," Keegan said of Pennant's effort. "These things happen in football and they tend to happen to teams who are struggling. To concede a second goal immediately afterwards was a bigger blow. They could relax and they have the players who can hurt you."
Such body blows before half-time were likely to leave Newcastle groggy, and it was only a matter of six minutes after the restart before they received more punishment. This time Torres was the provider, moving through the gears like an expensive sports car in midfield before sliding a pass through to Gerrard, who flicked past Harper.
Gerrard was halted only by Harper's fingertips moments later before he was substituted and Torres followed his captain to the bench soon afterwards. Newcastle? They hit the bar when Obafemi Martins turned and looped a shot from 30 yards over Reina, but only Harper's excellent form stood between them and a rout.
"Going down" was the chant before the Kop moved a little way towards genuine wit with "Keegan for England". The cruelty of it made you wince.Reuse content