Liverpool vs Newcastle match report: Raheem Sterling and Joe Allen on target as Reds close the gap to Manchester City to four points

Liverpool 2 Newcastle United 0

The two faces of Raheem Sterling were on display at Anfield. The first was of the striker wheeling away, smiling in wild innocence at the loveliest of goals that showed the full extent of his talent.

The second was a rather guiltier grin posted on The Sun’s website, embarrassingly close to the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. It was a video that purported to show the forward inhaling laughing gas, a legal but dangerous high. It came hard on the heels of him trying out a shisha pipe on a night out. Neither are recommended as ideal preparation for a Premier League footballer, especially one determined to prove he should be paid the annual salary of five nurses every week. The talent is obvious but sometimes the thinking is not.

Sterling, heckled during Liverpool’s kit launch last Friday, must have wondered what kind of reception he would receive. Liverpool is a club that rarely turns on its own, at least while they are wearing a red shirt. Steve McManaman was jeered during his desultory final season on Merseyside when he was obviously saving himself for Real Madrid but the chants of “there’s only one greedy bastard” came from the travelling fans.

Those who came from Tyneside saw rather more resistance than they might have expected but were once more betrayed by the kind of shoddy defending that always seems to have accompanied them through the Premier League years. When Mike Williamson dozily delayed his clearance, Joe Allen had the presence of mind to shoot past Tim Krul.

Liverpool’s second ensured their manager, Brendan Rodgers, would succeed in his aim of cutting Manchester City’s lead in the fourth and final Champions League position to four points.

It was virtually guaranteed when the Newcastle captain, Moussa Sissoko, launched a wretched tackle on Lucas Leiva and turned without waiting for the second yellow card. The night for Newcastle was also done.

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Sterling scored a brilliant opener

Just before kick-off, there was a moment of perfect stillness as Anfield remembered Hillsborough. On that day in April 1989, Newcastle were at Highbury, on their way to being relegated and losing 1-0, as teams so often did there.

It is depicted in the film Fever Pitch as a passing tragedy. “Even that game will be replayed,” says the Nick Hornby character, played by Colin Firth standing on the North Bank, listening to reports filtering through on a transistor radio. It is a tribute to the people of Merseyside that the disaster has remained alive.

But for their run of five straight wins in the autumn that included a victory over Liverpool at St James’ Park, Newcastle would now be stone cold certainties to repeat the feat.

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Joe Allen reacted quickest to a loose ball to score his first Premier League goal at Anfield

For John Carver, who despite his admirable passion for all things black and white looks like being a very interim manager, the wounds of the abject defeat in the Tyne-Wear derby were still visible: “It will define my spell in charge,” he had said. “I will suffer for weeks, for months, maybe for years.”

All Carver could hope for was a better display than the one they had delivered on Wearside. For that Newcastle would be required to aim two shots at goal. They managed two in the final minutes of the first half with Ayoze Perez forcing a full-length save from Simon Mignolet before Mehdi Abeid shot loosely into the crowd.

Shortly after the interval, Newcastle, who had not won at Anfield since Kevin Keegan’s first spell in charge, looked the better side.

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Moussa Sissoko was sent off for a reckless tackle on Lucas - his second yellow

More significantly, Newcastle should have had a penalty when Dejan Lovren, still horribly out of form, appeared to bring Perez down. At half time Carver went to confront the referee, Lee Mason, turned and bumped into a policeman.

 Jordan Henderson had once been part of a Sunderland side that had been thrashed 5-1 by Newcastle and, as a Wearsider who had travelled to Wembley to support them in last year’s League Cup final, overcoming the enemy would have meant a lot.

It was his fabulous crossfield pass that opened up Newcastle’s paper-thin defence for Sterling to break through. There was still plenty for the forward to do as he took the ball first past Ryan Taylor and then Gabriel Obertan before curling it deliciously past Tim Krul. There were four black-and-white shirts around him when he took the shot on goal.

Henderson is a vastly better footballer than the one who arrived on Merseyside struggling to answer questions as to how Kenny Dalglish thought him worth £20m.

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Newcastle have now lost five games in a row

Now there was a cleverly-taken short free-kick when Newcastle’s defence was expecting something altogether more spectacular that almost sent Philippe Coutinho through. Another, headed on by Lucas Leiva, was fabulously parried by Krul. It was judged offside, though the keeper would have no inkling of the flag when he made the save.

Henderson ought to have produced a second for Sterling with a low cross in front of the Kop that Ryan Taylor missed completely. It fell to the forward six yards out with Krul committed and he somehow managed to screw the shot wide.

Rodgers had already turned to celebrate with one arm raised and turned again to find the score was still 1-0. It was not the only thing about Sterling the Liverpool manager would have difficulty believing.

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