When Jean-Alain Boumsong was sent off for the foul that earned Liverpool a penalty, and subsequently their third goal, it was debatable whether his dismissal actually disadvantaged Newcastle United. Boumsong was a liability, partially to blame for the first goal and guilty of missing a chance to equalise shortly before half-time.
"He's very upset. Who wouldn't be?" said Newcastle's caretaker manager Glenn Roeder, who refused publicly to criticise him. Boumsong cannot solely be blamed. As a unit, Newcastle seemed to have regained their disconcerting habit of making life easy for opponents. This is particularly pertinent when the opposition has possession.
The Liverpool players' movement, vision and all-round professionalism meant they took full advantage. Their fresh system here, with Peter Crouch playing an advanced role and supported on either side by Harry Kewell and Djibril Cissé plus wing-backs, led to some energetic attacking and Rafael Benitez's side's pursuit of second place shows little sign of stuttering.
"Our idea is to think one game at a time," Benitez stressed but he revealed Manchester United were at his mind's forefront. "If they continue winning, we must continue winning."
Crouch had an early chance when he met Stephen Warnock's curling cross with a firm header but watched it drift wide. When handed a second chance, his accuracy was unerring. Jan Kromkamp chipped a diagonal pass towards the far post where Crouch snuck in between Boumsong, who missed the ball with an attempted headed clearance, and Peter Ramage, to head in from three yards.
Liverpool were buoyed as Warnock and Kewell showed some splendidly swift one-touch football before the Australian delivered the ball across the edge of the six-yard box. Cissé spurned a difficult chance with a wayward finish.
After a subdued opening 20 minutes, Newcastle started making their presence felt. Shola Ameobi managed to lay the ball off to Alan Shearer with a clever reverse pass but the Newcastle captain shot over from 20 yards. Shearer returned the favour moments later and Ameobi's shot was spilled by Jose Reina but Nolberto Solano could not reach the loose ball.
Newcastle were punished for yielding nothing from that period when Cissé's high ball from the right was headed on by Steven Gerrard into the path of Crouch.
The striker flicked the ball back to his team-mate and Gerrard to fire home a low, powerful strike. Newcastle were aggrieved that Jamie Carragher had not been penalised for a foul on Shearer in the build-up.
Newcastle reduced the deficit when Scott Parker sent in a speculative cross from the right. Ameobi could have been flagged offside but was given the benefit of the doubt and, with a yard head start on Sami Hyypia, he headed in. Curiously his team-mates opted not to celebrate with him.
Boumsong headed disappointingly wide from Solano's free-kick as Newcastle almost managed an equaliser. Worse was to follow for Boumsong shortly after half-time. For the second time, he missed the ball completely when attempting a clearance, leading to Crouch wriggling ahead to set himself up to score. Boumsong could only grab hold of Crouch and ground him, which earned a red card and Liverpool a penalty. Comically, Boumsong struggled to locate the tunnel when walking off.
Cissé successfully converted before revealing a T-shirt with a seemingly harmless message to his loved ones but was booked. It prompted a tetchy period with Cissé inciting the crowd again but given stern words from the referee rather than a second yellow card. Liverpool remained comfortable for the remainder and both Xabi Alonso and Kromkamp were denied eye-catching long-range goals by the fingertips of Shay Given.
They also had the luxury of substituting Gerrard and Crouch early, which will help them overcome a schedule that is "crazy" according to Benitez. Next he must decide which strikers to use as they all seem to have finally found form. "Now the problem is for me," admitted Benitez.
Goals: Crouch (10) 0-1; Gerrard (35) 0-2; Ameobi (41) 1-2; Cissé (pen 52) 1-3.
Newcastle United (4-4-2) : Given; Ramage, Boumsong, Elliott, Babayaro; Solano, Parker, Emre (Clark, 90), N'Zogbia (Bowyer, 27); Shearer, Ameobi (Dyer, 66). Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Moore.
Liverpool (3-4-3) : Reina; Carragher, Hyypia (Fowler, 90), Agger; Kromkamp, Hamann, Gerrard (Alonso, 74), Warnock; Cissé, Crouch (Garcia, 63), Kewell. Substitutes not used: Dudek (gk), Traoré.
Referee: M Riley (West Yorkshire).
Booked: Newcastle Ramage, Bowyer 55; Liverpool Cissé, Agger, Carragher.
Sent off: Newcastle Boumsong.
Man of the match: Crouch.
Attendance: 52,302.Reuse content