Newcastle United 2 Liverpool 1: Onyewu rises above Bellamy's belligerent display

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The Independent Online

Craig Bellamy comes across as the most irascible of individuals, but the Welshman clearly feeds off his role as the anti-hero of a Premiership which loves to hate its feistier characters.

Whether goading Newcastle's giant central defender, Oguchi Onyewu, catching United's goalkeeper, Steve Harper, with a late tackle, or cheekily wiping his greasy palms on the bald head of the Magpies' long-serving physiotherapist, Derek Wright, there was no escaping the impact of the former enfant terrible of St James' Park upon a game of unrelenting action.

Bellamy opened the scoring against his former club within six minutes and yet, from that moment on, confidence visibly drained from the focal point of Liverpool's attack. By the time the referee, Mark Halsey, signalled the end of a thrilling first half, Bellamy had wasted the opportunity to register a rare hat-trick and finish the match as a contest. After the break his afternoon got worse.

"I didn't think the occasion affected him, he was trying to do his best and mentally he was fine," said the Liverpool manager, Rafael Benitez. The forward Dirk Kuyt said: "Craig was a little upset. He was desperate to win the match. The only thing he wanted to do was beat Newcastle and we didn't do that."

Bellamy, although he would bitterly dispute the assertion, had indeed let the occasion, as well as a formidable opponent, get to him. On the day when the Reds entered a new era under the ownership of George Gillett Jnr and Tom Hicks, it was another American who was central to the former Newcastle favourite's demise. Onyewu, the US international who is on loan from Standard Liège, offered a fascinating insight into the Bellamy psyche following a faultless home debut.

"My size and strength are big assets and I don't think he liked that too much, being half my height," said the 24-year-old. "He never shuts up. When you come across players like him you just have to laugh at them and smile and that's what I did. There was a moment when he was complaining that I elbowed him in the head, but I responded by saying, 'Look at where your head is. I can't help it if you're so short you only come up to where my elbow is'.

"My team-mates warned me that he was a very fast and skilful player and if you let him get in your head he'll affect you and your performance. I did my best to not let that happen."

Until Saturday a Benitez-managed Liverpool side had not lost a League game after taking the lead, but Newcastle recovered from an abysmal first half to dominate after the break. The forward Obafemi Martins capitalised on a Jose Reina error to equalise after 26 minutes and the midfielder Nolberto Solano scored from the penalty spot 20 minutes from time, after John Arne Riise had tripped the advancing Newcastle defender Steven Taylor.

"There are reasons we lost that game, but I cannot go into them now," said Benitez, prior to the club's week-long training camp in Portugal.

Bellamy was undoubtedly one of them.

Goals: Bellamy (6) 0-1; Martins (26) 1-1; Solano pen (70) 2-1.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Harper; Taylor, Onyewu, Bramble, Babayaro; Solano (Duff, 86), Parker, Butt, Milner; Dyer (Sibierski, 81), Martins. Substitutes not used: Srnicek (gk), Luque, Huntington.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Finnan (Crouch, 84), Carragher, Agger, Riise; Pennant (Arbeloa, 76), Sissoko, Gerrard, Zenden (Guthrie, 75); Bellamy, Kuyt. Substitutes not used: Dudek (gk), Hyypia.

Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).

Booked: Newcastle Bramble; Liverpool Gerrard.

Man of the match: Harper.

Attendance: 52,305.

Bereavement may rule out Babayaro

The Newcastle United defender Celestine Babayaro may miss his club's Uefa Cup tie against Zulte-Waregem, of Belgium, on Thursday, following the death of his younger brother.

The former Chelsea full-back (pictured) was informed by relatives on Friday night that Oweja Babayaro, 26, had lost a long battle against tuberculosis. After a late telephone call to the Newcastle manager, Glenn Roeder, the Nigeria player decided to play against Liverpool at St James' Park the following day, where he was overcome by grief on the final whistle.

"If someone does that it shows they have mental strength," said Roeder, after Babayaro went to London to be with his family. "A lot of people would have found it too difficult. I am hoping to get a call from Celestine in the week to say he is able to play in the Uefa Cup, but it not my decision to make."

Simon Rushworth

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