Sublime Gerrard shows Carroll how it is done
Liverpool 3 Newcastle United 1
Saturday 31 December 2011
Naturally those who had travelled down from Tyneside taunted him with chants of “Shearer” but the most telling question that rang out from the away end was: “Who are you?” After what was Andy Carroll's match of the season there is still no answer.
He is not Alan Shearer and is likely never to be. He is still to prove he is not Garry Birtles whose extraordinary promise dulled and faded the moment he exchanged Nottingham Forest for Manchester United in 1980.
A former Newcastle player did decide this match but it was Craig Bellamy, and there was a hero's reception but it was reserved for Steven Gerrard, who came off the bench to score the goal that put this match beyond Newcastle's reach and propelled Liverpool to within touching distance of the Champions League places.
As he had against Blackburn on Boxing Day, Carroll came achingly close to a breakthrough, driving a header from Gerrard's deep cross against the bar. “You couldn't score in a brothel” chanted the away end, unfairly at the man who had earned Newcastle a still unspent £35m last January.
In contrast, a ball played over the top found him in space and in front of goal. Shearer would have buried it instinctively. The big, shy boy from the Team Valley missed his kick completely. Sometimes he looks irresistible, sometimes he looks hopeless and sometimes both in the same game.
The last occasion the grand old stadium had staged a Liverpool match on a Friday night was the May evening on which Arsenal came to face the champions of England needing to claim a two-goal victory to take the championship. When they did so in the final minute, the cameras zeroed in on the beaten manager with Brian Moore's words echoing: “And Dalglish just stands there.”
Last night Dalglish once more stood on the Anfield touchline for the last time in a year which for him has been as extraordinary as 1989, if not quite so acutely painful. He had returned to his greatest love and reversed the process of managed decline Liverpool appeared to have accepted. Whatever happens in the next six months, he has been one of the football men of 2011. If Gerrard remarked afterwards he had endured a “terrible year”, for his manager it has been one to remember.
However, he was still standing there, arms folded, when for the second successive match Liverpool fell behind to a self-inflicted wound. Against Blackburn it had been Charlie Adam's outstretched leg that had turned the ball past his own goalkeeper; now it was Daniel Agger's shoulder that beat Pepe Reina.
After 25 minutes the ball was swung in by Ryan Taylor, who was unable to cope with Stewart Downing and was withdrawn during the interval. It came from the left and aimed at Yohan Cabaye, from whom it took the merest touch towards Demba Ba, who was so closely marked by Agger that the two men were pressed together. The ball struck the Dane's shoulder and deflected past a hopelessly stranded keeper.
The only man on the field who was not aware of what had happened was young Haris Vuckic, the teenage Slovene who had just received a drive full in the face from Glen Johnson and was walking off for treatment when Newcastle took the lead.
It was not to last for long. There were three former Newcastle players on the sodden pitch and Bellamy was always the likeliest scorer. The visitors' defence had half-cleared a cross from another of their other former employees, Jose Enrique, and the ball fell to Adam, who sent in a low, punishingly-hard cross that Cheick Tioté deflected towards Bellamy standing on the edge of the area. Unlike Carroll's future on Merseyside, his shot brooked no argument.
His second goal in the 67th minute did feature an intervention by Carroll. As the Welshman drove in a free-kick, the striker, standing intelligently between the wall and Tim Krul, attempted to meet it with a flick of his pony-tailed head. He missed but it was enough to put off the Dutchman. Liverpool have been defied by several heroic goalkeeping performances but Krul's fumble gave them a sight of victory that was confirmed by Gerrard's sublime finish from a tight angle 11 minutes later.
By then Bellamy had been substituted after a clash with Fabricio Coloccini that left his chin a mess and required four stitches above the eye. As he went off he confronted Alan Pardew. The Newcastle manager said: “I told him: 'I don't know what you are having a go at me for – I didn't elbow you.” Bellamy who has made a habit of scoring against Newcastle, was rather more gracious after the final whistle. Memories of Cabaye's studs-up tackle on Jay Spearing are likely to linger a little longer.
The only real question over Newcastle's remodelled, French-flavoured side is their ability to score more than a single goal against good teams. When Ba swept the ball past Reina it seemed they had done but for a fabulous, full-stretch clearance off the line from Martin Skrtel. In the longer term Newcastle might be helped by Carroll coming home. Shearer did.
Substitutes: Liverpool Gerrard 7 (Adam, 59), Kuyt (Bellamy, 74).
Newcastle United: Santon 6 (R Taylor, h-t), Ben Arfa 6 (Vuckic, 65), Sammy Ameobi (Obertan, 84).
Booked: Newcastle Gutierrez, R Taylor.
Man of the match: Bellamy.
Match rating: 7/10.
Possession: Liverpool 55% Newcastle 45%.
Attempts on target: Liverpool 7 Newcastle 2.
Referee: L Probert (Wiltshire).
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