Liverpool let down by their basic failings

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Newcastle United 2 Liverpool 1

You can imagine a Liverpool player's bonfire party. The potatoes are roasting in the oven, the wood is piled high and the most expensive fireworks money can buy are primed. Perfect, except for one thing. He has forgotten to get the matches.

It is the basics that baffle the men in red at the moment. Like scoring goals. Give them a sticky spot in defence and they will pass their way out of trouble like aristocrats dismissing their flunkies. But try to show that savoir-faire in the opposition area and they fail. Brondby, Newcastle - both were tales of waste.

Elegant, even beautiful to watch at times, they forgot last week how to turn overwhelming superiority into the most important commodity, which is extraordinary given the quality of the strikers they have at their disposal. Robbie Fowler could have had a hat-trick at St James' Park, Ian Rush might have added another to his 11th-minute goal, and Jamie Redknapp and Steve McManaman had efforts brilliantly saved.

In fact, this was an extraordinary match all round. Newcastle were out- tackled, out-passed and out-thought, but still managed to stretch their lead in the Premiership to five points. It was like a cameo of the season, the home team created four chances and scored twice, while Liverpool carved out umpteen and managed only one goal. When the Tannoy sprang to life with Tina Turner's "Simply The Best" at the final whistle, the audacity took the breath away.

"They gave us a lesson," Kevin Keegan, the Newcastle manager, said. "Liverpool passed it like only one team can in the world and we found it difficult. But credit to my players, they never let their heads go down and we pinched a result.

"It's very easy to be jack the lad when it's going well. A lot of my players struggled, yet we still came out on top. When we played Blackburn last year, we hammered them but still lost 1-0 and they ended up winning the championship. Sometimes you have to grind out results."

Newcastle struggled to an extent where their championship credentials were questioned, even though their hold on the Premiership lead tightened. Until this match, the accusation was that they had not played against teams of a similar calibre, and after it, it could be argued that they still had not.

Which was surprising, given their start. Les Ferdinand put them ahead after two minutes to maintain his record of scoring every time he has played at St James' Park this season, and Peter Beardsley almost made it 2-0 with a chip that grazed the visitors' bar.

Yet once Rush had equalised, the tide turned with such a vengeance that after the interval Newcastle rarely got out of their half until the last push. It was as if Liverpool's energy supply halted when Robbie Fowler managed to get his feet tangled up after rounding Shaka Hislop in the 81st minute. They were out on their feet and Steve Watson, whose substitution had only been prevented by an injury to Keith Gillespie, supplied the knock-out blow in the 89th minute.

"It's a cruel world," Roy Evans, the Liverpool manager, said. "Last week we scored 13 goals in three games and this week we haven't got any in two, despite playing some good football."

The impression is that, like last season, a Liverpool team that is a joy to watch might not have the required cutting edge. The championship could be passing them by. Elegantly, of course, but passing them by nevertheless.

Goals: Ferdinand (2) 1-0; Rush (10) 1-1; Watson (89) 2-1.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Hislop; Barton, Peacock, Howey, Beresford; Gillespie (Albert, 65), Lee, Watson, Ginola; Beardsley, Ferdinand. Substitutes not used: Sellars, Srnicek (gk).

Liverpool (5-3-2): James; R Jones, Wright, Scales, Babb, Harkness; McManaman, Redknapp, Barnes; Rush (Collymore, 74), Fowler. Substitutes not used: McAteer, Warner (gk).

Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).