Barclays Premier League – 24th November 2007: Result
Newcastle 0 Liverpool 3
Liverpool’s players and fans showed their support for manager Rafael Benitez in a convincing win at a hostile St James’s Park.
The hostility was aimed at Steven Gerrard initially, the Newcastle supporters booing him every time he got the ball, seemingly due to his part in England’s midweek defeat against Croatia. But Gerrard – under a manager with much more ability – was man of the match today, and soon the hostility from the home fans was aimed at “Fat” Sam Allardyce. Cries of “You don’t know what you’re doing” rang around the ground, his substitutes and substitutions were booed, and when for large parts of the game the Newcastle fans were silent, the sarcastic chants from Liverpool fans were recommending the chewing gum fanatic for the England job.
Throughout the game the manager’s name was sung, with Liverpool supporters sending as best a message as they can – for now – that they want the owners to start showing Rafa some respect and some honesty.
The scoring was opened after 28 minutes when Gerrard hit a sublime strike after Lucas tapped the free-kick his way. Fernando Torres was brilliant – except for his finishing – and could have had at least four goals. The first of those chances came when he hit the post from outside the box, of a goal left open by Shay Given. Given had come out of his area to try and block the ball, which he did – with his arm. He escaped any punishment at all, no free-kick, no red card, no goal from Torres.
Dirk Kuyt’s goal came without him knowing too much about how it happened, the ball went in off his thighs from a Sami Hyypia headed flick just seconds after the restart. Gerrard set that up with his corner and it was he who also set up Ryan Babel’s on sixty-six minutes, playing a brilliant one-two with the Dutchman after a great passing phase of the game from the Reds.
After the game Gerrard was asked if he felt it was a comfortable victory: “Yes it was quite comfortable. We started the game really bright, we scored quite early and then we controlled the ninety minutes. We’re a bit disappointed not to win more convincingly.”
Inevitably he was asked if noticed the booing from the Newcastle supporters in the wake of England’s Euro 2008 exit: “Yes of course, me and all the other England lads have got to take the criticism. It’s as simple as that. We’ve let the country down by not qualifying. From now until we get it right we’re going to take a lot more criticism, but I’m old enough and experienced enough to know that I’ve got to get on with it, play through it.”
Gerrard’s ready to put his England misery to one side now, he’s back in the Red shirt and that’s what he’s concentrating on: “Now I’m with Liverpool I’ll give it everything I’ve got. I’ve got some big games with Liverpool, I’ve got to try and put the England stuff under the carpet for the time being, try and play well for Liverpool and then and when we join back up for England the players have got to give the country a reaction, and hopefully I’ll be a part of that.”
He was pleased with his goal, which he knew straight away he’d hit just right: “It was a good strike – I’ve had a lot of shots today but I caught that one nice and it’s gone in. I knew quite early when it left my foot it was going in.” He was speaking to Sky Sports and about to be awarded their prize for man of the match, but he didn’t want to be the centre of attention: “The most important thing was the three points to stay in touch with the top. It was a good team performance it wasn’t about individuals we could have had a lot more.”
Then he was asked if “you” had been written off to soon, and he laughed as he answered: “Me or the team? If people want to write us off that’s up to them that’s out of our control. What we know is that we’ve got to keep winning. There’s some very good teams in this league; to stay in touch with them you’ve got to keep winning and go on runs, especially over the Christmas period. You’ve got to stay consistent if you want to stay in it and we’re aware of that.”
Rafael Benitez was no doubt delighted with a win so soon after his row with the owners had become public. So, was he pleased? “You must be pleased: to win nil-three away, playing as well as we played today, I am pleased,” he said. “It could have been more, but I am really pleased.”
And what pleased him most?: “The mentality of the players, the commitment, the passing, the chances we were creating; a lot of things.”
Liverpool’s away form has been much better than their home form, Rafa was asked why: “We are trying to play more or less the same at home and away. The difference is the other team goes higher so we have more space away, and at home they go deeper and it’s more difficult.”
Liverpool went third after the win, catching up their game in hand on those they leapfrogged, although theirs was the first fixture of the weekend. Rafa said: “It’s important for us to keep the team in the top of the table we are unbeaten so I think we are in a very good position.”
Then came the question everybody was waiting for. What happened on Thursday with the owners? Much calmer now than he was earlier in the week, he explained what he’d been trying say to Hicks and Gillett: “I think that they don’t understand what it means – the transfer window in Europe, it’s another…” He broke off, trying to think of the words. “When you sign a player he needs to settle down so I think it’s the same situation – they need to understand how difficult it is to sign players, and when you have possibilities now – players that are free – you must do it or you will lose the players. So I was trying to explain and they said, ‘keep calm’, and I will try to keep focussed on winning games for my supporters.”
Does Rafa think this is serious? He said he didn’t think so: “No i think it is not serious. I am sure if they understand what it means – the market – and what it means – the football – here in Europe they will understand we are trying to do the best for the football club.” Do they need to sort out their differences soon? “Yeah, clearly,” he said, smiling.
Sam Allardyce eventually gave his views to Newcastle’s official website, saying of the abuse he got from his own supporters: “It’s only what you expect and they are well within their rights to show their disapproval. I wouldn’t expect anything else. They’ve paid their money to come and see a game of football and they have no alternative but to show their disapproval. It changes on results, though. Two games ago it was great, and two games later it’s a disaster. But I see it as a blip which we have to put right.”
He blamed the result on injuries to defenders, saying: “We had to protect the defenders as much as we could, we couldn’t leave a back four like that exposed today. But in the end that happened. We went chasing the game and left so many gaps for Liverpool to exploit.”
Newcastle: 1 Given, 20 Geremi, 21 Beye, 4 Rozehnal, 3 Jose Enrique (2 Carr, 78), 17 Smith, 22 Butt, 5 Emre (7 Barton, 51), 14 N’Zogbia (16 Milner, 59), 36 Viduka, 9 Martins
Unused subs: 13 Harper, 30 Edgar
Bookings: Butt 60, Beye 87, Smith 90
Liverpool: 25 Reina, 3 Finnan, 23 Carragher, 4 Hyypia, 17 Arbeloa, 8 Gerrard (15 Crouch, 80), 21 Lucas, 22 Sissoko, 7 Kewell (19 Babel, 58), 9 Torres, 18 Kuyt (6 Riise, 76)
Unused subs: 30 Itandje, 20 Mascherano
Goals: Gerrard 28, Kuyt 45, Babel 66
Bookings: Sissoko 79
Stats: (Newcastle – Liverpool)
Possession: 39% – 61%
Shots on target: 2 – 11
Shots off target: 4 – 6
Corners: 0 – 9
Fouls: 13 – 11
Referee: Alan Wiley