Barclays Premier League – March 8th 2008 – Result
|Liverpool 3||Newcastle United 0|
The dark days of winter are starting to turn to the brighter days of spring, clocks move to summer time soon (or this weekend in the US), and things seem to be brightening up for Liverpool fans at long last. But spring sunshine can often be a false sign of the end of winter which is why the saying “Never cast a clout until May is out,” was probably coined. It was probably coined even before the days of football and its seasons that end in May but that’s the month when Liverpool fans can truly start to see if the Siberian winter of the Hicks-Gillett era is finally over, or if the likely Hicks-DIC era turns out to in fact be little better.
The weather might have been poor but it was certainly a bright and sunny 24 hours for Reds fans in terms of events on and off the pitch, and not just the Anfield pitch. Late Friday night came a statement from Amanda Staveley, representing DIC, that “all parties were in agreement” that a DIC-Hicks 49-51 percent split was the best way forward for the club. At lunchtime Manchester United were knocked out of the FA Cup by Portsmouth in controversial circumstances, raising smiles ahead of the Liverpool game itself. After the Liverpool match Chelsea were knocked out of the Cup too, beaten by Liverpool’s conquerors Barnsley. Rafa will probably wait in vain to see if Ferguson and Grant get the same kind of criticism he got for his league draw with Portsmouth and his FA Cup defeat to Barnsley. And the clouds decided to head back late in the day with Tom Hicks launching a blast at Ms Staveley over her handling of talks.
The Liverpool game itself was another impressive display of confidence and skill from Rafa’s men. Three changes were made, Mascherano out with an injury caused by a reckless challenge in midweek, Babel and Kuyt rested.
Liverpool were confident from the off in this game, but just like their Bolton win a week ago started with a fluky opener, so did this one. Pennant was determined not to give up on getting to the ball in the box and when Enrique attempted to blast it clear it cannoned off Pennant’s leg into the air, over the head of Newcastle keeper Harper and into the net from an angle so tight that most strikers wouldn’t have scored on purpose from there. But they all count, and what little confidence Newcastle had built from keeping Liverpool at bay for almost a full half never came back. Liverpool scoring their second two minutes later made sure of that.
It was Torres at his best again. A great ball from Gerrard still needed a lot of work, fast feet and fast thinking from Torres. It was the kind of chance we have grown used to seeing strikers hit straight at the keeper, or take a touch too many, usually a poor touch at that, leading to a corner that is wasted. But when Torres gets the ball in these situations he just knows what to do, and has the skill to do it. As Harper went to ground to block the expected shot Torres casually moved the ball to the keeper’s left before slotting it home.
Torres was described as “red hot” by Rafa Benítez after his midweek hat-trick and he was today too. But his performances seem to inspire Steven Gerrard too, and it was no surprise to see the captain on the scoresheet again. Torres provided the assist and any hopes Newcastle had were now long gone.
Obafemi Martins almost got a memorable consolation, hitting the bar with a volley from just inside the Liverpool half, but other than that Newcastle rarely looked like breaching Pepe Reina’s lines. Gerrard went off to a standing ovation on 66 minutes, Torres to one of his own six minutes later, Rafa knowing it was now safe to rest arguably the two most important members of his squad. There was even a chance for a bit of experimentation for the last 12 minutes, Hyypia replacing Pennant as Rafa tried out three at the back.
Next up for Liverpool on the pitch is the second-leg game against Inter Milan at the San Siro. The Champions League tie is currently in Liverpool’s favour thanks to their 2-0 win in the first match, but that was the first game Inter had lost in months and they’ll be looking to put the Reds under pressure from the off. If Gerrard and Torres can perform like today then Liverpool should be able to get an away goal that would leave Inter needing to score four times.
The game was watched by some of the Hicks family, son Alex pictured wearing a Liverpool scarf, signifying perhaps a little confidence that they have already won the fans over enough to get away with doing so. No reports so far of him testing that theory out by going into the Sandon or any of the other pubs near the ground.
At the moment the Liverpool players, manager and coaching staff are all doing their bit and putting in top-class performances to get things back on track on the field. We’re fighting until the end and killing games off, avoiding what should be wins being turned into draws. Off the field we’re seeing progress, but it feels like every time we get a goal we concede one in return, and most of what we concede seem to be own goals. Tonight’s public outburst from Hicks is a reminder of another old saying: “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” Just as it looks like we’re getting in front as far as the battle to end the uncertainty is concerned, one half of the current regime sticks an embarrassing rebound into the back of our own net.
Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez: “It was more or less the perfect day – we got the points and we could take players off ahead of the Champions League in Italy on Tuesday. The first goal was a bit lucky, but the team was controlling the game. We were passing the ball well, but they were defending well and it was difficult to create clear chances. Sometimes you need the first goal and then after that it’s easier.
“The second was a fantastic piece of play and that one was the big difference. The understanding between Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard is good and they can kill off any team those two.
“We needed to win and we scored three goals and kept another clean sheet. We were also able to rest some players as well so it was perfect.
“Both Torres and Gerrard are playing well and that is important for us. If they have the space, with the quality and pace they have, they can kill defenders.
“Torres’ goal was really good, Gerrard and Torres have a really good understanding and the goal came at a crucial time because it almost killed the game off. That helped us play with more confidence in the second half.
“Lucas finished the game a bit tired, but the team should be okay (for the Inter game). I have confidence that Mascherano will be okay, but it is too soon to say.”
Newcastle’s manager Kevin Keegan: “The opening goal was a freak one and that’s the sort of luck we need going for us at the moment, but the second goal killed us, it was bad to concede straight away and 2-0 down here at half-time, it’s difficult.
“Prior to that I was relatively pleased but we were blown to bits in the space of three crazy minutes.
“We didn’t show enough courage or self-belief when we had the ball.
“When you come to Liverpool you also have to compete when you don’t have the ball and earn their respect, but we didn’t do that. We’ve got players who can compete but today we didn’t. Were we unlucky to lose? No. They were better than us.”
Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Skrtel, Riise, Alonso, Lucas, Pennant (Hyypia 78), Gerrard (Kuyt 66), Benayoun, Torres (Crouch 72)
Unused subs: Itandje, Babel
Goals: Pennant 43, Torres 45, Gerrard 51
Newcastle: Harper, Beye, Faye, Taylor, Jose Enrique, Milner (Geremi 44), Butt, N’Zogbia, Duff (Martins 58), Owen, Smith
Unused subs: Forster, Cacapa, Carroll.
BBC Stats: (LFC – Newcastle)
Possession: 57% – 43%
Shots on target: 13 – 4
Shots off target: 2 – 2
Corners: 11 – 8
Fouls: 8 – 7
Setanta Stats: (LFC – Newcastle)
Possession: 63.4 – 36.6
Shots on Target: 9 – 3
Shots off Target: 4 – 1
Blocked Shots: 7 – 2
Corners: 12 – 8
Fouls: 10 – 8
Referee: Peter Walton (Northamptonshire).