“THE second goal was decisive and really a flick-on of that type should not produce a goal chance when the defence is in place, as it was, in this level of football.” Reds’ boss ROY HODGSON bemoans how Newcastle went ahead with the crucial second goal.
“ANY worries that Alan Pardew had, in the last few days I think we have proved to him that we are right behind him as we were with Chris.” Newcastle’s first goalscorer KEVIN NOLAN puts things in black and white.
CONSIDERING the season of festive cheer and goodwill to all men is upon us, there wasn’t much swirling round the St James’ Park dugouts on Saturday evening. And it had nothing to do with the weather.
Alan Pardew, a thorn in the Liverpool side as a player and now a manager, was busy discovering that even victory on your home debut can count for nothing at a club like Newcastle, as fans railed against the man who employed him, and pined for the man he replaced.
The chants of “Ashley Out” and “There’s Only One Chris Hughton” echoed long after the final whistle, having begun long before the first.
For Roy Hodgson, meanwhile, the problems these days are less political, more practical. The Liverpool manager, himself struggling to find acceptance amongst his own supporters, has searched long and hard to find a cure for travel sickness but, amidst a backdrop of black-and-white despair, disgust and disillusionment, his side once again came up short on the road. Handed the chance to break into the Premier League’s top six for the first time this season, the Reds once more trudged away from an away day with only a silent, reflective journey home to look forward to.
It might have been different; had Fernando Torres converted a gilt-edged chance moments after Dirk Kuyt had fortuitously levelled the score at 1-1, had Raul Meireles’s first-half effort ricocheted anywhere but into the shins of Jose Enrique on the goal-line, had any one of three Reds defenders reacted quicker to Andy Carroll’s 80th minute flick. But ifs, buts and maybes simply don’t cut it where Liverpool’s away form is concerned these days – the problems are too deep-rooted, too regular.
Hodgson has called upon his side to show some consistency on their travels, to carry their performance levels from one away game to the next. The trouble is, that’s what they already have been doing.
So far this season Liverpool have beaten Bolton, and Bolton only on the road. They have picked up uninspiring draws at Birmingham and Wigan, and lost at Manchester City, Manchester United, Everton, Stoke, Tottenham, and now Newcastle. One win and six defeats from nine fixtures; pretty consistent, no?
Moreover, the manner of (most of) those defeats, has been alarmingly similar. They might have been unfortunate to walk away empty-handed from White Hart Lane a fortnight ago, but generally Liverpool have deserved what they have got away from home this season – not a lot.
This was not the worst display they have delivered by any means – they will do well to ‘top’ their showings at Goodison Park and the Britannia Stadium – but for those hardy souls who braved the Arctic conditions to spend 90 minutes tucked away in the upper echelons of the Leazes End, and just about every other Red, it was an all-too-familiar story. Hodgson’s angry response to Newcastle’s second goal proves he shares the frustration. The test now is to do something about it.
Once more, Liverpool enjoyed more possession than their opponents, once more they fashioned more shooting opportunities, and once more the endeavour and commitment was undeniable.
But once more, the failure to convert their chances, their chronic lack of pace in wide areas and their growing defensive frailties were exposed. Newcastle rode their luck – their opening goal could easily have been ruled offside, for example – but it is hard to argue that they did not deserve their win.
Just like at Stoke last month, Hodgson’s side found themselves muscled out of the contest early on. The physical presence of Shola Ameobi and, in particular, the superb Andy Carroll had the Reds’ defence on the back-foot from the word go, though Newcastle’s front pair certainly benefited from some generous refereeing from Lee Mason. Indeed, it was from a dubious free-kick, awarded for a push by Sotirios Kyrgiakos, that Kevin Nolan – a boyhood Liverpudlian – was able to sweep home the game’s opening goal, after Carroll had climbed higher than Martin Skrtel at the far post.
And though Liverpool gained a foothold following a barnstorming 10-minute spell after half-time, in which they were rewarded with Kuyt’s heavily-deflected equaliser, any belief within the side seemed to vanish from the moment Tim Krul won his battle of wits with an off-colour Torres.
Had they taken the lead so soon after levelling, and with Newcastle’s supporters growing increasingly restless, Liverpool could well have gone on to win comfortably. But if any one player encapsulates the lack of conviction that seems to have invaded the club at the moment, it is Torres.
To be fair to the Spaniard, his touch to pull Paul Konchesky’s raking diagonal pass out of the gloomy Tyneside sky was sensational, but having done the hard part, his finish went awry. It, more so than his worryingly familiar assortment of failed flicks and heavy touches, rather summed up his – and Liverpool’s – day.
Their hosts were in far less generous mood. Barton, fired by a clash with Lucas and a feisty exchange of words with Torres, took full advantage when Skrtel failed to deal with yet another Carroll flick 10 minutes from time, poking home beyond a stranded Pepe Reina for 2-1, whilst Carroll himself was left unopposed to wrap up the win with a skimming 25-yarder in stoppage time, as Liverpool’s resolve simply evaporated.
Pardew’s men now sit above them in the league table on goal difference
It is a big few weeks for Liverpool, on and off the field. John W. Henry, eager to ensure smooth, sensible recruitment at the club, has employed Damien Comolli to work alongside the manager, and the Frenchman should already know the size of his task. He will surely have noted – it is hardly a secret, after all – that this is a squad lacking balance and depth, and in desperate need of an injection of pace, power and quality. After today, the name of Andy Carroll, who alone could provide all three, may just have worked its way onto Roy Hodgson’s list of targets.
In the meantime Hodgson can at least comfort himself with the knowledge that four of his side’s next five fixtures are at home, though even he conceded that “Fortress Anfield” is not the daunting prospect it once was. But with their travel sickness remaining uncured, the need to pick up points on home soil is greater than ever. If Liverpool are left to rely on their away form, one suspects there will be plenty more disappointing days to come this season.
NEWCASTLE (4-4-2): Krul, Jose Enrique, Campbell, Taylor, Simpson, Barton (Routledge 90), Tiote, Nolan (Smith 86), Gutierrez, Ameobi (Ranger 62), Carroll. Subs (not used): Harper, Guthrie, Perch, Lovenkrands.
GOALS: Nolan (15), Barton (80), Carroll (90).
BOOKED: Gutierrez (78), Tiote (83).
LIVERPOOL (4-4-2): Reina, Johnson, Kyrgiakos, Skrtel, Konchesky, Kuyt, Meireles, Lucas, Maxi (Jovanovic 84), Torres, Ngog (Babel 71). Subs (not used): Jones, Aurelio, Cole, Poulsen, Kelly.
GOAL: Kuyt (49).
BOOKED: Johnson (19).
REFEREE: Lee Mason (Bolton)