Andy Carroll endured a torrid afternoon on his first return to St James’ Park since quitting the club and moving to Liverpool in a £35m deal in January 2011. Carroll, who has managed just three league goals this season, started his first game since the Reds’ FA Cup victory over Stoke City but was largely ineffective against his former club. The 23-year-old was involved heavily in the early stages, and when the England forward evaded the Magpies’ defence and rounded Newcastle goalkeeper Tim Krul, he appeared certain to open the scoring. But inexplicably, he tumbled to the ground and his simulation earned him a caution from referee Martin Atkinson. Liverpool’s out-of-form striker was derided at every available opportunity by the Newcastle supporters, and his influence on the game dwindled. His reaction to being substituted midway through the second half epitomised the emotions of a frustrated young striker.
Newcastle have always appreciated the significance of a traditional, imposing and clinical strikers to lead their front line. Great names of the past include Andy Cole, Les Ferdinand and, of course, Alan Shearer. The sale of Carroll was met with mass outrage by the Magpies’ supporters last year, but manager Alan Pardew has bought wisely and perhaps crucially for owner Mike Ashley, their new-look strike force has cost a paltry £9m. Demba Ba joined Newcastle on a free transfer last summer and he has made an instant impact, scoring 16 league goals. He has been joined by his Senegal team-mate Papiss Cissé, who arrvived from Freiburg in January, and the Magpies’ latest number nine has now netted seven goals in seven appearances following his brace against Liverpool.
When Rafael Benítez led Liverpool to a second-place finish in 2009, narrowly missing out on their first Premier League title, it appeared the Reds were finally fulfilling seasons of promise and would challenge Chelsea and Manchester United for honours on a regular basis. But George Gillett and Tom Hicks left the club toiling with their leveraged buyout, and the departure of Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano and Fernando Torres – all key individuals – took its toll at Anfield. Kenny Dalglish returned to Liverpool and was central to the buzz created by John Henry’s takeover. The 61-year-old manager appeared to be masterminding the club’s resurrection towards the end of last season, but their Carling Cup final victory aside, it’s been a miserable campaign for the Reds, culminating in their sixth defeat in seven games, and 12th loss of the season on a torrid afternoon at St James’ Park.
Regardless of form, Liverpool’s attacking trio of Craig Bellamy, Carroll and Luis Suárez presented a stern test for Newcastle’s makeshift defence. Pardew’s side have leaked 42 goals this season, more than any other team in the top half of the table – but the Magpies handled the Reds’ threat with ease, led by the impressive James Perch and Mike Williamson. The Magpies duo left Carroll visibly frustrated – the Reds striker stormed straight down the tunnel after his substitution – and Perch produced a remarkable block to deny Suárez’s close-range effort. Injury to Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor’s long-term absence threatened to derail Newcastle’s bid for a European spot for next season, but Perch and Williamson showcased their ability to step into Newcastle’s back four and excel. Perch’s late clash with Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina, and his theatrics which led to Reina’s dismissal were unwarranted and took the shine of an otherwise outstanding performance.
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