A spirited performance and clear improvement on the 4-0 drubbing at Leicester, but it wasn’t enough in the end as decisions went against us and individual errors proved costly in a 3-1 win for Liverpool.
Coming into the match, Liverpool hadn’t lost in December for 33 games. The last man to beat Jurgen Klopp over the festive period? Eddie Howe back in 2016. Sadly, the new NUFC boss couldn’t repeat the feat here.
It looked like we might just pull off an upset when Jonjo Shelvey opened the scoring with a brilliant strike seven minutes in, but some moronic refereeing from Mike Dean – who refused to stop the game for a head injury – and an equally awful pass from Jonjo Shelvey meant Liverpool went into the break 2-1 up.
We defended better in the second half and had one big penalty call turned down before a late screamer from Trent Alexander-Arnold put the game to bed.
The positives are that we didn’t fold, worked our socks off, defended better (in parts) and showed intent to get forward the odd time we broke the Liverpool press, however it’s another defeat where the big moments went against us once again.
Howe made three changes from Sunday, seeing Isaac Hayden, Jacob Murphy and Ryan Fraser replace Joe Willock, Miguel Almiron and Callum Wilson at Anfield.
STARTING 11: Dubravka – Manquillo, Schar, Lascelles, Lewis – Shelvey, Hayden – Murphy, Joelinton, Fraser – Saint-Maximin
SUBS: Darlow, Clark, Wilson (79), Ritchie (15), Hendrick, Almiron, Willock (87), Gayle, Longstaff.
As expected, Liverpool dominated the ball in the early stages and it wasn’t long until Dubravka was tested, with Jota’s low shot being saved well by the Slovakian.
However, it wasn’t long until the 3,000 travelling Toon Army were celebrating a shock 1-0 lead!
Saint-Maximin pulled clear on the counter, found Fraser on the overlap and the Scotsman’s cross was cleared…but only as far as Jonjo Shelvey. The former Liverpool midfielder shifted the ball from under his feet and fired past Alisson from 25 yards, giving us a 1-0 lead just seven minutes in.
After defending well over the next five minutes, we were dealt an injury blow as Lewis pulled up with a hamstring injury and limped off. A real shame for him after only just returning to the side, and also a real concern that Matt Rtichie would now come on to face Mo Salah…
We just about survived the next 15 minutes, until Mike Dean happened. Fabian Schar and Isaac Hayden collided in the box, the latter stayed down with a head injury, the game wasn’t stopped and Jota scored (after having his first effort superbly saved). Abysmal refereeing, especially when the player down was keeping Jota onside, but it was 1-1.
What I will say is this, though. There’s no chance the game isn’t stopped if that happens at the other end.
Moving on, Saint-Maximin very nearly made it 1-1 just moments after the restart. He burst through, skipped past two in red and had a low shot saved well by Alisson.
Liverpool then went straight down the other end and made it 2-1. A blind pass by Shelvey put Mane through on goal, his shot was well blocked by Dubravka, but Salah arrived on the scene and tapped in, rounding off what had been an utterly brutal five minutes of unfortunate events for NUFC.
They were lucky with the equaliser, however the second was us hitting the self destruct button yet AGAIN this season, with Shelvey’s horror pass gifting them a goal.
Shortly after the half hour mark it could and should have been 3-1. Oxlaide-Chamberlain pinged a brilliant ball in behind for Mo Salah and the Egyptian looked all set to double his tally, only to drag his shot wide.
Liverpool were beginning to move through the gears now and it felt like a third was coming if we didn’t weather the storm in the final five minutes of the first half.
We actually had a chance of our own just before the break, but it was wasted by Saint-Maximin. First he had Fraser to slip in down the left as he ran at Liverpool’s scrambling back line, then it opened up for a through ball down the right, but he ignored both, ran down a blind ally and fired an aimless cross straight to a Liverpool shirt. His teammates were visibly frustrated and I don’t blame them.
I was seething at the break, still wondering how Mike Dean made that call, however we had to keep going. We’d been dealt a hammer blow and shot ourselves in the foot, but we weren’t out of this yet, showing we had the pace to hurt them and willingness to get bodies in the box on the rare occasion we broke the Liverpool press.
The second half kicked off and the hosts didn’t come out with the sort of intensity they ended the half with, giving us a few moments of possession before Dubravka did brilliantly to stop a Mane header that was destined to be tapped in by Jota.
Minutes later, Murphy combined well with Saint-Maximin and curled a left-footed shot just wide of Alisson’s far post, reminding the travelling Toon Army that we weren’t out of this just yet.
Another moment arrived just after the hour mark as Saint-Maximin came deep and released Murphy down the right. He picked his head up and put a great ball across the box to Fraser, who went down from a lunging challenge from behind from Alexander-Arnold.
The full-back may have got the ball, but replays suggested he went through the back of Fraser to do so. VAR had a look, but nothing was given…unsurprisingly.
Saint-Maximin was struggling with a knock picked up in the build up to the above chance and Wilson was warming up to replace him, however we had a chance to make it 2-2 before that after a positive burst from Fraser resulted in a free kick in a dangerous position. Shelvey stepped up and curled his effort just wide, leaving us still searching for that equaliser with 20 minutes remaining.
The change was finally made and Wilson replaced Saint-Maximin, who was indicating to the bench that he needed to come off after giving it five minutes.
10 minutes left and a chance for one last push, although we very nearly lost all hope of an unlikely point after another sloppy moment from Fabian Schar resulted in Dubravka getting down well to deny Mane at the back post.
Jota almost made it three seconds later, but his lot show was blocked well by Hayden, who, for all his limitations on the ball, had added some steel to our midfield and protection in front of our defence in this one.
After a few warning signs, Liverpool made it three five minutes from time to put the game to bed. A stunning strike from Alexander-Arnold and one that left Dubravka with no chance. The Slovakian had made several key saves today, but there was no stopping this.
Game over and the end of a frustrating night for Newcastle United. Our effort levels couldn’t be questioned and, in parts, we played well. We were better defensively in the second half, but awful officiating, some more individual errors and a few bits of poor decision making at the other end cost us in this one.
Let’s hope we can take that level of effort into every game between now and the end of the season, with us also keeping our fingers crossed over injuries picked up by Lewis and Saint-Maximin.
Next up, table toppers Man City at St James’ Park on Sunday…