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    Newcastle United 2-0 Liverpool Match Report

    Newcastle United produced their best performance of the season to ease the pressure on under-fire boss Steve McClaren and inflict only a second defeat on Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp since his arrival at the club in October. An own goal by Martin Skrtel set the home side on their way before Georginio Wijnaldum added a second in stoppage time to give the Magpies only their third league win of the season.

    McClaren's team produced a much more spirited and resolute performance than seen in recent weeks, matching Liverpool's work rate and keeping the likes of Christian Benteke and Roberto Firmino quiet throughout the contest. With both teams lacking the quality in the final third of the pitch, Newcastle capitalised on Skrtel's unfortunate own goal to break the deadlock midway through the second-half and held out for the remainder of the match, with Wijnaldum sealing the win with almost the last kick of the game.

    The home side did ride their luck at times, with Alberto Moreno unfortunate to have a goal ruled out for offside, and had to stay organised to withstand Liverpool's domination of possession. Perhaps feeling the effects of a busy fixture schedule, The Reds were not at their fluent and most incisive best and they struggled to break down a rejuvenated Newcastle side that looked like they were playing for their manager's future. Although it took until second-half stoppage time for McClaren's men to muster a shot on target, it was a performance of grit and determination that all his players bought into throughout the 90 minutes.

    Newcastle gave a surprise first league start of the season to Dutchman Siem de Jong, who supported Papiss Cisse in attack, with Ayoze Perez dropping to the bench and Aleksandar Mitrovic failing to earn a recall to the side. Joe Allen replaced Adam Lallana in Liverpool's starting XI, with James Milner playing wide-left of a three-man attacking midfield and Lucas Leiva replacing the suspended Emre Can as a defensive midfielder.

    Liverpool began the game on the front foot, as they have done on so many occasions under Jurgen Klopp, but it wasn't until the 20th minute that they managed to create the game's first chance. The away side's pressing game allowed Newcastle no time and space on the ball, with Dejan Lovren dispossessing de Jong and allowing Lucas to unleash the lively Jordon Ibe on the right wing, who won his side a corner. Lovren headed Albero Moreno's inswinger into the path of Christian Benteke, who blazed over the bar from two yards.

    With Newcastle sitting back and Liverpool dominating possession, it was the home side who were proving to be dangerous exponents of the counter-attack and this seemed like the only game plan that would enable them to win the match. As Fabricio Coloccini dispossessed Benteke on the edge of the Magpies' penalty area, he started an attack that continued the length of the field and culminated in a chance for Papiss Cisse. Coloccini, de Jong and Wijnaldum combined with quick and incisive passing to give Cisse a free run on goal but he elected to come inside on to his left-foot rather than utilise the oceans of space that had opened up in front of him. As the Sengalese dawdled, it allowed both Skrtel and Nathaniel Clyne to get back and abate the danger.

    Inspired by a vociferous home support, Newcastle cranked up the pressure before half-time and created arguably the best opportunity of the half. Jack Colback's inswinging corner was flicked on by Cisse and the ball fell invitingly to Chancel Mbemba just inside the six-yard box, but he couldn't keep his header down. The Congolese defender held his head in his hands after missing the chance, perhaps wondering whether his side would be afforded a better opportunity in the match to take the lead.

    Liverpool's most dangerous player in the first-half was Jordon Ibe, whose pace and trickery posed a threat to the home side's back-four each time he received the ball. He made a rare trip out to the left-wing in first-half stoppage time, came inside Moussa Sissoka and unleashed a spectacular effort from 20 yards that caused Rob Elliott to dive a full-stretch as the ball sailed a foot wide of the crossbar. The goalless scoreline was a fair reflection of a hard-fought and evenly-matched first-half in which neither side could find the extra piece of quality in the final third of the pitch to make the breakthrough.

    After a uninspiring start to the second half, in which neither team could create any openings, the game suddenly sprung into life in the 69th minute when Newcastle were finally rewarded for the application and endeavour they had shown throughout the afternoon. In keeping with the lack of quality shown in the opposition's penalty area, it was perhaps appropriate that it was an own goal by Martin Skrtel that enabled the home side to take the lead. Wijnaldum collected Sissoko's pass inside the penalty area, beat Lovren on the outside and attempted a right-footed shot from eight yards that was deflected past Mignolet via the knee of the Slovak defender.

    As Wijnaldum's effort had been going wide, it became Skrtel's seventh own goal in the Premier League, matching the record of his former Liverpool teammate Jamie Carragher and putting him only three behind Richard Dunne at the top of the unwanted list. The goal sparked wild celebrations around St James' Park, bringing the majority of the 51,273 crowd into euphoria as they dared to believe that they were less than 20 minutes away from recording just a third home win of the season and a fourth league win in 26 matches.

    It resulted in an urgent response from the Liverpool team as they started to increase the pace in order to find a way back into the match. Both Adam Lallana and Daniel Sturridge had been introduced to proceedings and the two combined with 15 minutes remaining to create a chance for the England striker. Lallana's through-ball was weighted to perfection and found Sturridge one-on-one with Elliott but he dragged his right-footed effort harmlessly wide of goal. The 26-year-old snatched at the shot when he had time to come inside on his preferred left foot, perhaps a sign that he was lacking the match sharpness after recently missing eight weeks with a knee injury.

    The game's most controversial moment came with just over 10 minutes left, when Liverpool were denied an equaliser due to an incorrect offside decision. Milner's dinked pass found Alberto Moreno eight yards out, goal-side of three Newcastle defenders, but was ultimately played onside by Paul Dummett in the left-back position. The Spanish full-back coolly produced a side-footed volley over the head of Elliott, only to hear the cheers from the home fans to indicate that the assistant referee's flag had already been raised. It was hard luck on Moreno, who would have produced the game's highest moment of quality, with the timing of the run and deftness of the finish worthy of bringing his side back in the game.

    Liverpool's final opportunity in the match came with two minutes remaining, when Dejan Lovren's header from Moreno's cross failed to trouble Elliott from eight yards. By this point, Liverpool had thrown everything at the home side in order to get back in the match and were left particularly vulnerable on the counter-attack. With all four Liverpool defenders in advanced positions and struggling to retreat, Newcastle provided the clinical move to finally put the game to bed three minutes into stoppage time.

    Sissoko went past Moreno inside his own half and, with Skrtel upfield and Clyne struggling to retreat, threaded a pass through to Wijnaldum, who found himself one-on-one with an onrushing Mignolet. The Dutchman, who had sprinted forward to get on the end of the pass, reached the ball before the Belgian and deftly chipped the ball over him to give his side an unassailable 2-0 lead. The relief in the stadium, with the tension palpable before this point, was evident for all to see, especially on the face of under-fire Steve McClaren, who clinched both fists in celebration.

    It had been a tactical masterclass by the Newcastle boss, who identified before kick-off that the only way to beat Liverpool was to match their work rate and not to give their players the time and space afforded to them by the likes of Manchester City and Southampton in recent weeks. They allowed the away side to dominate possession, 60 per cent to the home side's 40, but hit them hard on the counter-attack throughout the match and took advantage of playing against a tiring opposition that was negotiating its fifth match in 15 days.

    Despite Liverpool's territorial dominance, neither team looked like producing the quality in the final third of the pitch to make the breakthrough, and wasn't until Lovren's 89th minute header until St James' Park saw the first of two efforts on target. Although Skrtel's own goal was a touch fortunate, with Wijnaldum's effort heading wide, the home side had earned their luck for a spirited, disciplined and hard-working performance. It was the kind of good fortune that has largely escaped the club this season and they received a second helping of luck when Moreno's goal was incorrectly ruled out for offside, which turned out to be pivotal.

    A lot of credit must go to McClaren, who has been under pressure after two abject performances against Leicester and Crystal Palace, which resulted in heavy defeats, and the possibility of being sacked before Christmas would only have increased if Newcastle lost this match. The decision to play de Jong instead of Perez was a brave but important one, with the Dutch international working tirelessly in tracking back to help out his teammates. Jack Colback and Vurnon Anita also played a vital role in controlling the midfield engine room to deny Liverpool's creative players time and space on the ball.

    Now the benchmark has been set, McClaren's next task will be to ensure this performance was not a one-off and that they continue to match the work rate they produced on Sunday between now and the end of the season. The former England manager is experienced enough to know that this result and performance will long forgotten if his side perform poorly against Tottenham at White Hart Lane on Sunday. It looks like a corner has finally been turned, although there have been many false dawns in the past. Although no Newcastle fans will be counting their chickens, there is at least cause for optimism that the club can set their ambitions a little higher than the relegation fight that seemed a certainly before Sunday.

    For Liverpool, it's a case of what might have been. The players did not match the level of performance shown in recent weeks and looked jaded at times, especially in the second half. The match actually mirrored some of the early Liverpool performances under Klopp, where his side showed plenty of endeavour but lacked the cutting edge in the final third of the pitch. The fact that it took the away side 89 minutes to force a shot on target only underlines their profligacy in front of goal and Newcastle took full advantage of what was an off-day for the visitors.

    There must be question marks over Klopp's team selection, in particular the decision to leave both Sturridge and Divock Origi on the bench after the duo scored five goals between them in the 6-1 destruction of Southampton just four days earlier. Leaving Lallana on the bench, whose creativity was needed more than ever in the absence of Philippe Coutinho, seemed another strange decision, especially due to his impressive form in recent weeks. There will also be question marks as to whether playing Firmino and Benteke in the same team is the way forward, with some of the club's best performances coming when Firmino occupied the "false 9" position in the Belgian's absence.

    Klopp will point to the Skrtel's unfortunate own goal and Moreno's disallowed goal, as two pieces of bad luck that went against his side. On another day, Liverpool could have come away with at least a draw, but it is perhaps a sign of how far they have come that they leave St James' Park bitterly disappointed. The club are still only six points outside the Champions League places, involved in both domestic Cup competitions and have already progressed into the last 32 of the Europa League, so there is still plenty of cause for optimism. The fixtures continue to come thick and fast, starting with Thursday's remaining Europa League group game, away to Sion, and followed by Sunday's home match against West Brom.
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    Item Reviewed: Newcastle United 2-0 Liverpool Match Report Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Richard Tufft
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