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    Liverpool 2-2 Newcastle United Match Report

    Newcastle United recovered from 2-0 down at half-time to salvage a draw against a under-strength Liverpool side, which could prove to be invaluable in the club's fight against relegation. It turned out to be a memorable return to Anfield for Magpies manager Rafa Benitez, who was given a warm welcome before kick-off after spending six successful years with The Reds in which he won the Champions League in 2005.

    The Spaniard's current side were not afforded any goodwill on the pitch when they found themselves 2-0 down after half-an-hour as Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana looked to have given the home team an unassailable lead. A header just after the interval by Papiss Cisse gave The Magpies hope before Jack Colback's deflected strike midway through the second half completed the most unlikely of comebacks. The point extended Newcastle's unbeaten run to three matches and also ensured that the club ended the weekend having narrowed the gap to the 17th-place team, which is now Sunderland, by a point.

    The away side were unchanged following a creditable 1-1 draw against Manchester City in midweek but faced the daunting task of a trip to Anfield, where they hadn't won in the league for 22 years. Liverpool, meanwhile, were dealt a blow ahead of kick-off when they learned that Mamadou Sakho was being investigated by Uefa for failing a drugs test and decided he would not be available for selection until the investigation was completed. He was replaced by Kolo Toure in central defence, while Connor Randall, Kevin Stewart, Joe Allen and Daniel Sturridge deputised for Nathaniel Clyne, Philippe Coutinho, Lucas Leiva and the injured Divock Origi respectively.

    Liverpool got off to the best possible start by taking the lead within two minutes, courtesy of Sturridge's fourth goal in as many Premier League games. It owed much to the quick-thinking of Alberto Moreno, whose free-kick spotted the run of Sturridge inside the Newcastle penalty area with two defenders tracking him closely. It looked like the attack had lost its momentum when the England striker chested the ball away from goal but his quick turn and powerful strike, from just inside the penalty area, beat Karl Darlow on its way into the bottom right-hand corner.

    Sturridge almost added a second later in the half when he attempted another long-range strike, from slightly further out, but Darlow watched the ball sail narrowly over the crossbar. The home side didn't have to wait too much longer before doubling their lead, however, and this time it was through Adam Lallana, who demonstrated that Sturridge isn't the only player in the Liverpool team with an eye for the spectacular. Despite there being five Newcastle defenders ahead of him when he received Moreno's pass, the former Southampton midfielder caressed the ball left-footed into the roof of the net from 20 yards.

    Newcastle had very few clear-cut chances in the opening 45 minutes but they were denied a penalty late on when Connor Randall dived in on Ayoze Perez, without taking the ball, but referee Andre Mariner was unperturbed. Despite trailing 2-0 at the interval, it was The Magpies who started the second half on the front foot and the club's positive approach was rewarded when Papiss Cisse scored only his third goal of the season to give Benitez's side hope within three minutes of the restart. Vurnon Anita's right-wing cross was misjudged by Simon Mignolet, who failed to claim the ball, and Cisse was allowed to head home powerfully from six yards.

    The action was moving from end-to-end in the second half, as Newcastle probed for an equalizer, and it looked as though the next goal would be crucial in determining whether the match would result in a comfortable home win or a draw. It could have been the former had referee Marriner not waved away a Liverpool penalty appeal when Sturridge appeared to be tripped by Cheick Tiote on the edge of the area. The non-award allowed The Magpies the opportunity to start a counter-attack from which Papiss Cisse found himself one-on-one with Mignolet but after delaying his effort on goal, he set-up Perez who fired over the bar.

    Liverpool once again had a chance to extend their lead but they were denied by a combination of the superlatives of Karl Darlow in the Newcastle goal and the flag of the referee's assistant. Milner came inside, on the right-wing, to deliver a pinpoint cross with his left-foot from which Joe Allen was denied a headed goal from nine yards by the Englishman's flying save. Roberto Firmino duly tapped into an empty net from close-range but the Brazilian was standing in an offside position to the relief of the 2,650 travelling Geordie fans.

    The Newcastle supporters had plenty to cheer about midway through the second half as Jack Colback scored his first goal of the season with an effort that took a wicked deflection on its way past Mignolet. The width that Andros Townsend was providing on the right-wing was proving invaluable and it was his cross that was headed on by substitute Georginio Wijnaldum and into the path of Colback, who drilled the ball low past Mignolet. The former Sunderland midfielder's run was not picked up by the home side and he was left all alone to strike home from 15 yards, albeit the effort was deflected off Lovren on its way past a wrong-footed Mignolet.

    Liverpool looked the most likely team to score a winner in the last 25 minutes with Adam Lallana, on two occasions, and Philippe Coutinho coming close to denying the away side the draw that their overall performance had merited. Lallana struck a fierce effort across the face of goal, which went narrowly wide of the left-hand post, while he also came close with a cross that was deflected off Paul Dummett and nearly deceived Darlow at the near-post. Substitute Philippe Coutinho missed the final chance of the match to score a winner but he failed to make a clean connection, when picked out out by fellow newcomer Sheyi Ojo, and his strike was blocked by Anita.

    A draw was a fair result for both teams, with Liverpool creating the better opportunities but Newcastle showing the kind of fighting spirit that they will need to demonstrate between now and the end of the season if they are to survive relegation. Having lost 10 consecutive away games in all competitions before the weekend, it is the kind of match that The Magpies would have lost a month ago when there was less belief in the team. It may leave many wondering what sort of position the club would be in if Benitez had been appointed several weeks earlier and whether his appointment in March, with 10 games remaining, will prove to be too little too late.

    The result effectively ends Liverpool's faint hopes of finishing in the top-four but they remain on course for a Europa League place having narrowed the gap to sixth-place West Ham to a single point. All eyes now turn to Thursday night's Europa League semi-final first leg against Villareal, in which The Reds will be looking to reach their first European final for nine years and win a first trophy since the 2012 League Cup. The club will need to cope without the likes of Mamadou Sakho, Jordan Henderson, Emre Can and Divock Origi but have proved over the past two months that they have the depth of squad to cope with adversity.

    Liverpool return to Premier League action on Sunday when they travel to Swansea City, who are still not mathematically safe from relegation, at midday. Newcastle entertain FA Cup finalists Crystal Palace later that afternoon in a match that will see Rafa Benitez's men resume acquaintances with their former manager, Alan Pardew. Although The Magpies remain second from bottom, they are now just one point inside the relegation zone and have three matches remaining to save the club's season.
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    Item Reviewed: Liverpool 2-2 Newcastle United Match Report Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Richard Tufft
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