The potential was there for Newcastle United from the start
I have been to Anfield nine times and I have never seen Newcastle United win. Or draw. Liverpool have won every time.
The scousers should make me an honorary away end season ticket holder such is my losing streak. For that reason alone, seeing United not lose at Anfield is cause for celebration.
This week, that celebration was a little more poignant. Liverpool are one of ‘those’ clubs, one of a group of self-named super-clubs who unilaterally decided that their ability to make money and keep it all should not be affected by the need to win matches.
For them not to win this one and potentially miss out on the tournament which they believe is their cash right, makes the draw even sweeter. Throw in a last-minute equaliser …….
The potential was there for United from the start. Liverpool’s injury list has been extensive this season and shows no sign of abating. So much so that the reds central defence is made up of a loan signing from a team who will be relegated – who bought him from a team that was relegated, and a midfielder who runs like the Pink Panther. Without Fabinho, Henderson, Keita and Oxlade-Chamberlain in midfield, the home team were also hopelessly out of form, just two weeks ago leading to Jamie Carragher saying “I can’t remember a time this Liverpool team have been so out of form.” Not since he was playing for them?
With United in a bit of a run of form themselves, no new injuries, the sunshine making the ground too hard at Little Benton for the moles to burrow through and Mike Ashley no longer looking like the biggest get in PL football, Steve Bruce would have been quietly confident that NUFC could escape a battering. For at least three minutes.
Mo Salah swivelled and belted a ten-yard shot into the roof of the net, Matt Ritchie impersonating Brian Griffin chasing his tail in attendance. If the game had gone the way of previous encounters I have witnessed, there would have been a bit of a black and white rally, a couple of decent chances missed, Ian Rush / John Aldridge / Michael Owen / Mo Salah diving in the box to win a penalty and a couple of late goals into The Kop to complete our thumping.
‘He went that way’
This time, the black and white rally happened. Kabak was booked for fouling Maxi. The centre half is growing into the Liverpool shirt according to the commentators, but it looks like the other way round to me, he is taking Liverpool to his level rather than the other way round. Fernandez joined him in the book, completely mis-judging an attacking header a few minutes later and making more contact with Jota’s face than he did the ball. It looked unintentional to me, he looked more like Brian Griffin than Matt Ritchie did. VAR had a look and decided that the forearm smash was worthy of a booking, BT told us that the referee had not seen it but still booked him and because of that VAR wasn’t able to intervene, BT deciding against telling us exactly what that was supposed to mean. Players booked without the referee seeing why? If only that was the where VAR came and went.
Newcastle’s best two chances until stoppage time followed. JonJo Shelvey’s lobbed through ball was good but didn’t have quite enough pace on it, Sean Longstaff waiting to get it under control before firing off a well drilled left footer which was well saved by Allison. It was Longstaff’s only real moment of the game, for the rest of it he drifted, apart from an awful blind pass deep in NUFC territory which almost gifted Salah a goal. Minutes later, another through ball from Maxi, meant for JL, was intercepted by Almiron, who was flagged offside, but ran into JoeLinton anyway on the edge of the penalty area when well placed. It was a good chance for United spurned. The two squabbled, presumably about which of the two would be our worst player on the day. It was pretty close.
The rest of the half was a convoy of Liverpool chances. Salah, Mane and Jota all had at least two good chances each. One of which was created by Ciaran Clark and another by Murphy and at least two of which were saved excellently by Dubravka. It was a tough day for the United defence but they stuck at it. They all made mistakes but that is only to be expected, out wide the wing backs lacking defensive experience in those positions and the central defenders under constant pressure from the scousers front four, all very good players, though Mane looked way off the pace, Salah and Jota fortunately wasted the opportunities they had after the first goal and Roberto Firmino played like the face of Peter Beardsley rather than the feet of him.
The second half continued much as the first. Thiago and Wijnaldum pulling the strings in the Liverpool midfield making excellent use of the space and time they were afforded. Liverpool’s wasteful forwards were unable to add to their tally. Still United occasionally went forward with purpose, JoeLinton powered onto a through-ball, brilliantly turned inside and then put a half-hearted left foot shot straight at Allison from eighteen yards. Jurgen Klopp decided that was enough, Milner on for Jota. BT praised Klopp for tightening it up and taking Maxi out of the game by removing the space for him to run into. Tactical genius. They spoke too soon.
As we know from the Steves’ season and a half of tactical enlightenment, substitutions either work or they don’t, it is that simple. For United, Wilson came on for the anonymous, er, whoever it was after 59 minutes but that also seemed to take some of the steam out of United’s play. United had played 5-4-1 with JL on the left until then and changing to having a central striker took some getting used too. About 33 minutes.
‘The Chuckle Brothers’
United’s equaliser was closer though. Willock came on for Clark and Shelvey dropped into central defence. The Stevolution remembering Barca’s successful conversion of Javier Mascherano ten years before. I can’t see it catching on, Mascherano was quick over a few yards, turned well and was excellent positionally. Shelvey isn’t, he is dropping so far back, at this rate he will be leader of the UK Independence Party by the time of the local elections.
Still, United were pushing forward and Liverpool uncomfortable, so much so that Jurgen Klopp was shouting for them to find their composure on the ball. Ah the old shouting / composure combo. There is nothing quite like a football manager dressed like a Beastie Boy frantically trying to calm his team by flailing his arms around. Steve Bruce looked on in anticipation. The buffet was open at 3pm.
By now, Liverpool had gone as an attacking force. Apart from the several world class saves Dubravka made, the 70% possession, most of it in the NUFC half, the twenty odd shots Liverpool had and any number of shots they didn’t have but should, Liverpool had only one goal to show for it. They had nothing left. Except VAR.
Callum Wilson burst through onto goal, was pushed in the back as he went to shoot, the ball hit Allison, then Wilson’s arm and was bundled in. NUFC celebrated until VAR found a problem. By the laws of the game it was offside, no er a backpass, no handball, yes that’s it, handball. No goal. Fine. By the laws of the game it was a penalty and a red card for Trent Alexander-Arnold. Not VAR’s problem, play on. The referee hadn’t seen it, this time hadn’t booked anyone and VAR couldn’t intervene. Some such nonsense anyway.
Not that it mattered, two minutes later Joe Willock again scored a priceless goal, his shot deflecting past Allison seconds before the final whistle. The Toon should sign him up in the summer. If Arsenal want £20million, perhaps he would only cost £2million if United promise only to play him in the last ten minutes. At the moment that is enough.
‘Wind in the Willocks’
So an entertaining game finished 1-1 and an excellent point for NUFC. It remains to be seen how long this run of form will last, it being so reliant on the goalkeeper being outstanding, the opposition being wasteful in front of goal despite having the ball most of the time and good substitutions coming off, instead of our best players coming off, but it is welcome all the same.
A bemused Jurgen Klopp said after the game:
“We had 70 per cent of the ball but we should have had 80 per cent. We want to deserve Champions League and we don’t want to come and be cheeky, we want to earn it and with these results you don’t earn it. It’s all on the table so go for it. It feels close to being unacceptable but we have to accept it anyway.”
Whatever that means, Steve Bruce was equally unsure about exactly how much of the unacceptable he can accept:
“We have to do something about VAR, this rule. It ruins the spectacle. It is the rule, VAR is doing its job, but who makes these rules?”
Ask Joe Willock. For the time being, he’s got all the answers.
Stats from BBC Sport:
Liverpool 1 Newcastle 1 – Saturday 24 April 12.30pm
(Half-time stats in brackets)
Possession was Liverpool 69% (71%) Newcastle 31% (29%)
Total shots were Liverpool 22 (12) Newcastle 7 (1)
Shots on target were Liverpool 9 (4) Newcastle 4 (1)
Corners were Liverpool 6 (2) Newcastle 3 (2)
Referee: Andre Marriner
Dubravka, Murphy, Fernandez, Clark (Willock 64), Dummett, Ritchie, Shelvey, Sean Longstaff, Almiron (Gayle 85), Joelinton (Wilson 60), Saint-Maximin
Gillespie, Krafth, Lewis, Manquillo, Hendrick, Carroll
(Liverpool were desperate to be out of the Champions League – Happy to oblige – Read HERE)
(Unbelievably lucky Steve Bruce must do right thing and walk away in four weeks time – Read HERE)
(Should have been Liverpool 1 Newcastle 2 not Liverpool 1 Newcastle 1 – You couldn’t make it up – Read HERE)
(Liverpool 1 Newcastle 1 – Instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to Saturday’s dramatic draw! – Read HERE)
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