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Magpies fail to build on positive start as Reds finish second
BAD CHALLENGE: Luis Suarez falls to the ground after a Paul Dummet tackle, which led to the Newcastle left-back being sent off
Full-time: Liverpool 2 Newcastle United 1
THIS was not the ending Liverpool wanted, nor was it what Newcastle United had hoped for either.
While Steven Gerrard led the Reds on a lap of honour rather than a Premier League title party at Anfield after the final whistle, Newcastle's players were already in the shower nursing another defeat.
It was an afternoon outing to Merseyside for the Magpies that summed up an entire campaign in 90 minutes.
Newcastle threatened so much for half of it but ultimately came up short in the end. Rather than end on a high by winning at Liverpool for the first time in 20 years, Alan Pardew's men suffered another loss. A seventh in eight matches.
Despite finishing six places higher than last season in tenth spot, Newcastle fans will remember the way Pardew's team failed to build on a start to the campaign which had them in touch with the Champions League spots at Christmas.
As Liverpool struggled to find their feet when they needed to topple leaders Manchester City, who comfortably overcame West Ham United, Newcastle looked like frustrating Brendan Rodgers' side in a big way.
Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling struggled to make inroads on Tim Krul's goal, with Pardew's reshaped defence and tactics proved perfect, initially. Not only did Newcastle protect their Dutch goalkeeper, they also edged ahead in the 20th minute when Liverpool's Slovakian defender Martin Skrtel turned Yoan Gouffran's cross into his own net.
Even after the restart Newcastle looked comfortable at first, but then Daniel Agger's equaliser in the 63rd minute was followed by Sturridge's winner two minutes later.
Red cards for Shola Ameobi and Paul Dummett meant Newcastle ended with nine men and Newcastle – whose fans regularly chanted their disgust towards the manager and Mike Ashley again - must now come up with a way of showing ambition and progress to appease supporter unrest before next season.
Despite the costly collapse at Crystal Palace and the defeat to Chelsea dampening Liverpool's title chances, there was still an air of anticipation around Anfield Road in the build up to kick-off.
But it could and should have been even greater and Pardew, the Newcastle boss, had clear intentions to merely increase the frustrations by naming a five-man backline.
Steven Taylor was introduced alongside Mike Williamson and Fabricio Coloccini, with Mathieu Debuchy and Massadio Haidara operating as withdrawn wing-backs. Pardew suggested it was a system designed to hit Liverpool on the counter attack “like Crystal Palace did” and it worked.
As Liverpool struggled to show the sort of confidence and swagger which earned them the right to be in contention on the final day, Newcastle defended strongly and created the better chances.
Ameobi had already had a couple of headed attempts on goal before the slice of good fortune which earned them the lead. A lovely pass from Haidara in behind Glen Johnson played in Gouffran.
The Frenchman, operating on the left of a four-man midfield, sent in a dangerous cross and Skrtel's attempt to block saw him volley inside Simon Mignolet's far post.
While Jordan Henderson had a decent penalty claim waved away and Suarez had a converted quickly taken free-kick ruled out because the ball was moving, Newcastle even had the other best chance of the half to extend the lead.
After further sloppiness in possession, Newcastle took control inside their own half. Neat interchanging passes from Moussa Sissoko and Ameobi ended with the latter sending a delightful through pass for Gouffran to chase.
With just the goalkeeper to beat it should have been two, but former Sunderland man Mignolet raced out and made himself big to deny him with a fine save.
After that Liverpool had a period of greater prominence. With the exception of a downward header from Agger which was gathered on the line by Krul, Newcastle's defence stayed united to frustrate the red shirts.
The only other occasion Liverpool came close to equalising before the break was when Sturridge glanced a header wide from Henderson's cross. Otherwise, Liverpool resembled a side still coming to terms with their previous two results.
That only heightened when news filtered through of Samir Nasri's opening goal at Manchester City five minutes before half-time, but Newcastle had performed effectively to annoy their opponents.
And when Vincent Kompany added a second for Manchester City seconds after the restart at the Etihad Stadium, Liverpool knew once and for all their dreams had been shattered.
Newcastle had to focus on their own task of seeing the game through and appeared to grow in confidence, often keeping the ball from Liverpool players in a further attempt to frustrate. But then Liverpool tried something different. Rather than look to pass their way through, they started to show more evidence of the direct running which has caused defences problems all season.
Both Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho earned free-kicks in identical positions after drawing fouls from Vurnon Anita and Cheik Tiote respectively.
Gerrard floated over the deliveries towards the back post and after Agger had volleyed in the first, Sturridge slid in to convert the second less than two minutes later.
Then Ameobi was red carded for taking his protests too far, having felt Newcastle should have had a free-kick themselves before the second foul was awarded. From that moment on there was no way back for Newcastle.
Liverpool might not have been able to extend their advantage, but Newcastle did add to their dismissals tally. Less than three minutes were remaining when Dummett's X-rated challenge on Suarez brought instant punishment.
After the final whistle had blown, Newcastle's players departed with a round of applause for the travelling fans in the corner before their Liverpool counterparts re-emerged to a glorious reception despite finishing second.
There is a feeling Liverpool can grow from here, but how Newcastle fair next season is likely to depend on an uncertain summer.