Sunday, December 12, 2010

Newcastle 3 - 1 Liverpool

Alan Pardew's reign as Newcastle United manager got off to the perfect start as a turbulent week on Tyneside ended with victory against Liverpool at St James' Park.
Newcastle's fans gathered hours before kick-off to stage noisy protests against owner Mike Ashley in the aftermath of his controversial decision to sack the popular Chris Hughton and replace him with Pardew.
And banners were unfurled on the Gallowgate End in support of Hughton as Pardew took his place in the dug-out moments before kick-off to a muted response from the Toon Army.
The discontent had turned to delight by the final whistle, however, as Pardew's new charges delivered a display designed to dispel any doubts that they are not throwing their weight behind the new man in charge at St James' Park.
It was two Merseysiders, in the shape of Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton, who helped shape Liverpool's downfall, although Roy Hodgson's side were also the architects of their own demise with a wretched performance.
Nolan gave Newcastle an early lead after Andy Carroll headed down Barton's free-kick, but they were pegged back just after half-time when Dirk Kuyt sent a deflected shot past Tim Krul.
And after Fernando Torres wasted a chance to turn the tables and put Liverpool in front, it was Newcastle who finished the stronger and more vibrant side to run out deserved winners.
Barton took advantage of more hesitant Liverpool defending to restore Newcastle's lead with 10 minutes left - a goal greeted ecstatically by owner Ashley as he was hugged in the directors' box - and Carroll rounded off a memorable victory for Pardew with a low, long-range shot.
At the final whistle Newcastle's fans cut short their victory celebrations to launch another broadside against Ashley, indicating that the ill-feeling sparked by Hughton's dismissal has not been erased by a single victory.
Pardew needed a fast start to ease the discontent swirling around St James' Park two hours before kick-off - and a routine free-kick that resulted in a 15th minute lead provided it.
Liverpool could hardly say they were hit with a shock tactic as Barton aimed his free-kick towards the giant figure of Carroll at the far post, but the striker rose easily above Martin Skrtel for Nolan to arrive in trademark fashion to provide a low finish past Pepe Reina.
Liverpool, without exerting any concerted pressure on Newcastle, still had opportunities to equalise as Sotirios Kyrgiakos had a shot saved by keeper Krul and Raul Meireles saw a deflected effort cleared off the line by Jose Enrique.
Newcastle were almost gifted a second after 35 minutes when Meireles presented the ball to Shola Ameobi, but his shot took a touch off a Liverpool defender and went just wide.
Liverpool ended the half in the ascendancy as Kyrgiakos headed just wide, but it needed a touch of good fortune to restore equality after 49 minutes.
Netherlands striker Kuyt pounced after a long ball hit Sol Campbell's back, but still needed a hefty glance off Steven Taylor to send his effort out of Krul's reach.
The goal briefly galvanised Liverpool and dented Newcastle's confidence. Fernando Torres should have put Liverpool ahead within seconds when he was left with only Krul to beat in the area, but he shot straight at the keeper.
Newcastle, however, were not short on spirit and endeavour and Carroll only just failed to direct his header on target from Barton's inviting cross, before Pardew made his first change after 63 minutes.
Nile Ranger replaced Ameobi, and almost had an immediate impact as he outmuscled Skrtel only to shoot across the face of goal.
Newcastle had responded impressively to Liverpool's leveller, and deservedly regained the lead with 10 minutes left, although it was again the product of wretched defending from Hodgson's side.
Krul's long-kick was flicked on by Ranger, and as Liverpool's defenders stood almost motionless Barton reacted first to swoop and direct the loose ball beyond Reds keeper Reina.
Carroll then got the goal his performance deserved when he punished Liverpool's defence for standing off by firing home an emphatic third.
Newcastle's overjoyed supporters revelled in a win that takes them up to eighth in the Premier League at the conclusion of a contentious week.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Liverpool 3 - 0 Aston Villa

Gerard Houllier suffered a miserable return to Anfield as struggling Aston Villa were comprehensively swept aside by Liverpool.
Houllier received a warm welcome from Liverpool's supporters on his managerial comeback to the club he left in 2004, but that was as good as it got for the man who won four major cup competitions in a six-year Anfield reign.
And on the grim evidence Aston Villa produced here, Houllier will have to undertake major reconstruction if he is to enjoy even a slice of that success at Villa Park.
Liverpool strolled to victory, even without the injured Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and striker Fernando Torres, who missed the game after his wife went into labour.
It meant Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson fielded an unfamiliar strike force of David Ngog and Ryan Babel, and they made the most of their opportunity with the early goals that set their side on the way to victory to leave Villa with just two wins in their last 12 games.
Ngog headed Liverpool into a 14th-minute lead with a header as Villa failed miserably to deal with a corner, and Babel added a second two minutes later with a fine low finish.
Liverpool provided the scoreline with an even more convincing look after 55 minutes when Maxi Rodriguez warmed an Anfield crowd shivering in sub-zero temperatures with a delightful finish from Ngog's pass.
Villa's fans did themselves far more credit than their players - although the heavy sarcasm and gallows humour aimed at their team will have hurt Houllier as he tries to win over those still sceptical about his appointment.
Liverpool never needed to hit top gear to dispose of Villa, but Hodgson's side deserve full credit for the manner in which they made light of the absence of three such influential figures.
It was also a landmark night for Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina, who kept his 100th clean sheet for the club in record time.
Houllier, however, looks to have inherited a Villa defence in terminal decline, and the cracks were apparent early on as Liverpool established a lead they never looked like relinquishing.
Martin Skrtel was unmarked when he met Raul Meireles' corner, and Ngog was in even more splendid isolation as he headed past the badly exposed Villa keeper Brad Friedel.
Liverpool doubled their lead two minutes later when Villa were guilty of more shoddy defending as Babel took control of Lucas's pass on the turn ahead of Stephen Warnock to beat Friedel with a low drive into the bottom corner.
The rest of the half meandered to an uneventful conclusion, but any slim hopes Villa had of hauling Liverpool back evaporated with a superb third goal 10 minutes after the break.
Gabriel Agbonlahor had wasted Villa's best chance when he allowed keeper Reina to block from close range, and he paid the price for his generosity as Liverpool wrapped up the game in style.
Maxi found Ngog on the left, then continued his run to take the return pass and place a precise side-foot finish high into the top corner, a move and a finish that drew full appreciation from a frozen Anfield gallery.
Houllier made a double change, sending on John Carew and Robert Pires for Agbonlahor and Marc Albrighton, but by this stage the game was well beyond Villa's reach.
And Liverpool almost added to Houllier's misery with a fourth after 67 minutes when Glen Johnson broke into the penalty area, only to be thwarted by Friedel's fine block.
Sotirios Kyrgiakos was even closer with a header that was goalbound until Jonathan Hogg smuggled it off the line by the post.
Liverpool closed out the win with the minimum of fuss, to leave Hodgson delighted with another home win and Houllier with a graphic demonstration of the scale of the work he has to do to revive floundering Villa.