Premier League – Barton off as Liverpool thump Newcastle
Liverpool stayed in the Premier League title race with a 3-0 win at Anfield over a shambolic Newcastle side who had Joey Barton sent off.
Liverpool made light of the worrying absence of Fernando Torres with his sixth hamstring injury in two seasons, and will wonder how they failed to repeat the scoreline from St James’ Park in December when they put five past Newcastle.
Newcastle slumped closer to relegation after a simply awful display that was compounded by Barton’s red card for a wild tackle on Xabi Alonso.
Alan Shearer took what was billed as the biggest gamble of his fledgling managerial career when he dropped supposed star man Michael Owen after a dismal run of form, preferring Mark Viduka and Obafemi Martins up front.
He also selected Barton, a Liverpool native, for his first match in three months following injury, to play an attacking midfield role.
In truth it mattered little as Newcastle’s biggest problems lie at the back, where a succession of basic errors made every Liverpool attack look like it could result in a goal.
Their constant defensive insecurity was coupled with toothless play going forward, which saw them fail to register a shot on target all afternoon.
An early Martins shot was deflected over, while later in the half Peter Lovenkrands might have done better when he attempted to round Jose Reina.
But the good work was undone, as so often this season, by some defending that not only befitted a relegation team, but that would have shamed any side in the top four divisions.
The early warning signs were there, as time and again Steven Gerrard ran at Fabricio Coloccini, making the Argentinian look like a comedy stand-in for a defender valued at £10 million by Kevin Keegan.
Then, on 22 minutes, came the breakthrough. Sebastien Bassong stopped a low cross from the right but was not alert to Kuyt’s presence behind him.
The Dutchman nicked the ball and crossed low for Benayoun, who was somehow unmarked when three yards out right in front of goal.
The winger might have been flagged offside, but the linesman’s arm stayed down and the ball bounced in off Benayoun’s knee.
Worse was to follow for the visitors on 28 minutes. Gerrard delivered a corner from the right and Kuyt – Liverpool’s centre-forward – remained completely unattended as he attacked the ball and buried a fine diving header.
While Newcastle struggled to string two passes together, the chances kept coming for a Liverpool side who missed a real opportunity to increase their goal difference advantage over United.
Alonso saw a shot in each half crash unluckily back off the underside of the bar, while Gerrard was unusually wayward when given far too long to tee up his efforts from long distance, although he too rattled the woodwork in second-half stoppage time.
The match threatened to end on a sour note when Barton launched a dangerous two-footed tackle on Alonso that took a little of the ball and a lot of the man, who was stretchered off.
Referee Phil Dowd rightly showed a red card to Barton who, not for the first time, was marched off in the company of a police officer.
But there was time for Lucas to add the third. The midfielder was one of three unmarked Liverpool players in the box when Fabio Aurelio curled in a free-kick from the right, and he headed the ball simply past Steve Harper.
For all their disastrous failings, Newcastle remain just three points from safety. But on this evidence another win this season looks highly unlikely.