Liverpool fulfilled their part of the bargain, but expectedly fell painfully short of a first championship in 24 years. Brendan Rodgers’ side showed character to respond from going behind to Newcastle United at Anfield to an early Martin Skrtel own goal. Two Steven Gerrard free-kicks put home by Daniel Agger and Daniel Sturridge in the space of two second-half minutes handed them a victory that was in the end rendered immaterial in the battle for the title thanks to Manchester City’s comfortable win over West Ham.
Two points was eventually the margin by which Liverpool missed out; the defeat to Chelsea and late collapse at Crystal Palace proving their undoing. But the win over Newcastle did ensure Liverpool held off Chelsea to claim second place and that is some achievement after finishing seventh last season. Once the pain eases of coming so close to the ultimate prize, it is that which will surely be the overriding take away from this memorable campaign. While the narrative is of Liverpool throwing the title away, 12 wins from their final 14 matches is hardly a collapse.
No one at the club will be in doubt about what needs to improve if Liverpool are to go one better next year. And there was again plenty of evidence of Liverpool’s defensive fragility against a Newcastle side that finished with seven defeats from their final eight matches and ended the game with just nine men.
Liverpool spurned an early opportunity when Sturridge failed to take Steven Gerrard’s pass into his path. With 18 minutes gone the hosts did have the ball in the net. Luis Suarez took a quick free-kick after having been fouled near the right touchline and brilliantly sent a chip over the head of Tim Krul and into the Newcastle net. But referee Phil Dowd decided the free-kick had been taken with too much haste. Replays showed the ball may just have still been moving when Suarez struck it.
Less than two minutes later Liverpool went behind. Yoan Gouffran put in a dangerous cross with the outside of his foot and Skrtel took a wild swing at it with his right foot, which saw the ball come off his shin and fly past his own goalkeeper.
It was the sort of lack of composure at the back that has ultimately cost Liverpool dear in the past couple of weeks, having threatened to do so for much of the season. And Liverpool’s defense continued to be exposed, meaning they were lucky to go into the break just a goal behind. Gouffran was twice simply put in behind by Shola Ameobi, but failed to make the most of his opportunities.
As it was, Liverpool were ruing not going into the break level when Sturridge headed wide from just six yards out. They would not have to wait too long to turn the match in their favor.
Fittingly both goals came courtesy of deliveries from Liverpool’s inspirational captain who did so much to try and deliver his side the title but whose wait for the only major club medal missing from his collection goes on. Gerrard’s set-pieces have been a major weapon throughout the season and just past the hour mark, they proved too much for Newcastle’s defense to handle.
Both were curled viciously toward the back post, the first being directed in superbly by Agger on the stretch and the second by a simple finish from Sturridge to give the striker his 25th Premier League goal of the season. Together he and Suarez have struck a remarkable 56 goals, contributing heavily to Liverpool’s total of 101.
While Liverpool finish the season still with much to savor, the same cannot be said for their opponents. Newcastle have slipped dramatically since January and they ended the match with nine men thanks to the sort of ill-discipline unsurprising within a club currently looking devoid of direction. First Shola Ameobi was ridiculously shown two yellow cards in a matter of seconds for dissent while waiting to kick off following Liverpool’s second goal. Perhaps Paul Dummett was unlucky to be shown his marching orders late on. It was a bizarre challenge from the young defender, but there appeared to be little malice or contact involved. Still, much examination of the club will surely follow this summer.