Friday, December 30, 2011
Bellamy supplies the ex-factor
Richard Jolly, Anfield
This was what Liverpool wanted: a sizzling, storming performance from a former Newcastle forward, cementing his status as one of Kenny Dalglish's best buys in 2011. Just not that one.
• Liverpool 3-1 Newcastle United
• Gerrard delighted to be back
• Choose your best Prem XI of 2011
The catalytic contribution came from Craig Bellamy, the rather more mixed and ultimately less decisive display from Andy Carroll. The £35 million man has a capacity to be upstaged and Bellamy assumed the role England's most expensive footballer was supposed to occupy, the ex with the X factor.
As Newcastle were condemned to defeat at Anfield, Bellamy scored as many league goals in an evening as Carroll has mustered all season. Some £35 million cheaper than the target man and rather more potent, Bellamy does not have the pressure of a price tag. Nor does he yearn for the North East. Whatever chants his former followers direct at him seem simply to spur him on.
His second owed something to the record buy, the large obstacle in the eyeline of Tim Krul and Danny Simpson as Bellamy's free-kick bisected goalkeeper and defender. Somewhat generously, Carroll was congratulated by colleagues.
His chances to earn accolades, however, were spurned. One was another in the long line of near misses that have pockmarked his campaign, a close-range header against the bar. Both were fashioned by Steven Gerrard who, in a tour de force, took it upon himself to act as Carroll's one-man supply line. But the first opportunity showed woefully poor technique. With a wonderfully incisive pass, Gerrard sent him through on goal. With an awful first touch, Carroll played the ball straight to Krul. "He's very unlucky," a supportive Gerrard said. "He did everything tonight but score."
But the contrast came from the clinical Bellamy. His equaliser was ruthlessly dispatched, the corner picked out after Cheik Tiote half-cleared Charlie Adam's low cross. If it was an awkward occasion for Carroll, it was the sort of game that brings the best from the spiky Bellamy.
His competitiveness is a constant, and a man who invariably plays as though he has a point to prove now has five goals in his last four games against Newcastle. He has retained the infectious energy he displayed in his time on Tyneside. Age has limited his appearances, but it has not slowed him. His policy of scorched earth remains.
In some ways, he is the Englishman's antithesis: free and fantastic, making the most of each and every opportunity. Defensive as Dalglish can be in his public pronouncements, especially where Carroll is concerned, he has no need to protect Bellamy. "I don't think it is the first time I have praised him and it certainly won't be the last," the Scot said. "He took the first one well and the second was a good free kick." Bellamy's alliance on Liverpool's left with another former Newcastle player, Jose Enrique, was effective, rendering it a tough night for Simpson.
It became harder in the final half-hour when the recuperating captain returned. Gerrard has a habit of reaching his brilliant best against Newcastle and, in the second game of his comeback, he did so again. After creating chances for others, he scored the third, powering through to drill a low shot in. "I like Steven Gerrard," Pardew said, somewhat implausibly - but for the 31-year-old, he would have won the FA Cup in 2006. "He's a great player."
Dalglish added: "When Steven's not playing he's influential so I think you could add the word 'hugely' in front of influential when he is playing. He's always been a huge asset to the football club." He has been an injured asset for much of the year, but a terrible 2011 had a happy end for Gerrard.
That seemed less likely when Newcastle led. Daniel Agger contrived to wrong-foot Pepe Reina, his upper arm redirecting Yohan Cabaye's header, to which Demba Ba had applied the finest of touches, into his own net.
They would have equalised, too, but for a superb goal line clearance by Martin Skrtel, ending up in the net himself but ensuring Ba's deft chip did not.
It followed a high-class pass from Cabaye, but the Frenchman showed both sides of his game - he was fortunate to remain on the field for a shocking challenge on Jay Spearing. "I've not seen it and I'm not being Arsene Wenger," Dalglish said. "If there's something untoward then I am sure the governing body will act appropriately."
Liverpool's dealings with the FA, and Luis Suarez's suspension for his one-fingered gesture at Fulham, accounted for Carroll's presence in the attack. His alliance with Liverpool remains an uneasy union, but this is a city where The Beatles supply the soundtrack - 'We Can Work It Out' appeared on the PA at half-time. It may be wishful thinking. On Tyneside, Carroll used to run out to the strains of 'Local Hero'. Now he is taunted by his own while Anfield's admiration is reserved for others. Including, increasingly, Bellamy.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Craig Bellamy. There is a case for Steven Gerrard but while the midfielder was outstanding for a third of the game, Bellamy sparkled for 74 minutes. There can be little doubt now that he belongs in Liverpool's strongest side, even when both Gerrard and Suarez are available.
LIVERPOOL VERDICT: At long last, a game in which chances were converted and three goals scored. Indeed, it was the first time since September that they struck twice at Anfield. Their only previous victims at home are all in the lowest quarter of the table, so Newcastle are the biggest scalps at home since Manchester City were mauled in April. Liverpool visit City on Wednesday and the case to start Gerrard and Bellamy is strong.
NEWCASTLE VERDICT: They have been endearing overachievers, but some weaknesses were evident. Neither full-back impressed, with the injured Ryan Taylor substituted at the break and Haris Vuckic, selected in the hole behind the striker, looked out of his depth. Ba, however, looked a threat again and Newcastle can be happy with their trading of attackers in 2011. Seventh place is excellent but, as Pardew recognised, it is harder to go higher. "You look at Liverpool and their quality of individuals and depth of squad and say if that's the sixth best side, it's a big jump for us," he said.