Liverpool rounded off their season with a narrow victory over nine-man Newcastle, but it was not enough to end the Anfield side’s 24-year wait for the title as they were left to count the cost of defeat to Chelsea and a calamitous 3-3 draw at Crystal Palace in their previous two games.
Scorers: Liverpool - Agger (63), Sturridge (65); Newcastle United - Skrtel (og 20)
Daniel Agger and Daniel Sturridge scored within two minutes of each other to give Liverpool a 2-1 win over the visitors who had gone ahead through Martin Skrtel’s fourth own goal of the season.
But there were only muted celebrations at Anfield as Manchester City – as expected – beat West Ham 2-0 to seal the Barclays Premier League.
In the first half Liverpool were well below their best. Newcastle, who had Paul Dummett and Shola Ameobi dismissed, could have been 3-0 up at the break. But after the restart, Liverpool displayed glimpses of the kind of swashbuckling play that brought them within touching distance of the title.
However, their long wait to end their title famine will now extend to at least a full quarter-century – with many believing they will never have a better chance than this season to end their separation from an honour they once claimed almost as their right.
Manager Brendan Rodgers would be excused if part of him was thinking ‘What if’ as he stood on the touchline at the final whistle. What if Steven Gerrard had not slipped here two weeks ago, handing Chelsea their win at Anfield? What if his team had not conceded three goals in nine minutes at Crystal Palace last week?
Liverpool have taken huge strides under Rodgers – this is only their second top-two finish in 11 years, and there will be Champions League football at Anfield next season. But Liverpool were five points clear with three games left, and that will statistic will stick in Rodgers’ mind for quite some time.
A group of Manchester United fans clubbed together to remind Liverpool’s captain about his lack of Premier League silverware. ‘United 20 Gerrard 0’ read the banner which trailed behind a light aircraft which flew over Anfield at kick-off.
Gerrard tried to grab the game by the scruff of the neck after the first whistle. The rest of his team-mates could not string five passes together, their tempo was slow and their movement poor.
Newcastle made it clear they were here to spoil the party. Moussa Sissoko found Ameobi in the box after seven minutes, but the striker made a real hash of his header.
Rodgers was up in arms moments later when Sterling went down under pressure from Mathieu Debuchy, but referee Phil Dowd waved play on. The Liverpool manager wheeled away in celebration three minutes later when Suarez lobbed Tim Krul from the right touchline, but Dowd ruled the Uruguayan had taken the quick free-kick when the ball was still rolling.
Liverpool’s growing confidence was punctured by Skrtel. The Slovakian stuck out his right leg trying to prevent Yoan Gouffran’s cross finding Ameobi. The ball flew off Skrtel’s right shin and beyond Simon Mignolet. He could not have finished it better if he had tried.
Suarez, Gerrard and Sterling all failed with simple passes and the pessimism inside Anfield grew. The ambience inside Liverpool would have been far worse had Mignolet not saved expertly from Gouffran, who was one-on-one with the Liverpool stopper. The news of City’s 39th-minute opener filtered through to the home supporters – some of whom had radios pressed to their ears.
Rodgers brought Aly Cissokho on for Jon Flanagan at half-time and Liverpool improved, with Sterling testing Krul with a low drive. But with City now 2-0 up, it no longer mattered what happened at Anfield. That did not stop Liverpool fighting, though. Agger gained half a yard on Debuchy and diverted the ball past Krul from Gerrard’s free-kick to equalise. Anfield finally came to life as the home support urged their team to find a second.
Less than two minutes after Agger’s goal, Sturridge made it 2-1 from almost exactly the same position as the centre-back. Cheick Tiote fouled substitute Philippe Coutinho 25 yards out. Gerrard whipped the ball to the back post again and Sturridge tapped in his 21st Premier League goal of the season.
Ameobi did his team no favours by getting sent off straight after the goal when he argued with Dowd in the centre circle as he was about to restart the game. The referee showed Ameobi a yellow card and when the striker continued his protests, he sent him off.
Agger missed an easy header from five yards with ten minutes left before Dummett saw red three minutes from the end for kicking Suarez.