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Newcastle 1 Liverpool 0

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STOPPAGE time was drawing to a close when Alan Pardew permitted himself a little smile and discreetly pumped a fist. Barely a fortnight ago anyone seeking the perfect definition of the term “dead man walking” needed look no further than Newcastle United’s manager but four successive victories – three in the Premier League – have altered his landscape beyond recognition.

There was certainly no arguing with the Newcastle fan dressed as a skeleton who stood behind the home dugout at the end wearing a Halloween mask and bearing a placard declaring: “Pardew: back from the dead.”

Much more of this and, rather than being sacked, English football’s answer to Lazarus will be challenging for another manager-of-the-year award. He certainly succeeded in outwitting his old friend Brendan Rodgers – once his youth coach at Reading – on an afternoon when Ayoze Pérez’s winning goal emphasised Liverpool’s disappointing inability to cope with Newcastle’s formidably fleet-footed counterattacking.

Pardew has remodelled Newcastle into a beautifully calibrated 4-3-3 formation which balances his side’s fantastic pace with latterly absent defensive organisation.

If the emergence of Pérez could not have been more timely, Mehdi Abeid, making his first Premier League start, shone in midfield alongside the outstanding Moussa Sissoko.

“If you’re Newcastle manager it’s not all gin and tonics and aperitifs,” said a smiling Pardew. “There’ll be rough days. Bobby Robson had some dark days here.

“But I always knew we had good spirit and talent and it’ll be fantastic in the town tonight. I might even go into the city myself – it’ll be the first time in a while!”

With their new configuration clearly suiting them Newcastle could have won an early penalty when Gabriel Obertan accelerated down the right and picked out Sissoko, who promptly had his heel clipped by Joe Allen. While Andre Marriner was not quite convinced, the good news for Pardew was that his players were clearly buying into a gameplan revolving around rapid changes of pace as Newcastle oscillated between tight defence and lightning breaks.

The manner in which Abeid, Sissoko and Jack Colback suffocated much of Liverpool’s passing at source impressed but the team’s collective resolve was fully epitomised when Daryl Janmaat sprinted several yards to steal the ball from Jordan Henderson with a tremendous tackle.

Even when injury deprived Pardew of Obertan there was little respite for Liverpool, who found themselves instead confronted by Rolando Aarons’s equally intimidating pace.

Like Newcastle, Rodgers’s side are in transition but their adaptation to life after Luis Suárez seems at a painful juncture. Anfield’s class of 2014-15 created only one first-half chance when Martin Skrtel directed a powerful header narrowly wide from Steven Gerrard’s corner.

Restored to a deeper, more central role than in recent months, Sissoko looks a midfielder reborn. His fine dribble late in the first half resulted in a slightly desperate challenge from Skrtel but Papiss Cissé – who earlier had a shot cleared off the line by Glen Johnson – squandered the subsequent free-kick, ballooning the ball over Simon Mignolet’s bar.

Apparently unsure how to react to Newcastle’s tactics Liverpool were reduced to looking distinctly ordinary and, sometimes, downright untidy. Raheem Sterling in particular cannot have expected to find himself shackled so comprehensively by Paul Dummett.

Shafts of Merseyside sunshine were rare, although Mario Balotelli did test Tim Krul with a deceptively swerving free-kick early in the second half.

The Italian – whose principal first-half contribution was giving Johnson an apparent tactical lecture while Obertan was treated – emerged very late for the second half but should not be made a scapegoat for Liverpool’s shortcomings here. Some of Balotelli’s off-the-ball movement was clever enough but, with Sterling ineffective and the midfield malfunctioning, it was asking a lot to expect him to win the game single-handed. And at least he refrained from rising to provocation after being hacked down by first Janmaat then Abeid in swift succession.

Philippe Coutinho came closest to scoring for the visitors, his second-half header forcing Krul into a fine save. By then Cissé had been forced off with knee trouble but Pardew had a more-than-able replacement in Pérez who proceeded to score his second goal in six days.

Pouncing on Alberto Moreno’s failure to clear Sissoko’s low cross following a one-two with Dummett, the 21-year-old, £1.5m signing from Tenerife intervened to incisive effect, hooking the ball home from close range. Pérez subsequently very nearly created a second for Rémy Cabella after playing a quick one-two with his fellow substitute but Mignolet rescued Liverpool, saving smartly with his legs.

“I didn’t think we deserved to lose,” said Rodgers, who thought Sissoko might have been sent off for a bad tackle on Allen. “But we didn’t do enough to win.” – The Guardian

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