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 â€œdead man walkingâ€ needed look no further than Newcastle Unitedâ€™s manager but four successive victories â€“ three in the Premier League â€“ 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: â€œPardew: back from the dead.â€
Much more of this and, rather than being sacked, English footballâ€™s answer to Lazarus will be challenging for another manager-of-the-year award. He certainly succeeded in outwitting his old friend Brendan Rodgers â€“ once his youth coach at Reading â€“ on an afternoon when Ayoze PÃ©rezâ€™s winning goal emphasised Liverpoolâ€™s disappointing inability to cope with Newcastleâ€™s formidably fleet-footed counterattacking.
Pardew has remodelled Newcastle into a beautifully calibrated 4-3-3 formation which balances his sideâ€™s fantastic pace with latterly absent defensive organisation.
If the emergence of PÃ©rez could not have been more timely, Mehdi Abeid, making his first Premier League start, shone in midfield alongside the outstanding Moussa Sissoko.
â€œIf youâ€™re Newcastle manager itâ€™s not all gin and tonics and aperitifs,â€ said a smiling Pardew. â€œThereâ€™ll be rough days. Bobby Robson had some dark days here.
â€œBut I always knew we had good spirit and talent and itâ€™ll be fantastic in the town tonight. I might even go into the city myself â€“ itâ€™ll be the first time in a while!â€
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 Liverpoolâ€™s passing at source impressed but the teamâ€™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 Aaronsâ€™s equally intimidating pace.
Like Newcastle, Rodgersâ€™s side are in transition but their adaptation to life after Luis SuÃ¡rez seems at a painful juncture. Anfieldâ€™s class of 2014-15 created only one first-half chance when Martin Skrtel directed a powerful header narrowly wide from Steven Gerrardâ€™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 CissÃ© â€“ who earlier had a shot cleared off the line by Glen Johnson â€“ squandered the subsequent free-kick, ballooning the ball over Simon Mignoletâ€™s bar.
Apparently unsure how to react to Newcastleâ€™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 â€“ whose principal first-half contribution was giving Johnson an apparent tactical lecture while Obertan was treated â€“ emerged very late for the second half but should not be made a scapegoat for Liverpoolâ€™s shortcomings here. Some of Balotelliâ€™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 CissÃ© had been forced off with knee trouble but Pardew had a more-than-able replacement in PÃ©rez who proceeded to score his second goal in six days.
Pouncing on Alberto Morenoâ€™s failure to clear Sissokoâ€™s low cross following a one-two with Dummett, the 21-year-old, Â£1.5m signing from Tenerife intervened to incisive effect, hooking the ball home from close range. PÃ©rez subsequently very nearly created a second for RÃ©my Cabella after playing a quick one-two with his fellow substitute but Mignolet rescued Liverpool, saving smartly with his legs.
â€œI didnâ€™t think we deserved to lose,â€ said Rodgers, who thought Sissoko might have been sent off for a bad tackle on Allen. â€œBut we didnâ€™t do enough to win.â€ – The Guardian