Liverpool 3 Newcastle 0
Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle misery deepened on the ground where he is rightly still remembered as a playing legend in the heady days under Bill Shankly.
As a manager, Keegan has inherited a feeble, spineless Newcastle outfit who have now gone 12 Barclays Premier League games without a victory.
Liverpool cruised to their fourth successive league win, the first time they have achieved that measure of consistency for 13 months, and they will head off to their Champions League night of destiny against Inter Milan next week high on confidence.
This was Liverpool’s 300th Premier League victory, and they now have a firm grip on that elusive fourth spot.
It was again their scoring double act of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres who put victory beyond doubt before the captain was withdrawn on the hour to protect him for Tuesday’s date in the San Siro.
Ten minutes later Torres was also withdrawn, the Spaniard – now with 25 goals in 34 games, 13 in his last 12 – certainly could not be risked any longer with Inter next up.
Jermaine Pennant, very fortunately, deflected in the first goal while Torres and Gerrard created goals for each other.
Michael Owen, on his 250th Premier League appearance, was a pale shadow of the player who once electrified Anfield. Now Torres has taken that mantle.
Liverpool were without injured pair Javier Mascherano and Steve Finnan, while Dirk Kuyt and Ryan Babel started on the bench – with Yossi Benayoun, Pennant and Lucas coming into the side.
Newcastle were without Joey Barton, with Charles N’Zogbia the only change from the side which lost at home to Blackburn last weekend.
There was a show of strength from the Americans, with Liverpool moving towards shared ownership if Dubai International Capital complete their buy out of George Gillett next week,
A clutch of them were in the directors’ box, including another of Tom Hicks’ sons, Mike.
But Liverpool fans paid more attention to Kevin Keegan, a Kop legend, who spent 20 minutes before the game signing countless autographs as his team warmed up.
The Newcastle manager did not look like he had a care in the world – and his team started confidently, with Alan Smith seeing a seventh-minute header from a corner deflected wide from a corner.
At the other end Fernando Torres – the Barclays player of the month – took on Abdoulaye Faye on the right and fired in a cross-shot which Steve Harper turned away.
John Arne Riise was booked for a high challenge on James Milner but Newcastle were still more than holding their own – until the freak 43rd-minute incident which took the game away from them.
Jose Enrique’s attempted clearance cannoned back off Pennant and into the net, giving Liverpool the lead and Pennant only his second goal in 71 games for the club.
Seconds before the break Torres rubbed salt into visiting wounds when he rounded Harper and coolly netted following an outstanding ball from Gerrard.
Newcastle, who had replaced Milner with Geremi just before the break, fell three goals behind in the 51st minute, with Enrique again the man to suffer.
The Magpies defender failed to confront Torres, opting to back away as the Spaniard took possession. That invited Liverpool forward, and Torres sent Gerrard away down the middle to neatly chip Harper for the third.
Newcastle were now a shambles at the back, with Torres and Gerrard combining with ease before the latter saw a shot saved excellently by Harper.
Keegan sent on Obafemi Martins for the ineffective Damien Duff, before Liverpool replaced Gerrard on the hour.
Martins hit the bar with a fierce left-footed effort in the 68th minutes, before Dirk Kuyt and Peter Crouch formed the home strike partnership.
Sami Hyypia came on after 78 minutes – replacing Pennant – as Liverpool utilised a three-man central defence which could operate against Inter on Tuesday.
Harper saved well from a Kuyt flick and then got down to block a Riise drive, before Benayoun saw a diving header deflected just wide. as the Reds finished in confident fashion against a team who are heading in the wrong direction.