Flanagan Carragher Skrtel Johnson
Meireles Lucas Spearing Maxi
Kuyt 59' (pen)
There's no room for sentiment in football. Dalglish, the cold-eyed realist, left Liverpool's £35m Geordie on the bench against his old side, keeping faith with the surprise hat-trick hero. However, Liverpool did revert to the 4-2-2-2 formation often preferred, and were able to restore Johnson to the starting line-up.
Dalglish's belief in Maxi paid dividends almost immediately, with the Argentinean again inexplicably in the right place at the right time in the 10th minute. Williamson accidentally headed Flanagan's cross straight to the in-form marksmen, whose half-volley deflected off Simpson to wrong-foot Krul. It goes without saying that football requires both luck and talent.
With the early goal pocketed, it seemed likely Liverpool would roll their way to glory as against Brum. But Newcastle responded well: keeping possession, restricting the counter-attack with a high back line, and threatening through Jonas up against Flanagan. At the same time, the Geordies racked up set plays, with five first half corners and five free kicks in Liverpool's half. But Barton's delivery was thankfully atrocious all game long, while Carragher and Skrtel ensured Jonas' crosses didn't find the heads of Ameobi or Lovenkrands. For the second straight game, Reina probably could have fallen asleep in the goalmouth.
Liverpool cleverly compensated for Jonas' threat by switching Johnson and Flanagan after the interval. Following a chance for each side before 90 seconds were off the clock – Barton wide on the half-volley from Nolan's cross, then Suarez's left-footed shot deflected in the near post side-netting – Liverpool reclaimed momentum thanks to Suarez's increasing influence. Running at defenders, constantly looking to bamboozle markers, Suarez first won a spot kick on the counter when released by Reina's punt and turning past Williamson into the box. Kuyt converted yet again, sending Krul the wrong way.
Less than six minutes later, Suarez finally returned to the score sheet, his first goal in five weeks. His throughball luckily deflected to Kuyt, who looked up and found the Uruguayan's clever run toward the penalty shot, aided by Maxi's movement to draw defenders. Unsurprisingly, the striker made no mistake.
From there, Liverpool were satisfied with counter-attacking and content to stifle. Carroll replaced Maxi for the final 20 minutes, but was unable to provide more than a cameo against his old club. With 10 to play, Shelvey replaced the left back again, as against Birmingham, used more and more as a jack-of-all-trades utility player when injuries have required. And finally, the human victory cigar Joe Cole replaced Suarez with seconds to play, allowing him the standing ovation Maxi received last time out.
With Barton's set play delivery consistently horrible, Newcastle posed next to no threat once the home side got a handle on Jonas. Liverpool were supremely comfortable, scoring three for the fourth-consecutive home game, the first time that's happened since the magical run-in in 2009. Lucas and Spearing bossed midfield; Suarez demonstrated the difference he can make; Kuyt kept his perfect record from the penalty spot (coincidentally, scoring for the fourth-consecutive game); Maxi continued his hot form; Johnson stepped straight back into the fray with little ring rust; and Carragher, Skrtel, and Reina were fairly untroubled. Yet again, there's very little to complain about, which has become a very nice change of pace.
Most importantly, the impossible has happened, and Liverpool are amongst the European places for the first time this season. Tottenham, with a game in hand, are only in sixth on goal difference, but still have to come to Anfield as well as travel to City. If Liverpool win their last three games – nowhere near assured, no matter recent form, with two away from Anfield – they'll be in the Europa League come next season. Which is jaw-droppingly amazing when you realize the lows reached during the previous 10 months.