Skrtel OG 20'
Well, at least it didn't end how it looked like ending after an hour.
Liverpool won, but so did Manchester City, so Liverpool's win meant little more than confirming second. Liverpool finish second, and the overriding emotion is disappointment. That's still gonna take awhile to sink in.
And Liverpool made hard work of it today. Mediocre but the better side for the first 18 minutes, a bit off-color but unfortunately denied an opening goal when Dowd pulled back Suarez's quick free kick. Because of course, they were subsequently immediately behind thanks to yet another individual error, the sixth own goal of the season, Skrtel's fourth own goal of the season: Newcastle countering down Liverpool's right flank, Gouffran and Haidara combining before the Slovakian haplessly redirected Gouffran's cross into his own net. Sigh.
Which prompted little Liverpool response. Sure, they continued to dominate possession and had a smattering of chances, but not much went right in the final third. Suarez scuffed a shot after a trademark dribble, Sturridge headed wide from close range following Henderson's inch-perfect cross. Newcastle's back five stifled Liverpool's frequent ferocity, no matter their insipid current form, sacrificing possession and territory for solidity and maybe a counter-attack or two. We've seen similar in the last three matches. We're going to see it a lot more next season. And Liverpool were lucky they weren't down by two in the 27th minute: another counter-attack, Gouffran splitting Johnson and Skrtel, but Mignolet making the necessary save.
Rodgers tried to rectify matters with a tactical substitution at halftime, bringing on Cissokho for Flanagan, switching to wing-backs, with first Henderson then Sterling manning the right as Johnson played as a third center-back. Which changed little. Coutinho's entrance for Allen again shifted the side, and was the start of Liverpool's comeback, but once again, it was set plays that saved the side.
Newcastle's lack of discipline has cost them time and time again under Pardew. And as Liverpool racked up free kicks in dangerous positions, Liverpool looked more and more like scoring, with yellow cards for Anita, Tiote, and Gouffran. Then came two goals in quick succession, carbon copies of each other: Gerrard's delivery from the right channel, the goal-scorer at the back post, first Agger, then Sturridge.
And, because Newcastle, conceding two was compounded by a red card for Shola Ameobi, booked and then sent off for dissent in the space of 30 seconds. I've never seen anything like it. It was the fourth consecutive Liverpool/Newcastle match where Newcastle had a player sent off: Coloccini and Debuchy last season, Yanga-Mbiwa and Ameobi this season. That has to be a record. Only Alan Pardew's side would set such a record.
It looked like Liverpool would add to its newfound advantage – Sturridge's on-target shot from the top of the box hitting Coutinho, Agger just missing a third set play goal, among a couple of other chances – but Liverpool were soon content to play out the clock, knowing that City were comfortably ahead in Manchester. Newcastle still found a way to have another player sent off, Dummett for a dangerous tackle (that luckily looked worse than it really was) on Suarez in the 86th minute. So five dismissals in four matches. A team truly in its manager's own image.
And so the contest, and the season, ebbed away, Liverpool stringing harmless passes together while imploring Phil Dowd to blow the whistle early. Here we are, sat in second, devastated and heart-broken.
It's the first time Liverpool have scored more than 100 goals in a Premier League season. The first time Liverpool have won 16 home games since 1985-86. Liverpool have the best away record in the league. Liverpool won 15, drew three, and lost just once in the second half of the season, an average of 2.53 points per game. Suarez matched (but, sadly, didn't surpass) Ronaldo's record for goals in a 38-game Premiership season. Liverpool improved by 23 points on last season's total, the second biggest jump in the Premier League era. From seventh – after finishing 8th, 6th, and 7th in the three preceding seasons – to second, just two points behind the league winners. No team had gone from 7th to 3rd in the Premier League era, let alone 2nd.
All of that is incredible. Don't let the last few weeks blind us to that. Roll on the summer window, with the holes in the squad made sadly obvious during the run-in, and roll on next season.
Now, finally, Liverpool are back. And we go again.