Liverpool crash to Newcastle
THERE was an attempt yesterday afternoon, as the enormity of Liverpool's capitulation was still sinking in, to rebolt the doors and hammer wood over the smashed windows.
But by then it was too late. By the time Kenny Dalglish tried to understate the size of the disaster which unfolded at St James' Park in front of the nation, intruders were in and the only question now is quite where Liverpool move on from here?
There are seminal moments in the history of a football club. Andy Carroll's 79th-minute substitution and the tirade he aimed at his own bench as a result will become one, either as an admission that Liverpool erred horrendously in the acquisition of the player 15 months ago, or that the manager who made the decision is no longer equipped to get the best out of the near GBP120m ($AU184.5m) the Fenway Sports Group have so far given him to rebuild one of England's great institutions.
They did not feel like one yesterday, and certainly they did not look or act like one when Phil Dowd, the fourth official, informed a baying Tyneside crowd that the Liverpool No 9, their former No 9, was being taken off. It felt cruel because there have been miserable afternoons for Carroll since he flew away from the Newcastle training ground in owner Mike Ashley's helicopter, but nothing to compare with what he went through for 79 tortuous minutes yesterday. Those 15 months were encapsulated in that period of time.
His first homecoming did not start well; in fact it began awfully and it never got any better. He touched the ball after 10 seconds and was jeered. After 25 seconds some Newcastle fans verbally abused him. After 88 seconds he lost possession with an ambitious chip. And then in the ninth minute, it all simply became too much for him.
It will be forgotten that Carroll beat Mike Williamson in the air and went past James Perch as if he were still wearing black and white. Scientists have proven that time does not really stand still at those life-defining moments, but here it felt like it did.
Carroll, one on one, had only to go round goalkeeper Tim Krul to bury so much personal misery and put the ball into an empty goal to silence the abusers. And he did put the ball past the Dutchman, but at that point crashed to the ground, and every Newcastle supporter leapt in the air. Krul gesticulated furiously that it had been a dive, and as Martin Atkinson flashed a yellow card for that exact offence, Carroll's career must have flashed before his eyes. He would not accept that he had dived, furiously arguing with the the Newcastle bench moments after launching a tirade at Alan Pardew, his former manager.
Then, with 11 minutes remaining, as Carroll's number was up and he walked off, came more abuse directed at his own dugout, who genuinely looked taken aback by the hostility. Among those words appeared to be something along the lines of "effin, joke this", and they are phrases you simply cannot direct at your boss, wherever you work.
Carroll was not done, storming down the tunnel without acknowledgment for Dalglish, the manager who paid all that money for him what feels like such a long time ago.
By then Liverpool trailed by two goals, the old king had been replaced by a new one, Papiss Cisse, and watching all this high in the stands sat Ashley and Derek Llambias, the men who oversaw the sale of a developing Geordie icon, and took flak for the decision.
They were smiling a lot yesterday, especially after the second, game-clinching goal scored by the new No 9, Cisse, the one Llambias and Ashley spent (pounds sterling)9m on in January, almost a quarter of the Carroll fee for a player whose two goals yesterday took his tally to seven from seven starts. The comparison is cutting. Carroll has five from 21.
Perhaps there is an explanation as to why Carroll fell over/dived/exploded: the 23-year-old has too much on his shoulders. He got angrier as the afternoon went on, and his frustration could be understood in part as a result of events in the opening 18 minutes. In that period, aside from his own indiscretion, Liverpool hit the crossbar with a Craig Bellamy deflected cross-cum-shot and had a clear penalty turned down when Williamson headed towards his own goal and his team-mate, Danny Simpson, used an arm to stop the ball on the line.
But then came the collapse, and then came the home heroics. with Williamson and the excellent Perch standing strong at the heart of a makeshift defence, Cheick Tiote rampaging around midfield, Hatem Ben Arfa showing yet more glimpses of genuine, world-class talent, and Cisse blending work-rate and desire with his natural, goalscoring instinct, a match-winning No 9, the antithesis of the big man in red.
After 19 minutes, Ben Arfa skipped past Jay Spearing and Jonjo Shelvey and crossed, cleverly, to the far post, where Cisse beat the offside trap of Martin Skrtel and headed deep past Pepe Reina. Williamson had headed against the Liverpool post before CissE struck again, on the hour, this time looking offside but finding the quickness of foot to round Reina and score after more good work from Ben Arfa and Demba Ba.
Newcastle moved 11 points clear of Liverpool with this victory, but still there was more misery to come for the visitors, even after Carroll had stomped off. That it could get worse caused genuine shock. Liverpool were already beaten, when Reina lost his head, reacting to a late challenge from Perch by putting his head towards the Newcastle player. Contact was debatable but intent was unquestionable, as was the red card. Reina waved down the tunnel as he went off - giving his goalkeeping shirt to the also much-abused Jose Enrique as Liverpool had already made three substitutions - and pointed at Perch, offering him the chance, it seemed, to meet after the game..
That did not happen, but it spoke volumes for Liverpool's misplaced aggression. Defeat means this is the worst run - six defeats in their last seven league games - the club has been on since the 1953-54 season. Even Newcastle have won a domestic trophy since then for goodness sake.