Reds add to Magpies' woes
Liverpool closed the gap on Manchester United with a 3-0 victory over a frail Newcastle United on Sunday. Yossi Benayoun opened the scoring for the hosts at Anfield in the 22nd minute after he bundled home Dirk Kuyt's blast before the Dutchman got himself on the scoresheet with a diving header six minutes later. The Magpies, who failed to get a shot on target all game, lost Joey Barton in the 77th minute for a wild two-footed lunge on Xabi Alonso which left the Reds midfielder needing to be stretchered off the field. Substitute Lucas Leiva turned home Fabio Aurelio's free-kick in the 87th minute to round off the win which moves Rafa Benitez's side within three points of Sir Alex Ferguson's United. Liverpool were without striker Fernando Torres, due to a recurrence of his hamstring injury, while Lucas, Martin Skrtel and Emiliano Insua were also out from the side that won at Hull last week. It meant the return of skipper Steven Gerrard following a groin problem, while Daniel Agger - fresh from agreeing a new four year contract - replaced Skrtel in defence. Albert Riera and Fabio Aurelio also returned. Newcastle dropped former Liverpool striker Michael Owen to the bench, while Jose Enrique was out with a hamstring injury. Joey Barton came into midfield with Peter Lovenkrands up front. The seriousness of Newcastle's position in the table was evident from their vibrant start to the game. Obafemi Martins fired over from 15-yards while Barton's drive smashed into Agger's face. Barton, Alan Smith and Nicky Butt were snapping away in midfield as Newcastle took the game to their hosts. Liverpool's first effort was a Gerrard free-kick from 25 yards after he had been pulled down by Fabricio Coloccini. Then Gerrard unleashed a 30-yarder that Steve Harper palmed away at full stretch. Next it was Dirk Kuyt, with a far-post header from Aurelio's cross, who failed to hit the target. Newcastle needed something to justify their efforts, because Liverpool were ominously coming into the game. It almost came when Barton put Lovenkrands clear in the box, and after rounding Jose Reina, slid in a shot that Alvaro Arbeloa stopped in the six-yard box. Liverpool's pressure finally produced a goal after 22 minutes. The ball had fizzed into Newcastle's box from both left and right flank before Kuyt claimed possession. He moved towards the bye-line before squaring the ball into the six-yard box. Three defenders watched as Benayoun slid in to forced the ball home from a yard out, his fourth in seven games. Newcastle appealed for offside, and it was mighty close, a matter of inches and the sort of decision that goes against a struggling side. The goal was the 300th in the Premier League under Rafael Benitez, and the side have now managed the highest league tally in a season under the Spaniard. But there was no doubt about the second after 28 minutes when Kuyt's diving header from Gerrard's corner left Harper with no chance. The Newcastle marking was dreadful, with Habib Beye allowing the Dutchman a virtual free run at the ball for his 15th of the campaign. It could have been worse for Newcastle when Xabi Alonso saw a curling 30-yarder bounce down off the bar with Harper beaten after 39 minutes. Harper saved at full-stretch to his left as Agger crashed in a 24-yarder, Newcastle having allowed him to advance unchecked from his own half. Newcastle sent on Jonas Gutierrez for Lovenkrands at the break, but this was a tall order now for a side who had managed one win in their previous 17 games. Gerrard, Agger and Riera went close as Liverpool moved the ball around with efficiency and pace. Newcastle's remarkable fans had been singing themselves hoarse, but their team were getting nowhere. Smith was booked for a foul on Arbeloa and Ryan Babel replaced Riera, Liverpool seemingly moving towards three more points. Alonso struck the bar again, this time from the edge of the box, and Babel created a good chance for Gerrard. It got worse for Newcastle after 77 minutes when Barton received a straight red-card for a two-footed lunge at Alonso right in front of the Kop. Alonso was eventually carried away on a stretcher, with Lucas taking over. Owen and Kevin Nolan came on after 80 minutes for Mark Viduka and Martins. Coloccini was booked for a foul on Gerrard with eight minutes left. There was time for Lucas to head the third from Aurelio's free-kick after 88 minutes. David Ngog then replaced a limping Javier Mascherano and Gerrard hit the bar in the finals seconds.
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