A POINT gained or two points lost?
A POINT gained or two points lost?
It bodes well for the future that in all probability the latter was filling Gerard Houllier's thoughts on the way home from St James' Park last night.
Having watched a second moment of breathtaking brilliance from Michael Owen guide Liverpool into a 2-1 lead early in the second half and on the brink of cherishing a victory as good as anything else 1999 has previously offered, so the Frenchman will be busily seeking to work out how and why it didn't stay that way.
Many would have deemed a draw against a Newcastle United side in the throes of their own revolution a good result prior to kick-off and by full time, after wave upon wave of pressure from the home side which yielded an equaliser from old nemesis Duncan Ferguson and threatened a winner, it looked just that.
But it says a lot about the direction Liverpool are now heading under Houllier that the final whistle was still greeted as much with regret as it was relief.
"I am a little bit disappointed," said Houllier, with a shrug of his shoulders. "We could have won, we could have lost."
The disappointment perhaps stemmed from the character his players had shown to recover from the blow of losing a soft goal after only 11 minutes and go on and deliver a display for the remainder of the first half which should have yielded an advantage at the interval.
When Danny Murphy was penalised for a foul on Gary Speed wide on the right and deep in Liverpool territory, the set-piece presented Nol Solano with the chance to whip in a dangerous centre at head height. The cross was dealt with by no one in particular and crept in the corner of Sander Westerveld's goal having taken what can only be assumed was the slightest of touches off Alan Shearer's head.
The setback came during a spell in which Liverpool over-elaborated when in possession and consequently failed to hold onto the ball long enough to keep Newcastle out their own half for any length of time.
It was only when the midfield duo of Steven Gerrard and Dietmar Hamann returned to a back-to-basics philosophy that they looked capable of cutting a swathe through the opposition at will.
The half ended with the 600 or so visiting fans lucky enough to be granted entrance into the ground due to building work watching Liverpool clock up five chances to the home side's one.
Titi Camara, Patrik Berger and Murphy were all presented with opportunities admittedly easier than the one Owen expertly despatched to drag Liverpool level on 31 minutes.
A move which flowed the length of the pitch began with Camara collecting a pass out of defence from Dominic Matteo and spinning away from a cluster of markers in midfield.
While he has eagerly demonstrated a penchant for scoring spectacular goals, the African has also improved his awareness of those around him and he offered his strike partner a route to goal with a precision pass.
Then he simply watched, like the rest of us spell-bound, as Owen skipped in between Nikos Dabizas and Alessandro Pistone and drilled a right-foot shot past a shell-shocked Harper with the kind of conviction and magic which many had foolishly claimed would never return.
He almost made the most of an error by Harper minutes later, but proceeded to vanquish whatever lingering doubts about his ability remained just eight minutes after the break as the victory which had been within Liverpool's sights at the interval looked even more likely.
Having watched Gary Speed direct a header horribly wide from no more than five yards out, so seconds later Owen pounced on a dreadful mistake by Dabizas as the Greek defender's under-hit backpass barely covered half the ground it had intended to.
Seizing on the chance in a flash, there was still plenty for Owen to do but he cooly advanced and slid his shot past the goalkeeper and into the corner of the net before wheeling away in joyous celebration. Forget the origin, it was a wonderful, wonderful goal.
Houllier had revealed last week Dabizas to be a one-time summer transfer target. He must be glad once again that fate saw him settle on Sami Hyypia.
The Finn offered another impressive display, while alongside him Jamie Carragher moved back from midfield to deputise for the suspended Stephane Henchoz and simply demonstrated his versatility; aggressively handling Ferguson and Shearer to underline how important he can still be.
However, their calmness did not spread to the flanks where Newcastle, having survived another scare when Owen's 58th-minute centre was headed straight at a grateful Harper by Murphy, were allowed to build up a relentless tide of attacks.
If Houllier finds himself suffering from unfair expectations, then so too does Bobby Robson in a city where a 6-1 victory over Tottenham Hotspur can suddenly appear to herald the beginning of a new world order.
And like Houllier, he holds the belief of his players. Despite seeing their own wastefulness become eclipsed by Owen's second goal, Newcastle continued to press for an equaliser and began winning the battles in midfield.
Still, it was as much down to a piece of sloppy defending that they drew level on 66 minutes as any well-crafted move.
Warren Barton's angled pass looked to pose little danger, but with Rigobert Song having been caught napping by Ferguson's forward run, the Scot was able to guide an astute header past Westerveld.
Buoyed by the breakthrough, there looked like being only one outcome as Newcastle continued to search for a winner.
That it was ultimately in vain will not have been the point on Gerard Houllier's mind.
NEWCASTLE UNITED (4-4-2): Harper, Pistone, Hughes, Dabizas, Barton; Dyer (Glass 53), Speed, Lee, Solano (Gallacher 73); Ferguson (Ketsbaia 90), Shearer. Subs: Given, Marcelino.
LIVERPOOL (4-4-2): Westerveld, Song, Hyypia, Carragher, Matteo; Murphy (Fowler 82), Gerrard, Hamann, Berger; Owen, Camara (Heggem 69). Subs: Friedel, Traore, Staunton.
REFEREE: Mr D Elleray (Harrow-on-the-Hill)
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