Liverpool bereft as Robert strikes

Newcastle United recorded their 10th Premiership victory of the season at fortress St James' Park to extend Liverpool's depressing winless sequence into the new year thanks to a deflected goal early in the first half from Laurent Robert.

The frustration for Gerard Houllier and his Liverpool team, who have now failed to win in their last 10 games which have yielded just four points, boiled over in midway through the second half when midfielder Salif Diao was sent off for the second of two bookable offences.

Newcastle's win sent them back to fourth place in the table while Liverpool, who led the Premiership in early November, have now slipped back to seventh spot.

Robert gave Newcastle a 13th-minute lead with a free kick, awarded after John Arne Riise was outwitted down the left by Alan Shearer who was brought down on the angle of penalty area.

The left-footed Robert, who allegedly attacked a local journalist after Sunday's game with Tottenham, took aim and his powerful shot took a deflection off Milan Baros that gave Chris Kirkland little chance of maintaining equality for the visitors.

Sir Bobby Robson, the Newcastle manager, handed a full debut to Motherwell-born Brian Kerr on the right side of midfield. That department was also deprived of Gary Speed (hernia) and Kieron Dyer (calf) who were replaced by Jermaine Jenas and Clarence Acuna, respectively.

Liverpool were also without first-choice players such as the suspended Danny Murphy and the injured Dietmar Hamann, Michael Owen and Emile Heskey. Igor Biscan was brought in for Murphy while El Hadji Diouf replaced Owen.

Newcastle made light of the absence of key personnel, however, to seize the early initiative in front of a near-capacity audience and Liverpool's overwhelming desire to end their dismal run was manifested in a series of ill-judged challenges on a rain-soaked pitch which survived a 6pm inspection.

The worst of these was an ugly third-minute lunge by the out-of-sorts England midfielder Steven Gerrard on left-back Olivier Bernard that deserved the yellow card produced by Dermot Gallagher who booked Diao soon after for bringing down Craig Bellamy.

Bellamy also demonstrated his ability to cause mischief in the penalty area in a move that almost produced a second goal. The Wales striker linked up nicely with Acuna after good work Shearer and Bernard but Chris Kirkland blocked the Chilean midfielder's close-range effort.

Gerrard's first sight of the Newcastle goal came just after the half-hour but his sweetly-struck 25-yarder was comfortably saved by Shay Given who soon after saw Riise's goal-bound effort from 20 yards blocked by one of his defenders.

Gerrard was again in the thick of the action at the other end and was lucky to stay on the field when he brought down Acuna. His foul was almost punished by Shearer who thumped a low shot just wide of Kirkland's post three minutes before the interval.

Andy Griffin, the Newcastle right-back came to his side's rescue with a smart clearance when Gerrard pounced on a loose ball to send in a delicious low cross that the defender diverted away from Bruno Cheyrou.

Baros was unable to covert a glorious opening early in the second half. Diao rose high to win a header at a half-cleared corner and the ball fell to the unmarked Czech striker six yards out. He hopefully swang a leg but the ball ended up in Given's arms.

After Diouf was booked for a needless show of dissent, Baros paid for his lack of finishing power when he was replaced by 20-year-old Sheffield-born forward Neil Mellor in the 55th minute. Vladimir Smicer was sent on four minutes later in place of the ineffective Cheyrou as Houllier sought some sort of salvation.

The indiscipline of Diao undermined Liverpool's cause in the 65th minute when he was sent off after a very late tackle on Griffin on the half-way line. Diao protested loudly over the award of his second yellow card but the challenge could have easily merited dismissal on its own.

Despite this, Liverpool laid siege to Given's goal, with Mellor twice going close to scoring in an increasingly frenzied and tense occasion. It provided the most searching of examinations for Newcastle's much-maligned defence but they managed to survive intact.

And that must please Robson, who has had a reported £9 million bid for Leeds United's Jonathan Woodgate turned down.

The closest Newcastle came to doubling their lead was when Robert received a short corner from Bellamy only to see his effort deflected over.

Team details

Newcastle: Given, Griffin, Bernard, O'Brien, Hughes, Robert, Jenas, Acuna (Elliott 73), Kerr (Ameobi 73), Shearer, Bellamy.
Subs Not Used: Harper, LuaLua, Dabizas.
Booked: Jenas.
Goals: Robert 13.

Liverpool: Kirkland, Carragher, Henchoz, Hyypia, Riise, Biscan, Gerrard, Diao, Cheyrou (Smicer 58), Baros (Mellor 55), Diouf (Vignal 79).
Subs Not Used: Arphexad, Traore.
Sent Off: Diao (66).
Booked: Gerrard, Diao, Diouf.

Att: 52,147
Ref: D Gallagher (Oxfordshire).

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