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The Reds crashed to their fifth away defeat in eight games

The Reds crashed to their fifth away defeat in eight games, as an early defensive mix up between Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia cost them dear. With only two minutes on the clock, Newcastle took the lead. Peruvian Nolberto Solano ran at the Liverpool defence - capitalising on Carragher and Hyypia's uncertainty - and one on one with Westerveld, slipped the ball into the net. It was the worst possible start for the Reds, as the defensive frailties now closely attached to them, came to the fore yet again.

However, the most baffling statistic of the afternoon was the inclusion of Carragher at left-back. With Djimi Traore and Christian Ziege out injured, Steve Staunton seemed the most likely to deputise -following his impressive second-half performance in Athens. He was not even granted a place on the bench. Indeed, Carragher -who apart from the early blunder performed ably - was always likely to check back on to his right foot, giving the dangerous Solano even more time to pressure the Liverpool rearguard.

After a shaky Liverpool start, Carragher was booked on 19 minutes for a clumsy foul on Alan Shearer. The pace of the game was soon to settle down though, with Liverpool slowly stamping their authority on the game. Indeed, they enjoyed far more possession in the latter period of the first half, as Newcastle sat on their lead. On 28 minutes, a Robbie Fowler header brought a great save from Shay Given, though Fowler was unable to pick up the rebound, as the Reds began to create more gilt edged chances.

A minute later, another header - this time from Sami Hyypia - crashed off the underside of the bar, as Liverpool were denied again. Dietmar Hamann - his every touch booed by the Newcastle fans - then went down clutching his face after what looked to be a clash with Warren Barton. No action was taken. Hamann though -looking to be in some pain - was forced to leave the field temporarily, but was soon back on.

Liverpool finished the half by far the stronger side. Following a corner on 39 minutes, a header by Hyypia was cleared off the line by Andy Griffin. Minutes later, it was Nick Barmby's turn to have his shot cleared off the line, as the Reds pulverised the Newcastle goal. It would not go in though and they went in 1-0 down at the break.

Having made no changes at the break, it was Gerard Houllier's side who again looked the stronger in the second period. However, it was a familiar storyline - dominant in possession ,but lacking the killer touch. Even so, at times it certainly seemed that the Gods were against the Reds today. Markus Babbel was unlucky to be booked for a tackle on Rob Lee three minutes into the second-half. Vladimir Smicer replaced Danny Murphy on 58 minutes as Gerard Houllier gave the Czech a chance to redeem himself for his miss against Olympiakos. Indeed, Smicer looked lively from the offset.

His mis-kick in the Newcastle penalty area fell to Markus Babbel, whose deflected, bobbling shot on the hour trickled just wide. After a scrappy spell in midfield, the Reds found another gear - desperately pressing for the elusive equaliser. Their efforts were nearly rewarded in the most bizarre fashion - Warren Barton's goalbound back pass forcing the excellent Shay Given into an unlikely save.

Indeed, just as Liverpool threw everything forward, they were then punished after 70 minutes as the home side hit them on the break. With players struggling to get back, Sami Hyypia could not stop Kieron Dyer advancing and finishing neatly past Sander Westerveld to give Newcastle a two goal cushion. It was a more than the Geordies deserved in honesty, in what was their first clear cut chance of the second-half. On 73 minutes, Gary McAllister replaced Steven Gerrard.

Two minutes later, a powerful Vladimir Smicer header brought another fine save by Given as Liverpool desperately tried to claw their way back into this game. A minute later, they finally found the net.

Following a great ball from Hamann, it was Emile Heskey who found himself through on goal -finishing comfortably to make it 9 goals in 9 games. It was a lifeline for the Reds, with twelve minutes still to play.

However, despite the bulk of possession, they could not find a way back. On any other day, Liverpool might have won this game by three or four goals, but we have heard this before haven't we? When it's not going for you, it's not going for you. The corner count would have made interesting reading, as the Reds forced one after another. Still, the ball would not go in and Liverpool suffered their first defeat here since November 1995.

That 'nightmare November' saw them exit from the League Cup, Europe and take no wins from their league games. However, things did turn around and so they can now. Injuries do not help obviously, but while players of the calibre of Camara and Song look likely to be sold, at a time when the Reds will play eight - possibly nine - matches before the New Year, there is slight justification to worry.

Liverpool boast an impressive personnel, but the deciding factor might depend on whether Gerard Houllier can finally find a settled eleven and a favoured pattern.

Copyright - Liverpool Echo

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