Miles Starforth’s match analysis: Liverpool 2 Newcastle United 2

Jack Colback, left, sees his shot go in via a deflection to score Newcastle Uniteds equalising goal at Anfield.
Jack Colback, left, sees his shot go in via a deflection to score Newcastle Uniteds equalising goal at Anfield.
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Thirty-five games down, three to go.

Even three wins might not be enough to save Newcastle United.

But one thing is clear.

If Rafa Benitez’s side can play like they did in the second half at Anfield – and against Manchester City last week – they have a chance of staying up.

Nothing more than that, but a chance all the same.

United were committed, if nothing else. They played with the “heart and desire” Jamaal Lascelles felt had been lacking a fortnight earlier.

And it was those qualities which saw them take a point from a 2-2 draw against Jurgen Klopp’s in-form side on Saturday.

Newcastle, however, can’t afford a repeat of what happened in the first half against Liverpool.

Gone in 68 seconds?

That’s how long it took Daniel Sturridge to score at Anfield.

And it looked like all hope of survival had also gone in little more than 60 seconds.

It got worse before it got better.

If United had taken two steps forward, under Benitez, against Man City and Swansea City, then they took two steps backwards before the break against Liverpool.

They were awful. Maybe not even that good.

Benitez’s pre-match message to his players had been to “stay in the game”.

Yet in the second minute, they were a goal down.

A well-aimed ball forward from Alberto Moreno was chested down by Sturridge with his back to goal.

The striker, between Newcastle’s two centre-halves, turned and shot past Karl Darlow in goal.

Sturridge made it look so, so easy. And it was far too easy.

United had been caught cold on a warm St George’s Day on Merseyside.

Newcastle were a yard, or more, off the pace.

And they couldn’t just find a pass when they did manage to get the ball of a team which had convincingly beaten Everton 4-0 three days earlier in the Merseyside derby.

Adam Lallana scored Liverpool’s second goal in the 30th minute with a side-footed finish, Moreno again with the assist.

Benitez – who had named the same starting XI as against Man City – must have regretted his team selection as the half-time break neared.

Maybe Benitez – who left Aleksandar Mitrovic, Georginio Wijnldum and Jonjo Shelvey on the bench – should have changed his team.

United had had an extra day’s rest, yet they looked jaded. Not so Liverpool, who played with the energy and enthusiasm you’d expect from a Klopp team.

Ayoze Perez had been particularly ineffective, and he was replaced by Wijnaldum for the second half.

Benitez told his players at the break to “leave everything on the pitch” as they had “nothing to lose”.

From the first whistle, there was a purpose about Newcastle which had been entirely lacking before the break.

Three minutes later, the ball was in the net in front of a stunned Kop.

Vurnon Anita’s right-wing cross was met at the far post by Papiss Cisse, whose header beat Simon Mignolet.

United’s players weren’t beaten themselves.

They grew in strength as the half wore on, though they had Darlow to thank for a fine second-half save from Joe Allen. Firminio’s follow-up effort was ruled out for offside.

The equaliser came in the 66th minute. And not before time.

An Andros Townsend cross was half-cleared by Dejan Lovren in the direction of Jack Colback, and Cisse stepped back to let him shoot.

The ball struck Lovren on its way past a wrong-footed Mignolet.

After the game, Klopp, while angered by referee Andre Marriner’s failure to award a penalty in each half against Newcastle, was philospophical about the result.

“I don’t remember Newcastle having many shots,” he said. “Two shots – two goals.

“I don’t know what I can say. We have to take a draw and carry on.”

Klopp had also had to rule out Mamadou Sakho on the eve of the game over an alleged doping violation.

Benitez – whose name had been chanted by the Kop seconds after the first whistle – had mixed emotions.

Yes, United had shown character after the break, but why were they so poor before the interval?

Only wins will get Newcastle out of trouble.

A point at Anfield would have been a terrific result a few months ago.

But United now need victories.

Colback’s equaliser had led to bedlam in the away end.

And long after the final whistle, Newastle’s 2,650-strong support stayed behind to chant Benitez’s name.

They were in no hurry to leave the stadium, which is being redeveloped.

Liverpool – who, in contrast to United, have long been buying up land around Anfield, not selling, with an eye on the future – will have a 54,000-capacity ground next season.

Maybe some of those Newcastle fans who stayed behind were mindful that this could be the club’s last visit for some time.

They want to see Benitez start his own rebuilding job back on Tyneside.

But everything is still in the balance.