Benitez enjoys Liverpool return as Newcastle snatch draw
Rafael Benitez returned to Liverpool to earn a valuable point in Newcastle’s battle to avoid relegation as the visitors recovered from two goals down to draw 2-2 on Saturday.
Benitez’s side trailed to first-half goals from Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana, but Papiss Cisse sparked their revival with a goal soon after the interval and Jack Colback’s first of the season sealed a vital fightback.
Newcastle’s second-half surge lifted them level on points with third bottom Sunderland and within one point of safety, but they remain in 19th place and have played two games more than their north-east rivals.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool had been chasing a fifth successive victory in the wake of a resounding 4-0 win over Everton, but have now dropped 17 points from winning positions.
Liverpool’s warm welcome for former manager Benitez, who led the club to their famous 2005 Champions League triumph, was still ringing around Anfield when Sturridge showed Newcastle that their opponents meant business.
The England striker was well found in the penalty area by a long ball from Alberto Moreno, and chested down the ball with his back to goal before turning to despatch a low shot past Karl Darlow despite the attentions of two defenders.
It was his 12th goal from only 15 starts in an injury-restricted campaign.
Coming with just over a minute on the clock, it was an early blow for an improved Newcastle side, who were seeking their first win at Liverpool in 22 years on the back of a victory over Swansea and a promising draw with Manchester City.
The home side were playing with verve and purpose, knowing that a win would hoist them into sixth place, and it was no surprise when Liverpool extended their lead after 30 minutes.
– Predator –
This time the predator was Lallana, who had already shown some good touches before completing a smart passage of passing play by hitting a superb shot into the top corner when Moreno’s pass offered the opportunity for his sixth goal of the season.
Only a well-timed tackle by Jamaal Lascelles on Roberto Firmino in the penalty area saved Newcastle from falling further behind.
The visitors also survived a loud penalty appeal when Paul Dummett appeared to handle, although Liverpool escaped a claim at the other end when Ayoze Perez went down under a challenge from Connor Randall, who was making his home league debut.
When Newcastle attempted to rally, Vurnon Anita blazed well over, and at half-time the visitors looked unlikely to improve upon a wretched record of collecting no away points since a surprising win at Tottenham in December.
However, the picture changed dramatically three minutes after the restart when Cisse headed in a cross from Anita at the far post.
It could have been worse for Liverpool minutes later when a swift break by Newcastle saw Andros Townsend shoot over the bar from 15 yards.
Liverpool’s riposte, with Benitez now on the touchline directing Newcastle operations, seemed to have brought a third goal only for Firmino to be flagged offside before bundling home the ball.
Instead, the goal came at the other end on 66 minutes after a fine run and cross by Townsend.
Colback’s shot from inside the area took a significant defection off centre-half Dejan Lovren, leaving goalkeeper Simon Mignolet wrong-footed as the ball looped past him.
Klopp introduced Philippe Coutinho in an effort to conjure a late winner for Liverpool, while Newcastle sent on former Liverpool player Jonjo Shelvey to shore up midfield and help ensure the visitors held out.
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