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COMMENT: Liverpool proud and unbowed
“Miracles can happen if you believe,” read a giant banner unfurled at the front of the Kop as You’ll Never Walk Alone greeted Liverpool and Newcastle United players before kick-off.
Liverpool still hoped. They still dreamed. They knew clinching first place was unlikely to happen, that they’d allowed Manchester City to seize the initiative in the most thrilling of Premier League title races, but they still believed and most of all they had immense pride in their team.
So facing Newcastle United on the final day of the season was a day of celebration at Anfield, a chance congratulate Brendan Rodgers and his all-out attack team and revel in being involved in a title chase.
The Liverpool team coach was treated to the now customary unofficial Anfield Road welcoming committee, thousands of fans lining the street and flares being lit, remarkable scenes reminiscent of a team being welcomed home after winning silverware.
Inside the ground the Anfield the atmosphere was equally ecstatic while the public address system played Don’t Stop Believing and West Ham anthem I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.
Liverpool hoped for a West Ham win at Man City, what perhaps they had not countenanced for was the occasion being soured by Newcastle. If not quite party poopers then Alan Pardew’s side were certainly unwelcome house guests.
Defensive lapses have cost Liverpool all season and a Martin Skrtel own goal gave the Magpies a lead that they never looked relinquishing during a tense first half in which the Kop fell almost silent. The attacking style which has characterised Liverpool’s season was nullified by the Magpies’ defence-first 4-5-1 policy.
The dramatic news from Eastlands that Liverpool hoped did not materialise. Yoan Gouffran even missed two chances to double Newcastle’s lead, Liverpool looked nervous, particularly right-back John Flanagan who was subbed after one mistake too many.
Just as Daniel Sturridge won a corner, Samir Nasri put City 1-0 up and soon Newcastle fans were singing “1-0 to the Man City”.
It got worse for the Reds. Soon after the break the Magpies enjoyed a prolonged spell of possession as they nonchalantly passed the ball between themselves, not longer after Vincent Kompany had made it 2-0 to City.
From this point Liverpool knew it was all over. The wait for a first title since 1990 would go on.
While City cantered to their third Premier League crown in three years, eventually Rodgers’ men clicked.
When Daniel Agger stuck out a leg after a Steven Gerrard free-kick to make it 1-1 on 63 minutes there was a huge roar and there was an even bigger one moments later as the captain delivered another set-piece, this time for Daniel Sturridge to make it 2-1.
With Shola Ameobi red-carded and so too Paul Dummett, Newcastle’s chance of salvaging something was over, but so too was Liverpool’s hopes of finishing first and the game finished tamely, the Reds remerging for a well-deserved lap of honour for which almost the entire crowd stayed behind.
Liverpool did not lose the title yesterday and nor was last Monday's dramatic draw at Crystal Palace the day they lost their grasp on the Premier League crown.
This was no capitulation like Newcastle's in 1995-96, when Kevin Keegan's 'Entertainers' infamously blew their lead.
Dropping points at Hull, Swansea, West Brom, that's where Liverpool really blew their chances. Southampton took maximum points at Anfield too.
Such results left them with too much to do and so it proved that winning 'only' 12 of their last 14 fixtures was not enough, which is no shame for a team that finished seventh last season.
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