2020 has been the strangest of years, so in a footballing sense at least, it was probably only fitting that it ended with Newcastle United becoming the first team to prevent Liverpool from scoring in a Premier League fixture this season. Having failed to keep a clean sheet in their seven previous league games at St James’ Park, the Magpies suddenly summoned some much-needed defensive resolve.

They also displayed the kind of character and commitment that was sorely missing in their recent defeats to Leeds and Brentford, not to mention a sense of adventure that was glaringly absent when they meekly surrendered to Manchester City on Boxing Day.

This was not a performance that will have solved all of the ills that have been mounting in recent weeks, but it was a marked step forward and that is a start. Given the quality of the opposition, an under-fire Steve Bruce could justifiably claim it was one of his side’s best performances of the season.

True, Newcastle needed their goalkeeper, Karl Darlow, to produce three wonderful saves, the pick of which saw him get his fingertips to a goal-bound effort from Mo Salah in the first half, but you are always going to have the occasional hairy moment against an attack as good as Liverpool’s.

Darlow delivered when required, but this was a night when Newcastle’s collective resilience ensured their keeper was not as overworked as might have been anticipated. Indeed, his opposite number, Alisson, had to make a fine save of his own late on to prevent Ciaran Clark’s header creeping in, and while the Magpies once again lost out in the possession stats, this was not a night when they could be accused of a lack of adventure.

Bruce’s side attacked when the opportunity allowed – Callum Wilson in particular caused a number of problems in the first half – and for once, their desire to close down their opponents put Liverpool’s most creative players off their stride.

Matty Longstaff, snapping away at Jordan Henderson all night, epitomised Newcastle’s drive and endeavour, while all five of Newcastle’s defenders performed creditably.

A year that began in calamitous fashion with a New Year’s Day home defeat to Leicester City ended in a much more pleasing manner. Let’s just skirt over a lot of what happened in between.

Last night’s formation might have been the same as at Manchester City, with Bruce sticking with five at the back, but Newcastle’s mindset could hardly have been more different.

Whereas they had been passive and lethargic at the Etihad, Bruce’s players could not close down their opponents quickly enough four days later, with the returning Wilson leading from the front as he hassled and harried Liverpool’s makeshift centre-half pairing of youngster Nat Phillips and midfielder Fabinho.

With Matty Longstaff shuttling here, there and everywhere at the heart of midfield – why on earth has the Tynesider been exiled for so long? - and both Matt Ritchie and DeAndre Yedlin looking to push forward, Newcastle were the more threatening side for much of the first half, with Wilson involved in three decent half-chances within the opening quarter-of-an-hour.

The first was something out of nothing, with Newcastle’s leading scorer forcing Alisson to tip the ball over the crossbar as he drilled over a cross-cum-shot from the right, but the second a few moments later was the result of some classic centre-forward play.

Wilson burst ahead of his marker to meet Jacob Murphy’s curled free-kick from the right, but his glanced header whistled wide of the far post.

Wilson was understandably keen to target the inexperienced Phillips all night, and he got the better of the 23-year-old when a nice piece of trickery enabled him to break clear on the left. He did the right thing in shooting early to try to surprise Alisson, but a covering Fabinho stuck out a leg to deflect his driven effort wide.

With Yedlin also whistling a shot wide after Wilson rolled the ball into his path in the box, Bruce will have been content with his side’s start. He will also have known, however, that Liverpool would not remain as ineffectual for long, and sure enough, as the first half progressed, so the reigning champions began to flex their attacking muscles.

To their credit, the Magpies’ defensive organisation remained largely intact, but it only takes one lapse to let a side like Liverpool in, and Jurgen Klopp’s side came within inches of making a breakthrough shortly after the half-hour mark.

With Ciaran Clark just a yard or so out of position, Salah was onside as he raced on to Jordan Henderson’s floated through ball, and with time to pick his spot, the Egyptian looked odds-on to score. He opened up his body to stroke a shot towards the corner, but Darlow got down brilliantly to tip the ball around the post.

With Martin Dubravka back on the substitutes’ bench last night having completed his recovery from injury, Darlow’s place is about to come under threat. Given his performances so far this season though, the current incumbent could prove extremely hard to dislodge.

He was at the heart of things again on the stroke of half-time, flinging himself to his right to keep out Roberto Firmino’s header after the Brazilian met Sadio Mane’s cross eight yards out. Again, it was a fine piece of goalkeeping from Newcastle’s most consistent performer this term.

The incident underlined the extent to which the momentum of the game had shifted though, and Liverpool continued on the front foot in the second half, albeit with Newcastle’s players continuing to strain every sinew in an attempt to contain them.

Mane glanced a near-post header into the side netting after Alexander-Arnold delivered a corner from the right, but while the visitors might have dominated possession, their attempts to penetrate the Newcastle rearguard were repeatedly frustrated.

Fabian Schar, Federico Fernandez and Clark all defended diligently, with the former adopting an organisational role. The work-rate of the Newcastle’s players meant Liverpool’s counter-attacking threat was largely blunted, although the visitors should have scored when Salah was presented with the best chance of the game in the 66th minute.

Liverpool’s chief danger-man was able to step inside his marker after receiving Firmino’s through ball, but from inside the area, he curled a side-footed shot wide of the post.

Newcastle’s second-half attacking was much more limited than their first, but the Magpies are always capable of posing a threat from set-pieces, and they came within inches of scoring with 11 minutes left. Ritchie floated a free-kick to the back post, and having found the net at Leeds a week ago, Clark looked like scoring again with a downward header until Alisson hurled himself to his left to claw the ball around the post.

Darlow had the final say with his third superb save with two minutes left. Firmino met Andy Robertson’s corner with a thumping header, but Darlow clawed the ball to safety.