Liverpool stun Newcastle with 5-1 win

NEWCASTLE, England (AFP) - Liverpool maintained their grip on first place in the Premier League table with a stunning 5-1 win against a toothless Newcastle United here at St James' Park on Sunday.

Reds captain Steven Gerrard scored twice and had had it not been for Newcastle goalkeeper Shay Given, the hosts could have been on the wrong end of a double-figure disaster after being completely outclassed.

The Republic of Ireland international made five world-class saves in 10 minutes to prevent Newcastle from total capitulation before the midway point of the first-half.

Liverpool assistant manager Sammy Lee said: "I think we are improving with every game we play and that is all we can look for. You haven't seen the best of Liverpool yet.

"You win nothing in December but you can certainly lose a lot. We're very pleased to be going into the New Year at the top."

Newcastle boss Joe Kinnear - whose 62nd birthday celebrations on Sunday have been distinctly muted having been beaten by Wigan on Friday and now Liverpool - said that his depleted side had not been able to hold off the attacking hordes from Liverpool.

"We were short of six or seven players and everything that could go against us did go against us.

"We had to play one of the best teams I've seen for a long while. You have to take your hat off to Liverpool. They were in command for a long time and could have put the game to bed in the first half."

Arsenal target Given began his run of jaw-dropping stops in the 10th minute as he pushed away a fierce near post strike from lone Liverpool forward Dirk Kuyt.

Within a minute England midfielder Gerrard weaved his way around three United defenders only to see his left foot shot palmed away by Given.

However, the onslaught had only just begun and in the 14th minute the Magpies 'keeper denied Gerrard again as he sprung to his right to claw away a rising left footed shot.

But that stunning save was eclipsed by an even better show of agility five minutes later as Given denied the Brazilian midfielder Lucas from point-blank range.

When the former Gremio player saw his header, from a Gerrard corner, beaten away by the Newcastle goalkeeper moments later, the visitors must have begun to fear this would be no easy win on Tyneside.

United, for their part, had barely managed to break beyond halfway and the Magpies' owner, Mike Ashley, must have been wondering whether he had been premature in announcing his decision to take the club off the market for the foreseeable future.

If his aim had been to usher in a period of calm at St James' Park, the effect had not extended to the pitch.

Liverpool continued to press forward at will and two goals before half-time appeared to end the game as a contest.

Inevitably, given his sensational start to the match, it was Gerrard who broke the deadlock in the 31st minute when he drilled Yossi Benayoun's pass in off the post.

Poor Given had no opportunity to reprise his heroics and the Irishman was stranded again five minutes later when defender Sami Hyypia was given the freedom of the Newcastle penalty area to head home Gerrard's corner.

The experienced Finn could have grabbed a second three minutes before the break only for a diving Given to push the ball into the path of Newcastle's Charles N'Zogbia, who cleared.

These were torrid times for United but, incredibly, Canada international defender David Edgar reduced the arrears on the stroke of half-time by heading in Danny Guthrie's corner.

Liverpool's third, five minutes after the restart, had an element of luck about it, with referee Mark Halsey failing to spot Lucas's hand ball. But Dutch international Ryan Babel tapped-in from five yards despite being surrounded by Newcastle players.

Gerrard grabbed his second from Lucas's astute through ball in the 66th minute.

And when substitute Xabi Alonso wrapped things up with a well taken penalty 13 minutes from time with Gerrard off the field, after his fellow replacement David Ngog had been brought down by Edgar, Liverpool could celebrate heading into 2009 on top of the Premier League pile.

p/s : Icing on the cake....haha...never thought that Lucas can play very well alongside Mascherano...I noticed that Reina made few errors on that match...gladly the Toons doesn't take advantage on it..
Cant stop smiling coz Chelsi drop a point...good job Dempsey..

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