NEWCASTLE: Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool resurgence ran aground yesterday as Georginio Wijnaldum inspired Newcastle United to a much-needed 2-0 home win that eased the pressure on their manager Steve McClaren.
Liverpool went into the game chasing an eighth win in nine games, which would have taken them to within three points of the Champions League places, but Wijnaldum forced an own goal by Martin Skrtel and scored himself to leave them six points adrift of the top four in seventh place.
It was only the second defeat of Klopp’s 12-game tenure, but with Liverpool only mustering a single shot on target, it will douse some of the excitement created by their recent surge, which has seen them anointed potential champions in certain quarters.
McClaren has only been able to envy the headlines created by Klopp in recent weeks, but Monday’s newspapers will make far more pleasant reading for the ex-England manager following recent heavy losses to Leicester City and Crystal Palace.
While Newcastle remain in the relegation zone, their third win of the campaign means they are now level on points with both Norwich City and Bournemouth. Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge had scored five of the six goals that Liverpool put past Southampton in the League Cup on Wednesday, but both dropped to the bench as Klopp made six changes.
Befitting a team chasing a fifth successive victory, Liverpool made an enterprising start, winning two corners in the first 70 seconds and forcing Newcastle back through the running of Nathaniel Clyne and Jordon Ibe on the right flank.
But for all their endeavour, there was little penetration and when Liverpool did procure a chance in the 21st minute, Dejan Lovren nodding Alberto Moreno’s corner down for Christian Benteke, the burly Belgian contrived to jab the ball over the bar from three yards.
It was a poor miss and as the half wore on Newcastle gained a foothold, hunting their opponents down in packs and looking the more likely team to score.
Moreno had to produce an airborne challenge to thwart Siem de Jong, who replaced Ayoze Perez in the only change to the team thrashed 5-1 at Palace, while Papiss Cisse squandered an opportunity to run at Skrtel, allowing the Slovakian to dispossess him.
Shortly before half-time, Jack Colback’s corner from the right was flicked on by Cisse at the near post, but Chancel Mbemba could not keep his header down.
Newcastle continued to carry the greater threat after the break, Wijnaldum shooting wide from Moussa Sissoko’s pass, and with half an hour remaining Klopp took action by sending on Sturridge and Adam Lallana for Benteke and Roberto Firmino.
McClaren countered by introducing Perez for De Jong in the 67th minute and two minutes later, his side were in front.
Sissoko’s cross from the right struck Wijnaldum on the thigh, but the Holland midfielder gathered the ball and worked space for a shot that the sliding Skrtel deflected past Simon Mignolet for an own goal.
Klopp threw on Origi for Ibe, realigning the strike-force that had torpedoed Southampton, but they could not reverse the visitors’ fate.
Sturridge skewed a shot badly wide from Lallana’s slide-rule pass, while Moreno saw a deft lobbed volley from James Milner’s raking pass ruled out in a marginal offside call.
When Liverpool finally found the target in the 89th minute, Lovren heading down Moreno’s left-wing cross, it was straight at Newcastle goalkeeper Rob Elliot.
Fittingly, Wijnaldum had the final say, running onto Sissoko’s pass in stoppage time and liting a delightful shot over Mignolet. – AFP