Liverpool cruise as Toon lose

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Liverpool had too much for Newcastle at St James' Park as they recorded a 3-1 win on their travels that puts them within two points of Manchester United in second place.

Peter Crouch was the architect of much of their best work as he scored the first, laid on the second for Steven Gerrard and was hauled down for the third - a penalty from Djibril Cisse - conceded by Jean-Alain Boumsong in an incident that saw the Frenchman dismissed.

Newcastle looked to have fought their way back into the contest when Shola Ameobi headed home with his side two goals down just before half time but Boumsong's defensive howler and Liverpool's superior class came to the fore in the second half.

Rafa Benitez had been busy pre-match in making six changes to the side that demolished Fulham in midweek and with alterations in personnel came a new formation as Liverpool started with a back three flanked by wing-backs, as Stephen Warnock caught the eye with several measured forays down the left.

It was Liverpool that started much the brighter and if the marriage between Newcastle and Glenn Roeder showed the occasional strain last weekend at Old Trafford, then the honeymoon period was officially over just ten minutes in at St James'.

With Liverpool crisp in possession and Newcastle on the back foot, Jan Kromkamp clipped an accurate ball to the back post from deep on the right, Crouch found himself between the ill-positioned Peter Ramage and Boumsong and with the simplest of headers registered from just inside the six-yard box.

While Crouch has silenced his army of critics of late, Cisse continues to frustrate and the Frenchman had Benitez rolling his eyes on the touchline when, after Kewell's ball was played right across Newcastle's goal, his finish from the angle showed an absolute dearth of composure.

With Newcastle struggling to find a foot-hold their front pairing were being fed on scraps and from one such morsel, Alan Shearer fired wide before Charles N'Zogbia forced a parry from Jose Reina with a fizzing snapshot - his last contribution before hobbling off to be replaced by Lee Bowyer in the 25th minute.

Just five minutes later and Liverpool were in cruise control as Gerrard grabbed his 19th goal of another productive campaign with the most sumptuous of efforts. Cisse's raid down the right ended with a looped cross to Newcastle's back post that saw Gerrard cushion a header into the path of Crouch, the lay-off was perfect and with a beautifully controlled strike the England midfielder bent past Shay Given from the edge of the area.

A comeback looked unlikely as Newcastle laboured but with five minutes left to the break, another deep cross yielded the game's third goal as Scott Parker's right wing delivery found Ameobi on the penalty spot, with Liverpool's backline pushed out hoping for an offside. The flag did not come and Ameobi planted his header over Reina.

Buoyed, the final chance of the half saw Boumsong glance a header wide in what would prove to be his last positive contribution of an afternoon best forgot.

It would take Liverpool just seven minutes after the restart to re-assert their authority on proceedings as Boumsong's moment of madness earned an all too familiar collective groan from those in black and white.

A long ball from Liverpool's backline should have been easily dealt with but an air shot allowed Crouch in round the back and as the England striker made inroads, Boumsong grappled him to the floor with all the cunning of a WWF wrestler - that saw him not only concede a penalty but also dismissed for the most unprofessional of professional fouls.

Cisse stepped up and finished calmly for Liverpool's third before souring his moment somewhat by picking up a booking for some ill-advised baiting of the home crowd.

Thereafter and it was a case of Liverpool inviting Newcastle on and then breaking as Cisse blazed wide when he should have crossed and then substitute Luis Garcia bent an effort just past the post.

Given then produced a sprawling save to deny another substitute, Xabi Alonso, from registering with a fine strike from distance.

The Newcastle keeper again showed his agility in beating away a Kromkamp shot late on but at the final whistle, Benitez will have been more than content with three points garnered from a polished display in the North East.

Newcastle v Liverpool player ratings

Newcastle United Team Statistics Liverpool
1 Goals 3
1 1st Half Goals 2
3 Shots on Target 6
4 Shots off Target 6
1 Blocked Shots 1
2 Corners 1
21 Fouls 18
6 Offsides 5
2 Yellow Cards 3
1 Red Cards 0
57.9 Possession 42.1