LIVERPOOL: Anfield heartbreak, added time drama. Black and white pain, unbridled Red delight.
When it comes to Newcastle United, there was a real sense of familiarity, yet so much so very different about their late, late 2-1 Liverpool defeat.
These two had played out in 1996 one of the defining encounters of the early Premier League era as Stan Collymore stole in at the back post to beat Pavel Srnicek to ruin Geordie topflight title dreams.
And while this one lacked the goals, it was decided by a piece of late penalty box magic, this time by young substitute Fabio Carvalho.
Making his first start, Alexander Isak scored on his Magpies debut to give Eddie Howe’s men the lead at the break, but first Roberto Firmino leveled then with the five minutes of added time already up, and an inexplicable three further added, the summer signing from Fulham popped up to again inflict defeat on United on Merseyside. Their torrid wait for a win on the red half of Liverpool continues to stretch back to 1994, when Andy Cole and Peter Beardsley led the Newcastle line.
While the sinking feeling, the cutting, the sense of loss remains the same, there’s a lot that feels unfamiliar about this Newcastle United.
As they’ve proven week-in and week-out since late January, this Howe team are made of stern stuff. They have a plan, purpose and intent. They are incisive on the break, have the ability to take the game to anyone, press and win high, as well as defend with a real sense of solidity.
United are a top four team, if form since February is taken into account. And the way Newcastle have started, who would argue against them maintaining it to the end of the current campaign?
They’ve gone toe-to-toe with Man City and Liverpool on their own patch, the top two from last season, and made both look more than fallible.
“That’s the pain of football,” said Howe, following the loss, United’s first of the season.
“That’s the horrible side of it when your team has given everything. It is a sickener for us but it is part of the game. We just didn’t deal with the corner.
“I thought we played well in the first half. Naturally when you are 1-0 up here you are not going to be the dominant team and you are going to have to withstand pressure. It is difficult to defend against this team.”
Howe added: “It was painful, that. Very painful.
“I am really proud of the players, their commitment and the execution of the game plan. For long spells of the game, when you are in the lead here it becomes a different game. We had to defend well, I don’t remember them having too many clear cut chances.
“I thought everybody did well. Can’t fault anybody. Great effort.”
As mentioned, club record signing Isak was thrown in from the off, in a surprise move by Howe, who also changed over his first choice central defenders for Dan Burn and Jamaal Lascelles. United were without star men Bruno Guimaraes, Allan Saint-Maximin and Callum Wilson on the night.
And while the build up to his debut has been intense, with the UK Home Office not signing off on his post-Brexit work permit until lunchtime on Wednesday, United fans were not disappointed when they got their first look at the long-legged, gliding Swede in full striped flow.
Isak showed his quick feet, skills and some physicality in leading the United line, giving the likes of Virgil van Dijk, and particularly Joe Gomez, nightmares in the opening 45.
His ability to open up spaces with a shift of the ball from left to right at speed created the first real opportunity of the game when he fired over having been teed up by Joe Willock on the break.
That was just a sighter. The best was very much yet to come.
At the other end Luis Diaz rounded Nick Pope but fired over, even though Kieran Trippier seemed to have the shot covered on the United line.
Where Diaz failed, Isak did not. And with one lash of his right leg, it really feels like a new Premier League star was born.
Trent Alexander-Arnold gifted possession to Willock in the middle, who then fed out to the metronomic Miguel Almiron on the wing. His pass inside from the right was half intercepted but fell perfectly for Sean Longstaff, who, in all the confusion, tucked a beautifully weighted pass through to Isak with the outside of his boot. And with confidence, the Swede did the rest in front of 3,000 travelling Geordies, hammering in off the underside of the bar.
It was no less than United deserved at that point, with the Magpies easily the more potent on the attack and Liverpool looking largely toothless but for the impressive Harvey Elliott in the middle.
A sustained period of pressure in the United third was repelled with relative ease thereafter, as Lascelles and Burn stood up to balls over the top, with the covering brilliance of Trippier and Matt Targett on his return.
Perhaps the turning point of the game came in the opening exchanges of the second 45. With Liverpool’s continued push came gaps at the back and another break over the top saw Isak again look as cool as a cucumber in front of goal to jink past two home defenders before tucking home again, only for the offside flag to be shown. Millimeters, a matter of millimeters from 2-0.
Despite that, there was a real sense of inevitability about the leveler as Liverpool spread the ball out wide at will. And while Pope was equal to Elliott’s low effort on the hour, he could do nothing about Firmino’s perfect strike that made it 1-1.
A perfectly timed Mo Salah run in behind, then a touch inside saw the Brazilian pick out Pope’s bottom corner.
The final half hour was one-sided but did not feel like United were hanging on with Pope only really called into action to field a number of centers from the left and right, bar Diaz’s deflected shot.
Well, that was until referee Andre Marriner decided to extend added time to eight minutes rather than the advised five. His own suggestion, no one else’s.
And this one then ended very much like that fateful April night more than two decades ago, as well as like United’s last trip to Merseyside this year.
While Everton waited until the 108th minute at Goodison, it was only 98 for Liverpool as Carvalho popped up after some penalty box pinball to smash home a winner and again deal United’s clear progress a cruel blow.
On a night of so many highs, but one final, cutting low, Isak was United’s shining light.
“He looked a threat and his pace was a key outlet for us,” said Howe.
“We didn’t anticipate him playing more than an hour as he has had so little training, although he did pick up a dead leg in the game, so we wanted to protect him.
“He looks like a very special player.”
The United head coach continued: “There were a number of really good performances. The performance and the commitment of the players was second to none. I think we are getting closer, but you need points.”
Disappointment reigns supreme at United following a game they scarcely deserved to lose. However, there is so much to be positive about.
And in staring City, then the Reds, square in the face in the last fortnight, United have made sure they’ve bloodied the noses of the topflight elite, and done so much sooner than many thought they’d be capable.
The story of United’s progress was etched across the faces of the full Liverpool bench in the closing stages and after the final whistle. Jurgen Klopp’s toothy grin painted an image of relief. He knows United gave his side hell. And he, like Pep Guardiola before him, knows Howe and United are looking for a seat at the Premier League’s top table.
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