Ruthless Liverpool demolish Newcastle
Newcastle 1 Liverpool 5
Steven Gerrard claimed a fine double as Liverpool tightened their grip at the top of the Barclays Premier League with a superb display at Newcastle.
The England midfielder got the ball rolling with a 31st-minute opener and then after Sami Hyypia and Ryan Babel had struck either side of David Edgar's header, he completed the job with a 66th-minute second.
There was still time for substitute Xabi Alonso to convert a 76th-minute penalty after fellow newcomer David Ngog had been tripped by Edgar to complete a miserable afternoon for Joe Kinnear's injury-ravaged side, for whom goalkeeper Shay Given made seven remarkable saves.
Rafael Benitez, sitting in the stands at St James' Park, was even able to leave striker Robbie Keane on the bench and withdraw Gerrard to warm applause from both sets of fans as a crowd of 52,114, the biggest of the season, gained an insight into the Reds' title credentials.
The win sent them four points clear at the top, for a few hours at least, and left the Magpies in some disarray on the day owner Mike Ashley announced he would not be selling the club after all and is ready to press ahead with his masterplan once again.
On a day earmarked by the Newcastle supporters to pay tribute to former manager Sir Bobby Robson, the gulf between the side he created and the one on show today could hardly have been wider.
Writing in the match programme, Ashley said: "With the January transfer window approaching, we will be working closely with Joe to see what can be done to strengthen the squad."
Kinnear's list of potential targets will have grown significantly by half-time after his side were torn apart by the visitors in a breathtaking first 45 minutes which demonstrated once again just how important Given is to the club.
The Irishman was one of three Magpies, along with Steven Taylor and Charles N'Zogbia, to be linked with a January move to Arsenal by one newspaper this morning, but had it not been for him, his side could have conceded at least eight by the time they headed back into the dressing room.
In the space of four minutes, he parried Dirk Kuyt's drive at the near post, blocked Gerrard's audacious flick and then pulled off a stunning one-handed save to deny the Reds skipper.
But his work was not done and he had twice thwarted Lucas by the time the clock ticked around to the 20-minute mark before keeping out Hyypia's 42nd-minute header with the help of N'Zogbia on the line.
However, by that point, he had been beaten twice as the rampant visitors finally made the pressure tell, Gerrard sweeping the ball home from Yossi Benayoun's 31st-minute cut-back before Hyypia headed home his captain's corner five minutes later.
Liverpool were simply irresistible, and a rout seemed on the cards.
But the Magpies rallied and after Taylor had headed a Danny Guthrie corner wide, Edgar proved the man for the big occasion once again.
Just short of two years ago, the Canadian marked his home debut with a stunning equaliser against Manchester United, and when he headed another Guthrie set-piece home in injury time his side at least had hope.
Jose Enrique, who had passed a fitness test on a calf injury just before kick-off, failed to re-appear after the break and Shola Ameobi's arrival prompted a reshuffle which saw N'Zogbia drop into the back four and Damien Duff move into midfield.
Ameobi almost made an immediate impact when Michael Owen only just failed to meet his 48th-minute cross with a diving header, but Liverpool's advantage was restored within two minutes.
Referee Mark Halsey was simply not interested in the home side's appeals for handball after Hyypia and then Lucas had helped on Gerrard's corner, and Babel stabbed the loose ball home to make it 3-1.
Kinnear's resources were stretched further with 56 minutes gone when Nicky Butt limped off to be replaced by Geremi, although the Cameroon international almost dragged his side back into the game on the hour.
After Owen had been cynically tripped by Javier Mascherano, he drove the resulting free-kick against the bar with goalkeeper Jose Reina beaten.
But if the game was not already over, the result was put beyond doubt with 24 minutes remaining when Gerrard ran on to Lucas' pass and lifted the ball nonchalantly over Given to make it 4-1.
Alonso made it five from the penalty spot after Edgar had tripped Ngog with 76 minutes gone, and although Guthrie and Taylor both went close, Given had to make a superb double stop to deny Lucas and then Babel at the death.