By Greg Stobart at Anfield
All the hype in the build-up was about a former Newcastle striker – but it was Craig Bellamy rather than Andy Carroll who made the difference as Liverpool beat the Tyneside club 3-1 at Anfield on Friday night.
The Reds finally found their touch in front of goal to record a seventh successive home victory over Newcastle that takes them to fifth in the Premier League before Saturday's fixtures. Bellamy inspired the comeback with two goals after Newcastle took the lead through an own goal from Daniel Agger, with Steven Gerrard rounding off the win 12 minutes from time to cap a fine 30-minute cameo.
All eyes before the game were on Carroll, making his first start against the club he left for Liverpool in a £35 million deal on the final day of the last January transfer window. The 22-year-old was the subject of a variety of taunts from the visiting fans about his personal life and lack of goals having netted just twice in the Premier League this season.
Carroll scored 33 goals in 89 appearances for Newcastle but has not even looked half the player that bullied defenders when he wore black and white. For the first hour of the game, he struggled badly, his touch constantly letting him down while his aerial threat was minimal.
In the absence of the suspended Luis Suarez, this was supposed to be Carroll's chance to shine, a potential make-or-break moment in his Liverpool career. In a strong team performance from Kenny Dalglish's side, Carroll was once again disappointing. As the Liverpool fans groaned at his poor control and failure to attack deliveries into the box, Carroll could be seen getting increasingly frustrated, engaging in heated discussions with Jose Enrique and Glen Johnson.
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The next opportunity finally brought a genuine attempt on goal, as Carroll rose above Williamson to crash a header on to the crossbar. It served as a reminder that he still possesses ability when attacking crosses, but Carroll's lack of form has been something of an embarrassment for Liverpool.
Bellamy, on the other hand, joined on a free transfer from Manchester City in the summer and produced the matchwinning performance a team-mate who cost £35m more than him was unable to deliver.
The Welshman was full of energy, buzzing from his nominal position on the left side of a front three and taking on the responsibility as the side's main creator with Suarez missing. The Uruguayan is set to miss a further eight games through suspension following the Patrice Evra race row, but there were signs on Friday that Liverpool may be able to cope without their star man.
Bellamy's first goal was an expertly drilled finish into the bottom corner while he put Liverpool ahead with a free-kick from 30 yards, thanks to a little fortune in the form of some crazy defending on the line by Newcastle full-back Danny Simpson.
With Gerrard also flying on just his second appearance on his return from an ankle infection, maybe life without Suarez will not be quite as bad as many Liverpool supporters fear. Gerrard also appears to be the only man who might be able to kickstart Carroll into action with his delivery, especially when he pulls out to wide areas.
Liverpool's problem this season has been converting chances in front of goal – exactly the job for which Carroll was signed. It was Bellamy and Gerrard, however, who led the way as Dalglish's men scored more than twice for the first time since August.
For all the faults in the Liverpool squad, the likes of Gerrard and Bellamy – and, of course, Suarez – can ensure the club is fighting for a Champions League place in the final weeks of the season. They made that point on Friday night as Bellamy took his former club to task. The worry for Liverpool is that his strike partner did not come remotely close to doing the same.
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