By Anthony Marshall - Newcastle United Club Reporter
Liverpool 3 (Bellamy 29, 67; Gerrard 78)
Newcastle United 1 (Agger og 25)
Newcastle United ended 2011 in disappointing fashion with a 3-1 defeat away at Liverpool in the Premier League.
The Magpies took the lead midway through the first half when Yohan Cabaye's headed flick-on was knocked into his own net by defender Daniel Agger.
But the Reds always looked a threat going forward and equalised almost straight away when Craig Bellamy pounced on a loose ball to fire home.
The former Newcastle forward then netted his, and Liverpool's, second direct from a free-kick after the break, and it was left to substitute Steven Gerrard to complete the scoring with a neat one-on-one finish.
A fast-paced opening period in wet conditions saw Liverpool create the first chance with six minutes on the clock.
Centre-back Agger picked up the ball around the halfway line and strode forward before unleashing a left-footed shot across the face of goal, but his effort was well off target.
The hosts continued to press and the almost found an opening when ex-Magpies Bellamy and Jose Enrique combined down the left for the latter to flash a cross through the six-yard box which was crying out for a finishing touch.
Another former United man, striker Andy Carroll, tried his luck on 18 minutes when he turned on a loose ball inside the box, only to see his shot blocked by teammate Bellamy. Then, with the visitors trying to clear their lines, Gabriel Obertan got in a mix-up with referee Lee Probert and the ball fell kindly for Charlie Adam to drive over the top from 25 yards.
Liverpool were well on top by this point and winger Stewart Downing cut in off the right flank to fire a low strike with his favoured left foot, which keeper Tim Krul did well to keep hold.
But completely against the run of play, Newcastle took the lead in the 25th minute. Youngster Haris Vuckic did brilliantly to close down a clearance, taking a ball in the face for his troubles, and when it ran to Jonas Gutierrez, he teed up Ryan Taylor to swing a cross into the hosts' box.
Cabaye rose brilliantly to flick goalwards, and the ball struck the shoulder of Ba, wrong-footing Pepe Reina on its way into the back of the net.
Liverpool were not shell-shocked though and pulled themselves level within five minutes. United struggled to clear their lines from some heavy pressure, and when Adam's cross was only cleared by Cheick Tiote as far as Bellamy, the front man duly drilled it home in front of the Kop.
Having equalised, the Reds went in search of another goal and centre-back Martin Skrtel was inches away when he glanced Bellamy's corner just wide, having met it at the near post.
With half-time approaching Vuckic flashed a long distance half-volley well over the top after being fed by Ba, and Cabaye suffered the same fate from a similar position.
At the break, United boss Alan Pardew introduced Italian international Davide Santon in place of left-back Ryan Taylor, who had suffered a tough opening period against Downing.
But the Reds' winger still carved out the first opportunity of the second half, although fired his strike from distance miles over the top.
In the 59th minute, a superb spell of possession by Newcastle was eventually ended by a foul around 30 yards out, but Cabaye was unable to get the resulting free-kick on target.
And Liverpool promptly introduced Gerrard into the action, with the England midfielder continuing his rehabilitation following an ankle injury.
The arrival of the hosts' skipper could not have been more emphatic. Within minutes Gerrard had cut through the Newcastle defence with an inch-perfect pass into the path of Carroll. But, clean through on goal, the big striker's touch was heavy and the ball ran on to a grateful Krul.
Liverpool only had to wait a couple of more minutes though to edge themselves in front. After Cheick Tiote had fouled Jordan Henderson 25 yards out, Bellamy curled the free-kick goalwards and watched it somehow sneak through a gap in between Krul and full-back Danny Simpson.
Ba was convinced he had equalised in the 70th minute, and he would have done were it not for an outstanding piece of defending from Skrtel.
Cabaye's intelligent pass allowed Ba to sneak in behind the Liverpool defence and he clipped the ball past Reina, only to see Skrtel race back and clear from underneath his own crossbar.
But the action was soon back up the other end, and Carroll crashed a header against the crossbar having risen above MIke Williamson to connect with Gerrard's cross.
And it was Gerrard who put the result beyond any doubt 12 minutes from time, receiving Jordan Henderson's through ball to take a touch and slot under the on-rushing Krul from a tight angle.
Liverpool (4-3-3): Pepe Reina; Glen Johnson, Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger, Jose Enrique; Jordan Henderson, Jay Spearing, Charlie Adam (Steven Gerrard 59); Stewart Downing, Andy Carroll, Craig Bellamy (Dirk Kuyt 74)
Subs not used: Alexander Doni, Martin Kelly, Jamie Carragher, Jonjo Shelvey, Maxi Rodriguez
Newcastle United (4-4-1-1): Tim Krul; Danny Simpson, Mike Williamson, Fabricio Coloccini (c), Ryan Taylor (Davide Santon 46); Gabriel Obertan (Sammy Ameobi 84), Cheick Tiote, Yohan Cabaye, Jonas Gutierrez; Haris Vuckic (Hatem Ben Arfa 65); Demba Ba
Referee: Lee Probert (Wiltshire)
Attendance: 44,372 (2,000 Newcastle)