JUST where did it all go wrong?
A year earlier, Jose Enrique was taunted in this fixture.
Jubilant Newcastle United fans chanted ‘Jose Enrique, we’re in the top six’ as their team won 2-0.
The defender was left alone this time.
After all, ‘Jose Enrique, we’re in the bottom six’ doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.
And that’s where the club finds itself with just three Premier League games left to play after Saturday’s 6-0 capitulation.
The nightmare for Newcastle supporters is that their beloved team is sleepwalking into the Championship. This wasn’t supposed to happen. This wasn’t in the pre-season brochure.
The 49,151 United fans inside St James’s Park won’t have witnessed a worse home performance. That’s a fact. They can’t have, as the last defeat on this scale came in 1925, when Blackburn Rovers won 7-1.
What’s more, the scoreline doesn’t tell the whole story.
Newcastle were abject in just about every department. Dis-organised and disjointed, ill-disciplined and ill-prepared.
There were no excuses after the game from manager Alan Pardew. There couldn’t be.
Pardew and his staff had the benefit of a rare full week on the training pitch, but that didn’t translate into anything resembling a cogent and disciplined team performance.
The importance of this game – a win would almost certainly have secured the club’s Premier League status – couldn’t have been over-stated.
Yet Liverpool – a side with nothing to play for but pride – wanted it more. They were hungrier, sharper and more intelligent on and off the ball from the first whistle.
They got a grip of the game inside the first three minutes, and never let it go.
Pardew adopted a 4-3-3 formation which included two holding midfield players – Cheik Tiote and James Perch – while box-to-box powerhouse Moussa Sissoko was deployed on the right wing.
It didn’t work. It was a tactical disaster.
United needed to get to work quickly, get the crowd behind them, and get an early goal.
Tiote was awful. Again. Jonas Gutierrez was chasing shadows, and the naivity of Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Massadio Haidara was evident throughout the game.
Sissoko, well marked by Enrique, was never an influence on the wing. He was needed in the centre of the park, where Newcastle were being out-thought, out-fought and out-played.
United trailed 2-0 at the interval – Daniel Agger and Jordan Henderson found the net for Liverpool – and Hatem Ben Arfa and Yoan Gouffran were thrown on for the second half.
After a positive enough start, Sturridge scored the decisive third goal after Philippe Coutinho – the best player on the pitch – took the ball off Ben Arfa, and found the Liverpool striker in the box.
Another goal followed for Sturridge, as did strikes from substitute Fabio Borini and Henderson.
There have been some dreadful defensive performances over the years, but surely none worse than this.
That’s not to entirely blame the back four. The midfield were woeful – shapeless and listless – and never got a hold of the ball.
Papiss Demba Cisse cut an isolated figure up front, and Jamie Carragher won’t have had too many easier games in a career which has seen him make more than 500 league appearances.
So where do Newcastle go from here?
A majority of United fans now want Pardew sacked, but the upheaveal that would create between now and the end of the season would surely be counter-productive.
That’s arguably a decision for the summer, but few managers in the world would hope to survive a fortnight like this.
After the game, Pardew talked of the need for Premier League “experience”, and while Fabricio Coloccini’s return at Upton Park on Saturday will be welcome, it is some of the more experienced players who have let the club down the most.
Tiote has been dreadful all season, a liability at times, and Gutierrez has fared little better.
Why not play Gael Bigirimana? Why not throw Adam Campbell on late in a game?
It’s ironic that Sam Allardyce’s West Ham United are Newcastle’s next opponents.
Andy Carroll and Kevin Nolan would take no personal satisfaction in pushing the club closer to the Championship, but Allardyce surely would.
Carroll and Nolan are also two players you’d want alongside you in the trenches.
Can supporters say the same about some of the club’s more recent signings? Only time will tell.
Certainly, stand-in captain Yohan Cabaye has gone missing on and off the pitch in recent weeks. At times like this, a skipper needs to lead by example during games, and say what needs to be said off the pitch.
He hasn’t done either. The only leader on the field against Liverpool was Steven Taylor.
And Taylor was brave enough to face the media after the game. Unfortunately, his team-mates weren’t, and that doesn’t bode well for the coming weeks, as bravery is one quality that Newcastle will need in abundance between now and May 19.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Elliot 5; Debuchy 3, S Taylor 5, Yanga-Mbiwa 2, Haidara 2; Perch 3 (Gouffran, 46, 3), Tiote 2 (Anita, 65, 3), Cabaye 2; Sissoko 3, Cisse 3, Gutierrez 2 (Ben Arfa, 46, 3). Subs not used: Harper, Williamson, Gosling, Shola Ameobi.
LIVERPOOL: Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Enrique; Gerrard (Borini, 73), Lucas; Downing, Coutinho (Susu, 84), Henderson; Sturridge. Subs not used: Jones, Coates, Shelvey, Skrtel, Wisdom.
MAN OF THE MATCH: There wasn’t one. No one emerged from this game with any credit.
HIGHLIGHT: Again, there wasn’t one. Even the three minutes of injury time was an ordeal.
LOWLIGHT: The first 20 minutes. It was brutal. Any hope of a result quickly evaporated.
Goals: Agger 3, Henderson 17, Sturridge 54, 60, Borini 74, Henderson 76
Bookings: Debuchy 20, Sturridge 21, Gutierrez 39, Johnson 41, S Taylor 44
Sent off: Debuchy 75
Referee: Andre Marriner (West Midlands)