NEWCASTLE // Newcastle United admitted defeat yesterday after conducting a worldwide search for a buyer. They were condemned to defeat by a world-beater a matter of hours later as Steven Gerrard, playing with an irresistible blend of power and persistence, ensured Liverpool enter 2009 top of the Premier League. If Mike Ashley had hoped his decision to take the club off the market would galvanise the team, he was sadly mistaken. Newcastle, with one notable exception, were abject. They were overwhelmed, overrun and overcome. The contrast with Liverpool, magnificent and menacing, was marked. This was a performance worthy of league leaders and a statement of real intent after recent stutters. Sami Hyypia and Ryan Babel, two of their goalscorers, excelled and Yossi Benayoun blended deft touches with incisive passes, but there was no disputing the identity of their inspiration. Their captain was the catalyst, scorer and creator of two goals apiece, the driving force turning in a tour de force. Gerrard's dominance mirrored Liverpool's. "It was the best performance I've seen from a player for a long time," said Newcastle manager Joe Kinnear. "They were head and shoulders above us. It was one-sided because they are world-class. We had deficiencies in so many areas." This was a rout but even so, the scoreline did not reflect Liverpool's superiority. The reason for that was Shay Given. The match began as a duel between Given against Gerrard, but ended up with the goalkeeper taking on much of the Liverpool team. He started by repelling a Dirk Kuyt shot, before keeping out a pair of efforts from Gerrard. Lucas Leiva was thwarted three times and Hyypia once. But even Given could not halt Liverpool forever. Gerrard provided an emphatic finish to Benayoun's cutback from the by-line. Five minutes later, Hyypia headed in Gerard's delivery from the right flank. Indeed, Newcastle proved unable to deal with Gerrard's corners throughout and another was converted, at the second time of asking, by Babel. Finally, the Liverpool skipper completed a brace to accompany his pair of assists when he accelerated on to Lucas' precise pass to dink a shot over Given. With Gerrard withdrawn - seemingly for Newcastle's protection - Liverpool added a fifth, Xabi Alonso converting a penalty. In the final analysis David Edgar's header for Newcastle, on the stroke of half-time, only impacted on Liverpool's goal difference. It added to the feeling from Anfield that they can finally secure a 19th title. The assistant manager Sammy Lee said: "We've got a belief; it's not an arrogance. We prepare to succeed; we don't prepare to fail." While Rafa Benitez continued his recovery from kidney stones, Lee hinted that Liverpool's manager is too much of a perfectionist to savour it. He added: "Rafa being Rafa, he'll be looking at the DVD now to see where we can improve." There are plenty of areas of improvement for Newcastle. Movement at the top of the club has been ruled out now, however. Ashley had said in a statement: "I have withdrawn Newcastle United from the market and for me 2009 will be the year in which we drive the club forward together." This hardly epresented an auspicious start."
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