LIVERPOOL // Whoever the best footballer in the Premier League is, it is simpler to name the most important. Luis Suarez has become indispensable to Liverpool and, while their supporters arrived at Anfield to pay tribute to Steven Gerrard, they departed thankful for the striker.
The Englishman became the 10th player to make 600 appearances for the club but a landmark occasion for him was rendered memorable by the performance of Suarez.
Liverpool's acute striker shortage - he is the only fit senior forward - has rendered him all the more significant and Suarez is rising to the responsibility.
Just as he tormented Everton in last week's Merseyside derby, he terrorised Newcastle United yesterday, sparing his side defeat with a tour de force.
When Liverpool trailed to Yohan Cabaye's lovely goal, a fifth loss in brief reign of Brendan Rodgers at Anfield was on the cards. Instead, spurred on by Suarez, Liverpool ended disappointed they could not convert dominance into victory.
They almost did. Deep into added time, Suarez's free kick looped up off Papiss Cisse, over the jumping Jonjo Shelvey and, with goalkeeper Tim Krul getting the finest of touches, on to the Newcastle bar.
His equaliser was merely one indication Newcastle could not cope with his incessant running.
"He was unplayable," said Rodgers. The Newcastle captain could testify to that. Fabricio Coloccini was sufficiently rattled to rake his studs down the back of Suarez's calf and receive the red card he deserved.
"It doesn't look too clever but I don't think there is any intent there," said Alan Pardew, his manager. That was not how it appeared.
"I think Coloccini was frustrated," Rodgers said. Whichever, the Argentine was handed the part of villain in the latest edition of the Suarez show.
Given his ubiquity, it bore distinct similarities to earlier episodes. A regular plot is Suarez appealing in vain for a penalty; an early entreaty, against Coloccini, was waved away by the referee Anthony Taylor.
Other storylines are familiar, chances the inevitable products of Suarez's pace and persistence. The Uruguayan's darting run culminated in a low drive that Krul blocked with his feet; a free kick brushed with the roof of the net; a header sailed wide
At times, being Suarez - or perhaps, following Liverpool's recent television documentary, Being: Suarez - can seem a programme without a finish. Yet, regular as his misses are, the South American also scores at a respectable rate.
A 10th of the season was slid into an open goal after Suarez chested down Jose Enrique's diagonal ball, a glorious piece of control to kill the ball, and sprinted past Krul to lay the ball into the unguided net.
"A brilliant goal," Rodgers said. "He's an absolute joy to work with and has got a real hunger for the game."
And, inevitably, Suarez's appetite was not sated. He set up first Shelvey and then Raheem Sterling as the youngsters almost supplied a winner. In another recurring theme for Liverpool, however, it did not come.
"I thought our performance was outstanding," Rodgers said. "It is five draws now in 10 league and games and of those draws, we should have won at least three."
But defeats have been more frequent than victories and another was threatened when Newcastle, without a victory at Anfield since 1994, took the lead.
Hatem Ben Arfa sped clear, turned away from the former Newcastle left-back Enrique and delivered a deep cross.
Cabaye cushioned the ball with his first touch. His second was better still, rifling a shot past Brad Jones from an improbable angle.
"I honestly felt when we scored first we would win the game," Pardew said. They could yet have done. As Liverpool committed more men forward, Cisse, Ben Arfa and substitute Sammy Ameobi could have punished them on the counterattack.
But a hard-earned point came at a considerable cost. Unless Newcastle appeal against his red card, Coloccini will serve a three-match ban while three players, James Perch, Demba Ba and Cabaye, went off with injuries of varying severity.
"I've now got a much smaller squad than when we started the game," Pardew said. In one department, at least, however, he has options Rodgers can only envy. Liverpool have a solitary striker. But what a striker.