Liverpool 2-2 Newcastle United: Reds once again throw away two-goal lead on Rafa Benitez's Anfield return

Liverpool threw away the opportunity to win their fifth consecutive game in all competitions for the first time in two years as they let slip a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with Newcastle United on Rafael Benitez's return to Anfield on Saturday. 

With the home supporters still singing the name of their former manager, who inspired them to their fifth European Cup almost exactly 11 years ago, Daniel Sturridge continued his fine goalscoring form with an impressive turn and finish after just a minute of play.

Another well-worked goal, this time Adam Lallana finding the top corner from the edge of the box with a curling finish, doubled the Reds' lead going into the interval.

Having been by far the better team in the first-half, it was a less-than-comfortable second-half for the home side after Papiss Cissé reduced the arrears on the 48th minute - heading in after Simon Mignolet failed to meet a cross.

And Jack Colback's effort, finding the back of the net from a Dejan Lovren deflection, completed the turnaround - which Newcastle held on to for their first away point of 2016 to keep their chances of top-flight survival very much alive.

Liverpool meanwhile wasted the opportunity to move just two points behind Manchester United in fifth, instead remaining seventh in the table on 55 points after a disappointing self-capitulation.

Changes again for Reds with Sakho the notable absentee

After the shocking news emerged that Mamadou Sakho had recently a failed drugs test, the Frenchman wasn't selected despite the fact he's not officially suspended while UEFA investigate the situation.

Kolo Touré therefore came in for Sakho, with young right-back Connor Randall another one of five changes from the team that cruised to a 4-0 win over Everton in midweek.

In midfield, Kevin Stewart and Joe Allen replaced Lucas Leiva and Philippe Coutinho, with Divock Origi also out due to an ankle ligament injury sustained in the Merseyside Derby.

With the striker's season potentially over, Daniel Sturridge was the man Jürgen Klopp turned to up top, supported by a cast that included Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana.

Klopp and Benitez on the touchline before kick-off. (Picture: Getty Images)
Klopp and Benitez on the touchline before kick-off. (Picture: Getty Images)

Newcastle however didn't make a single change from the starting eleven that earned a point in a 1-1 draw with Manchester City on Tuesday night, with their only change Henri Saivet dropping off of the substitutes' bench in favour of Kevin Mbabu.

Former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez kept ex-Reds midfielder Jonjo Shelvey on the bench, where he was joined by the likes of Georginio Wijnaldum, Aleksandar Mitrović and Rolando Aarons.

Reds steal early advantage thanks to Sturridge strike

The Premier League's top scorers in 2016, with 34 goals, went into the game having scored four goals in their last three fixtures in all competitions at Anfield and continued that blistering form early on.

Despite the overhanging cloud of Sakho's situation, which could see him handed a lengthy ban if he cannot prove his innocence, the Reds started with intent on a sunny afternoon on L4 and Daniel Sturridge, who had scored six goals in six league starts against the Magpies going into this game, broke the deadlock with a moment of brilliance after just 76 seconds. 

With his back to goal, Sturridge controlled Alberto Moreno's lofted ball into the box on his chest before swivelling on the spot to wriggle free from two defenders and drive a half-volley low into the bottom corner past Karl Darlow for his fourth goal in his last five games.

Sturridge celebrates his early opener. (Picture: Getty Images)
Sturridge celebrates his early opener. (Picture: Getty Images)

But for a spell of 15 minutes, the game was otherwise slowed by knocks to defenders Moreno and Dejan Lovren, who spent spells on the turf receiving treatment before fortunately recovering to continue. 

That meant there was little meaningful action between the game's opening goal and Liverpool's next half-chance, which also came courtesy of Moreno breaking free from Andros Townsend's grasp down the left side. After being picked out by James Milner, the defender's cross caused some confusion in the Newcastle box - but Firmino's effort was blocked.

Sturridge, starting just days before the Reds travel to Villarreal for the first-leg of their Europa League semi-final where it is assumed he will also start from the off, continued to look dangerous - firing a couple of yards over after searching for the top corner with an ambitious long-range strike.

It was Liverpool who were on the ascendancy as Newcastle's miserable Anfield run - having not won since April 1994 under Kevin Keegan - threatened to continue. With their crisp passing and fluid movement and link-up going forward, it seemed like it might be only a matter of time before the hosts extended their lead.

Lallana's stunner doubles the lead after 30 minutes

And that inevitable second goal came just before the half-hour mark, again triggered by another marauding Moreno run down the left side. Left in acres of space, the left-back drove forward, cut inside in the final third and squared to Adam Lallana on the edge of the box. From there, the midfielder needed just one touch to open up his body and fire a stunning left-footed curler into the top corner which left Karl Darlow helpless. 

That goal meant Liverpool have scored more goals from outside the box than any other top-flight team this current campaign, with Lallana's perfectly-placed effort their 14th long-range goal - and it only furthered their hunger for goals.

The Liverpool squad after Lallana made it 2-0. (Picture: Getty Images)
The Liverpool squad after Lallana made it 2-0. (Picture: Getty Images)

A high-on-confidence Liverpool side were only denied a third by the outstretched limb of Chancel Mbemba's right leg, which was the only thing preventing Roberto Firmino from getting a shot away from close-range, after an excellent first touch pulled him into space inside the box.

As they piled on the pressure, the Kop were soon screaming for a penalty after the ball appeared to strike the arm of Paul Dummett from a Firmino cross, but Andre Marriner was unmoved.

Almost immediately up the other end, Newcastle themselves wanted a spot kick after Ayoze Pérez went down inside the area under the pressure of Connor Randall - but once again Marriner wasn't interested in pointing to the spot.

Just a few minutes before half-time, Newcastle forged their most troubling move yet when Vurnon Anita sprinted down the right and picked out Papiss Cissé's incisive run into the box - but after the striker headed wide, the offside flag was raised.

Crosses looked like their most likely means of getting back into the game, but Pérez couldn't latch on to Townsend's back post delivery in time to make anything of it before Anita lashed a wild effort over the bar after running on to Cisse's ball across the box.

Substitution at the break triggers change in momentum in Newcastle's favour

Benitez turned to Wijnaldum at the interval, bringing off Pérez to add some more invention in midfield and attempt to swing the momentum in the visitors' favour.

It did just that as Mignolet came rushing off his line to meet Anita's cross but ended up underneath it, allowing Cisse to head into an empty net and put Newcastle back into the game.

Liverpool almost responded in perfect fashion but they were once again denied a penalty when Sturridge was tripped inside the box by Anita, whilst they were fortunate when Townsend fired over the crossbar on the counter after Cissé got the better of Mignolet. 

The panic amongst Liverpool soon had truly began to set in, ironic considering that the last 3pm kick-off they had played on a Saturday saw them throw away a two-goal lead to another North East team, Sunderland, also on home soil.

Colback celebrates pulling Newcastle level. (Picture: Getty Images)
Colback celebrates pulling Newcastle level. (Picture: Getty Images)

Having scored only their fourth goal in their last 10 league trips to Anfield through Cissé, it looked as though Newcastle were going to be left to retrieve another two-goal deficit just before the hour mark after Firmino bundled in from close-range when Darlow had failed to properly parry away Allen's header, but the Brazilian was rightly blown up for being a yard offside.

Unbeaten in their last 20 league games at home to Newcastle, Liverpool were asked questions as time wore on - meaning Klopp could ill-afford to make substitutions to rest important players for Thursday's journey to Spain.

The frenetic tempo and end-to-end tempo of the game played right into Newcastle's hands as they drew level through Jack Colback. He met a half-cleared cross to fire home, with the ball taking a deflection off of Dejan Lovren to beat Mignolet and put the away side on level terms.

Neither side able to find decisive third goal

As such, Klopp introduced Philippe Coutinho and Lucas Leiva with 20 minutes remaining - with the intention to stem the visitors' spirited revival but also to kickstart his own side back into gear. 

With Allen and Randall making way, Klopp switched to a back-three which saw Milner take up a right-back role - whilst Firmino appeared to join Sturridge up top.

Newcastle themselves made a second substitution, Mitrović coming on for Cissé to add more of a focal point up front, setting up an intriguing final 15 minutes.

Liverpool sought a goal to re-establish a lead, finding some joy down the right with cute balls in behind Dummett, but their efforts were in vain - Stewart misfiring from an enticing Dummett clearance and finding only the away end.

Darlow celebrates Newcastle's second goal in front of the away supporters. (Picture: Getty Images)
Darlow celebrates Newcastle's second goal in front of the away supporters. (Picture: Getty Images)

After Sturridge found space between two defenders and headed goalwards which Darlow saved comfortably, Klopp turned to young Sheyi Ojo - bringing on the bright and pacey forward for Lallana with seven minutes plus stoppage-time remaining - while former Liverpool midfielder Shelvey came on for Tiote for the away side.

Looking to be only the second team to beat the Reds in their last ten games home or away, and the first to beat them at Anfield in six matches, Newcastle pushed and pushed for a third goal to steal away all three points.

Coutinho came close to ruining those hopes, walking on to Ojo's low cross before seeing his shot blocked by Anita, but ultimately both teams had to settle for a share of the spoils - giving Newcastle their first point on the road since 13 December and denying the home side another confidence-boosting three points.