Newcastle recorded their fourth straight victory as substitute Ayoze Perez secured them a 1-0 home win over Liverpool.
The marked upturn in form for Alan Pardew’s Magpies continued on Saturday as Perez – the match-winner at Tottenham in their last league outing – struck the only goal of the game in the 73rd minute at St James’ Park, following a defensive mistake by Alberto Moreno.
The three points moved Newcastle up to ninth ahead of the rest of the weekend’s top-flight action, just one point behind the seventh-place Reds.
Pardew made significant changes after Wednesday’s 2-0 Capital One Cup victory at Manchester City with Rob Elliot, Massadio Haidara, Ryan Taylor, Rolando Aarons and Adam Armstrong making way for Tim Krul, Steven Taylor, Moussa Sissoko, Sammy Ameobi and Papiss Cisse.
Mario Balotelli returned to Liverpool’s starting line-up after scoring his first goal in nine games against Swansea in midweek. The Italian striker was one of seven changes to the side which progressed to the Capital One Cup quarter-finals as he, Simon Mignolet, Moreno, Martin Skrtel, Steven Gerrard, Joe Allen and Raheem Sterling replaced Rickie Lambert, Brad Jones, Javier Manquillo, Kolo Toure, Lucas Leiva, Lazar Markovic and Fabio Borini.
After Skrtel deflected a fourth-minute Cisse shot wide, Newcastle had a penalty appeal turned down when Allen challenged Sissoko in the Liverpool penalty area, but Andre Marriner quickly waved play on.
The visitors were noticeably struggling to impose themselves on the game, with lone striker Balotelli and wide-man Sterling too often isolated whereas holding midfielder Mehdi Abeid was coming to the fore for the hosts.
Gabriel Obertan had to be stretchered off on 27 minutes with what looked to be a torn thigh muscle, allowing midweek goal hero Aarons to enter the fray.
Mignolet needed the help of defender Glen Johnson to head Cisse’s 37th-minute shot off the line but it was Skrtel who had the best chance of the first half when he flashed a header wide of the post in the 40th minute from Gerrard’s corner.
Cisse might have caused problems for Mignolet in injury time after Skrtel had been booked for a cynical trip on Sissoko two yards outside the penalty area, but the Senegal international lifted his effort high over the bar.
Perez replaced Cisse – who had been struggling with a knee problem – before the restart, and Sissoko was somewhat fortunate to only receive a booking soon after for a studs-up challenge on Allen.
The visitors went close five minutes after the interval when Balotelli forced a solid save from Krul with a dipping, swerving free-kick, and the Holland international had to pluck another effort from the Italian out of the air five minutes later.
In the 57th minute, Krul made a superb one-handed save to his left to keep out Philippe Coutinho’s header from a Gerrard cross from the right – but the flag had already been raised for offside.
Gerrard was playing significantly higher up the pitch and was far more effective as a result, although full-back Paul Dummett gave the visitors something to think about when he strode forward on the hour and blasted a left-foot drive just over.
Remy Cabella came on for Ameobi and Borini replaced Allen midway through the second period as Pardew and Brendan Rodgers looked to spice up their attacks.
The home side picked up the pace and drove Liverpool back towards their own goal as the half wore on, but with Gerrard pulling the strings, the Reds were a different proposition and Borini fired wide from distance after running on to Sterling’s 70th-minute lay-off.
Liverpool took a more direct approach in their search to break the deadlock, but ended up being punished by Perez.
After a one-two with Dummett, Sissoko’s pass intended for Cabella was intercepted but crucially not cleared by the stumbling Moreno, allowing Newcastle’s Spanish ace to hammer the loose ball home.
Mignolet made an impressive save shortly afterwards to deny Cabella after a quick break involving Perez, while the visitors pushed for an equaliser at the other end – but to no avail.
Newcastle’s next assignment is away to West Brom on Sunday week.
Liverpool, who failed to score away from home in the league for the first time in almost a year, are away to Real Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday night before then hosting Chelsea next Saturday.