LIVERPOOL, England (AP) - With their title dreams extinguished, Liverpool’s players circled the pitch inside Anfield Stadium, heads bowed, to the backdrop of another passionately sung rendition of club anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
The final match of the Reds’ season could have been a celebration of the most unlikely championship triumph in Premier League history.
It ended up being a tale of what might have been.
Liverpool came up short Sunday in its bid for a first league title in 24 years, finishing two points behind champion Manchester City despite a come-from-behind 2-1 win over Newcastle.
Brendan Rodgers’ team did their part on what proved to be an anticlimactic last day, passing the 100-goal mark for the league campaign after near-identical strikes in the space of two second-half minutes by Daniel Agger and Daniel Sturridge. That clinched a club-record 26th league victory.
But Liverpool was also relying on a favor from West Ham at Etihad Stadium, which was always unlikely to happen. City won 2-0, keeping the trophy out of Liverpool’s grasp.
“I’m devastated for the fans,” Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard said. “Although we’ve made them dream, I’m devastated we didn’t go that one step more.”
If there was any frustration inside Rodgers after the final whistle, he hid it well.
For Liverpool had the destiny of the title in its hands just three weeks ago, when it beat Norwich 3-2 for an 11th straight win. Then came a decisive nine days when Rodgers’ side lost 2-0 at home to Chelsea before conceding three goals in the final 11 minutes to draw 3-3 at Crystal Palace.
It meant there was more hope than expectation heading into the Newcastle match.
“We finished the season winning 12 games out of 14,” Rodgers said. “So the players have shown incredible level of consistency and quality in that period … we’d prefer to finish top, but it’s a great mark of progress this season.”
Anfield has seen previous last-game drama, with Arsenal winning 2-0 here in 1989 thanks to an injury-time goal from Michael Thomas to snatch the title from Liverpool.
Twenty-five years on, Journey’s famous song “Don’t Stop Believin’” blared out before kickoff. But all hope among Liverpool fans was gone by halftime, with their team 1-0 down thanks to Martin Skrtel’s own goal in the 20th minute and City having virtually guaranteed finishing first by going 1-0 up against West Ham.
After a poor first half, Liverpool steeled itself to finish the season on a high, with Gerrard crossing for Agger to volley in after 63 minutes and then producing a similar delivery for Sturridge to tap in at the far post. It was all in vain.
“When we went in front and there was no roar from the crowd, I realized the story was elsewhere,” Rodgers said.
Having started so positively, Newcastle imploded after the break in conceding two quick goals and then seeing Shola Ameobi and Paul Dummett both sent off. Ameobi received two yellow cards in 10 seconds for dissent as he argued with the referee about fouls in the build-up to Liverpool’s goals, before Dummett departed after a high challenge on Luis Suarez.
Sunday was all about Liverpool, though, not Newcastle.
From a seventh-place finish last season, Liverpool almost achieved what many considered impossible.
“The word now is belief - belief that we can be up there challenging,” said Rodgers, who read out to his squad before the match a letter from a young fan called Ben - sent before the start of the season - which urged the players to believe they could win the title.
“Probably at the time, the players and maybe the staff all thought the letter was maybe far-fetched,” Rodgers added. “But I truly believe we could progress.
“For us, it’s been a wonderful campaign of growth and development.”
The Premier League remains elusive to the 33-year-old Gerrard, who sees hope for the future.
“I thought my days of title races had gone,” he said, “but having played with this group of players this year the dream is back. Although I’ve only got a couple of years left I still believe I can get there.”
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