Patience ranks high among Brendan Rodgers's virtues as a coach but, late on Saturday afternoon, Liverpool's manager hinted that, right now, he is a man in a little bit of a hurry.

When someone inquired if finishing sixth this season would represent adequate progress at Anfield, Rodgers barely paused for thought. "Sixth would be an improvement but it would be a disappointment," he said. "Especially when there are five places above you."

There is a time for incremental progress and a time for giant leaps forward and it appears that after last season's painstaking groundwork, Liverpool are on the brink of the latter.

Forget the defensive deficiencies which enabled an impressive Newcastle United to secure a point despite playing for almost 50 minutes with 10 men in the wake of Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa's sending off, Rodgers is clearly creating something special.

For the moment perfection is a torch Liverpool sometimes touch but cannot yet really hold. No matter; with their playmaker, Philippe Coutinho, on the brink of returning to a side which felt the absence of Lucas and José Enrique on Tyneside, rivals in London and Manchester have cause for concern. Particularly considering the attacking chemistry of Luis Suárez and Daniel Sturridge.

"We finished seventh last season and, in terms of finance and everything else, that jump to the top end is massive," said Rodgers. "But we'll continue to fight to get there. We now have a real strong culture and supporters can see the direction we're heading in.

"In terms of the money we've spent it's nowhere near the top four or five clubs but Liverpool is one of the world's great football institutions and we're here to compete. We need to reply on our coaching and bringing players in who are hungry to succeed. We're respecting the values and ethics of the club."

Ethics and values seemed alien concepts when Mike Ashley, Newcastle's owner, made Joe Kinnear director of football this summer and again when Yohan Cabaye staged an August strike in a forlorn attempt to wangle a move to Arsenal.

Against all odds, though, Rodgers's old friend, Alan Pardew, is doing a stellar job. Having ditched last season's ugly, unproductive, long-ball game Newcastle are now arranged in 4-3-3 guise and playing some thrillingly intricate stuff.

With Cheik Tioté outstanding alongside Cabaye in central midfield they gave Liverpool quite a fright, taking the lead courtesy of the latter's swerving, dipping long-range shot beyond Simon Mignolet.

Then Yanga-Mbiwa placed an ill-advised hand on Suárez's shoulder after the Uruguayan's connection with Sturridge's brilliant ball in the penalty area, thereby conceding a penalty and collecting a red card. Off went the centre-half and up stepped Steven Gerrard to score his 100th Premier League goal.

Almost instantly Pardew's job security had become a little more fragile but his 10-man team responded by sending a defiant message to Ashley. When the substitute defender Paul Dummett hooked out his left boot to divert a Cabaye free-kick home from close range Newcastle were ahead and Liverpool had conceded a fourth dead-ball goal in six games.

"We have to be more aggressive and switched on at set pieces," said Rodgers, who knows it is not enough to be frequently irresistible going forward. "It's about concentration, not communication.

"We've a hell of a lot of scope for improvement but I think that, from January this year, our points gained places us in the top three. Hopefully that's an indication we're moving along well."

Rodgers's new 3–4–1–2 system has helped make Liverpool easy on the eye, not to mention showcasing Suárez and Sturridge's silky fluidity but, on Saturday, Aly Cissokho's sometimes struggled in Enrique's left-wing back role, his faulty positioning offering Pardew hope.

It was possibly coincidental but Liverpool equalised for the second time after switching to a back four. Once again it was a goal conjured by the "SAS", Suárez's sublime delivery cueing up Sturridge for a scoring header.

Tim Krul had been fatally lured off his line but otherwise the Newcastle goalkeeper helped ensure Liverpool's supreme strikers did not further embellish the scoresheet.

"After what happened here against Liverpool last season – [Newcastle lost 6-0] – the sending off made it felt like it was going to be another of those days," said Krul. "You could hear it a little bit from the crowd, you knew people must be fearing the worst."

Ultimately though, the afternoon felt like an epiphany. "We came out fighting and the draw feels like a win," said Krul. "Without a doubt we've shown we have togetherness and character; everything flowed from our character. We go to Sunderland next Sunday with fantastic confidence and togetherness."

Man of the match: Cheik Tioté (Newcastle United)