Alan Pardew would probably prefer not to try to imagine what might have happened if Luis Suárez had played. The Uruguayan's suspension was supposed to make this a routine three points for Newcastle United but, instead of banishing lingering relegation fears, they folded in the face of Philippe Coutinho and friends.

With Coutinho midfield brilliance personified, Daniel Sturridge the striker he has long promised to be and Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing suggesting they were not such bad Anfield buys after all, this was the brightest of spring evenings for Brendan Rodgers but a strong contender for the worst 90 minutes of his good friend Pardew's career.

Newcastle's manager had demanded a performance "worthy of the black-and-white shirt" from his players but, judging by their display, several were evidently wearing earplugs.

The game had barely kicked off when Coutinho set the tone, the 20-year-old Brazilian picking out Glen Johnson on the right with the cutest of passes. The right-back – watched by the England manager, Roy Hodgson – delivered a superb low cross which Sturridge would surely have tapped in but for Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa's last-ditch, sliding intervention.

Failing to heed this reprieve, Pardew's defence foolishly stepped out following the half-clearance of a Downing corner. Moving up en masse, they left Rob Elliot horribly isolated and when the ball was looped back into the box by Downing, Daniel Agger, onside and alone in acres of space, duly planted a header well beyond the goalkeeper's grasp.

It quickly got worse for Pardew. Sturridge and Coutinho exchanged passes, the latter sending the striker racing through the middle and drawing Elliot off his line. With the goalkeeper committed, Sturridge unselfishly slipped the ball to Henderson. Arriving at pace, the former Sunderland midfielder seamlessly directed a crisp shot into the back of the net.

Henderson's sudden prominence served to revive unpleasant memories of the 3-0 defeat here by Sunderland a fortnight ago and as the crowd murmured and muttered its discontent, Pardew's increasingly agitated body language painted an uneasy portrait of a man under severe stress.

It was down to their quicker brains and faster feet but it often seemed as if Liverpool possessed an extra player. As Coutinho drifted nonchalantly away from Yohan Cabaye, Pardew shook his head. When Mathieu Debuchy became sucked into a concentration-diverting running dispute with Sturridge he flapped a fist in despair.

An amalgam of anger, frustration and sheer bewilderment was writ large on the Newcastle manager's face because this was a pale imitation of the side who finished fifth last season.

Twelve months ago Pardew was well on the way to coronation as manager of the year but now he was left cursing as James Perch, unmarked and six yards out, headed agonisingly wide when a Liverpool defence generally protected superbly by the excellent Lucas's deep-lying-midfield role was caught cold.

If only that chance had fallen to Papiss Cissé. Instead Pardew's lone striker was rendered virtually ineffective by lack of support from a malfunctioning midfield in which Cheik Tioté looked the faintest shadow of the warrior of old.

It was no surprise when Newcastle re-emerged for the second half with Hatem Ben Arfa – coveted by Liverpool – and Yoan Gouffran on in place of Perch and Jonas Gutiérrez. Tioté, meanwhile, had clearly been instructed to attempt to stick to Coutinho like glue.

The Ivorian, though, had clearly come unstuck and was nowhere to be seen as Coutinho surged forward after seizing on Ben Arfa's concession of possession. Deceiving the desperately back-pedalling Steven Taylor courtesy of an adroit step-over, Newcastle's nemesis dinked the ball to Sturridge. As the former Chelsea striker's rising shot hit the roof of the net Rodgers celebrated goal No3.

Sturridge soon had a second goal. Noting that Newcastle were suddenly holding a very high defensive line, Gerrard unleashed an intelligent long pass which left Henderson played onside by Debuchy and honing in on goal. A neat, highly astute little ball to Sturridge and an ensuing shot later the score became 4-0.

Newcastle's legion of technically accomplished but suddenly brittle and naive-looking French players had surrendered and were staggering around in apparent disbelief.

Next Fabio Borini used his first touch after replacing Gerrard to connect with Downing's delivery before shooting beyond Elliot. Then Debuchy, already booked, was sent off for an awful tackle on Coutinho and five down swiftly turned to six as Henderson's free-kick crept in, unchallenged, at the far post. It prefaced an intense touchline conversation between Pardew and Taylor.

"Going down," sang the Liverpool fans as all round them Newcastle supporters either booed or sat in head-in-hands mode wondering how it had come to this.