For Newcastle United, a valuable draw that Alan Pardew can construe as a moral victory. For Liverpool, not only no repeat of last spring's six-goal triumph here, but a gentle, thoroughly entertaining, reminder that Brendan Rodgers's renascent side retain a vulnerable streak.
Going forward, Liverpool frequently appeared bewitching title contenders, but Rodgers knows that some defensive tightening is required if the Anfield glory days really are to be reprised.
His old friend Pardew – whose commendably spirited team played for almost 50 minutes with 10 men after Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa's dismissal – exhibited fabulous defiance for someone widely portrayed as "a dead man walking", apparently forever on the brink of being sacked by Mike Ashley. If Newcastle's owner is hoping for a meek surrender, he seems destined for disappointment; particularly as his manager has succeeded in breathing new life into Cheik Tioté.
Captain for the day, the Ivorian enforcer shone in central midfield, proving a formidable reason why Liverpool never quite enjoyed full control. "It was just one of those games when we couldn't quite make the breakthrough," said Rodgers. "There's a little bit of frustration, but St James' Park is never an easy place to come and it's never easy against 10 men. I've no complaints, we played some exceptional football."
Newcastle fans staged a pre-match march through the city, protesting about Ashley's stewardship of the club. He is unlikely to have been perturbed; the bottom line was that the stadium had filled to near its 52,000 capacity by kick-off. Sadly, boycotting games probably represents the only way for supporters to get the message through. So far there is no sign of that happening – although it might were Joe Kinnear to replace Pardew – and those who turned up on Saturday are unlikely to have regretted the decision.
Configured in a slick 4-3-3 format permitting plenty of scope for sharp movement, smart short passes and frequent positional interchanging, Newcastle were almost unrecognisable from the rather less three-dimensional outfit that topped last season's Premier League long-ball table. They were confronted by the even more attractive 3-4-1-2 system with which Rodgers is reviving Liverpool, but, after resisting some sustained early pressure, Pardew's players assumed a deserved lead.
The goal was struck by Yohan Cabaye's right boot. Cabaye may not have been quite forgiven for going on strike earlier this season, but he moved a fraction closer to atonement courtesy of a surging run from the halfway line, followed by a wonderfully swerving, dipping 35-yard shot that curled around Mamadou Sakho before eluding the initially unsighted Simon Mignolet.
Suddenly, the absence of Lucas and José Enrique looked to be weighing heavily on Liverpool, especially as Aly Cissokho's positioning frequently seemed suspect.
They nearly fell further behind when Mignolet just managed to parry Moussa Sissoko's stinging shot – but when, untypically, Tioté conceded possession, almost imperceptibly the power balance shifted towards the visitors.
Despite Tim Krul doing well to smother Daniel Sturridge's ensuing shot, Liverpool had renewed hope and once Yanga-Mbiwa stupidly placed a hand on Luis Suárez's shoulder before the Uruguayan's collapse in the penalty area, he was shown a red card for denying a goalscoring opportunity and the Reds were awarded a spot-kick.
Making no mistake from the spot, Steven Gerrard registered his 100th Premier League goal. "An incredible player and a great captain," said Rodgers. "All the superlatives about him are true."
Pardew was left to rue the consequences of Yanga-Mbiwa's most generous invitation for Suárez – cleverly put through by Sturridge – to win a penalty. "I've no massive problem with the sending off," said a manager who has been all out of luck in recent months.
This unfortunate trend seemed to be continuing as Gerrard, already booked for a tug on Cabaye, escaped a second yellow card for another foul on Loïc Rémy and Martin Skrtel's splendid recovery tackle denied Rémy a goal.
Pardew looked suitably glum but his 10 players failed to share such pessimism. When Cabaye floated in a free-kick and Liverpool's defensive organisation self-destructed, the substitute defender Paul Dummett volleyed a left‑foot shot beyond Mignolet from close range.
Liverpool switched to a back four. Within minutes they were level, Sturridge connecting with Suárez's sublime delivery before – aware that Krul had been lured off his line – heading into an unguarded net.
Both he and Suárez spurned subsequent chances, but defeat would have been horribly harsh on Newcastle.