Liverpool kept alive their English Premier League title hopes with a 3-0 win over a Newcastle side who have failed to be buoyed by the arrival of club legend Alan Shearer as manager.
|Fair Kop: Barton sees red after his tackle on Alonso [GALLO/GETTY]
The Reds overcame the absence of Fernando Torres at Anfield with a clinical display that could have been even worse for Newcastle as the hosts rattled a succession of efforts against the bar.
The gap at the top is now down to three points with three games remaining, but leaders Manchester United have a game in hand.
Riches to rags
Newcastle will consider that they have far weightier matters on their minds, staring at a first relegation after 16 years in the top flight that has seen them challenge for the title and play in the European Champions League before slipping into mediocrity under a ragtag band of different managers.
Torres was absent from Rafael Benitez's side after tweaking his hamstring in training on the eve of Liverpool's penultimate home game of the season.
But goals from Yossi Benayoun, Dirk Kuyt and Lucas on Sunday left Shearer still looking for his first win after four games in charge.
Liverpool boss Benitez is refusing to concede defeat in the title race, particularly as United still have tricky matches with Manchester City and Arsenal to negotiate.
His side have now taken 22 points from the last 24 on offer after they easily brushed aside Newcastle, played the final 13 minutes with 10 men after Joey Barton was sent off for a two-footed challenge on Spain midfielder Xabi Alonso.
Barton was making his first appearance since the end of January because of injury but the Liverpool-born midfielder will now miss the remaining three games of the season after his second red card at Anfield in three years.
Worringly for Benitez, Alonso was taken off the pitch on a stretcher with a suspected ankle injury and he could miss Liverpool's last three matches against West Ham, West Brom and Tottenham.
Newcastle meanwhile are three points adrift of safety and have now failed to win their last 10 league games.
Liverpool welcomed back captain Steven Gerrard after a four-match absence due to a groin injury.
And after a slow start they established a 2-0 half-time lead which put them within sight of their seventh win in eight league games.
There was a hint of offside when Benayoun broke the deadlock from close range with his eighth goal of the campaign in the 22nd minute, Kuyt's cross hitting the Israel international on the knee before rolling over the line.
Yet if Newcastle felt aggrieved, they only had themselves to blame as Kuyt doubled the lead with a powerful 28th minute header after outjumping the visitors defence to head home his 14th goal of the season.
Newcastle, despite a bright opening 20 minutes, failed to seriously test Liverpool keeper Jose Reina and were fortunate not to find themselves further behind at half time.
The visitors, under the interim charge of former Newcastle and England forward Shearer, opted to start Michael Owen on the substitutes bench on his return to his former club.
England striker Owen scored 26 Premier League goals against Newcastle as a Liverpool player but the 29-year-old has not found the net since January.
That left Mark Viduka and Peter Lovenkrands to lead the attack yet both struggled to make an impact as Newcastle's relegation problems increased.
Alonso, who'd already hit the woodwork, struck the bar a second time in the 73rd minute before Newcastle's problems increased when Barton was sent off four minutes later for a needless two-footed challenge on the midfielder.
Shearer still managed a smile when the former BBC Match of the Day studio pundit was ribbed with cries of "You should have stayed on TV" by the Anfield crowd.
But the smile disappeared as Liverpool made the advantage of an extra man count when substitute Lucas made it 3-0, and there was still time for Gerrard to rattle the long-suffering woodwork.
In the other game of the day Everton moved ahead of Aston Villa and into fifth place by beating Sunderland 2-0 and leaving the Black Cats only four points above the relegation zone.
Steven Pienaar gave Everton the lead in the 48th with a close range shot after Phil Neville and Jo had opened up the Sunderland defence.
Marouane Fellaini turned home a cross from Pienaar in the 71st.
Birmingham City returned to the Premier League when they captured the second promotion spot in the League Championship by winning 2-1 at Reading.
The loss means that the Royals, who were relegated last season, now have to try and recapture their top-flight status through the playoffs.
Sheffield United, Burnley and Preston are also in the playoffs to decide the third club to be promoted along with Birmingham and Wolves, who finished at the top of the standings and ended the season with a 1-0 victory over Doncaster.