NEWCASTLE - Liverpool's fragile confidence suffered another blow as they suffered a 1-0 Premier League defeat at Newcastle United ahead of Tuesday's encounter with Real Madrid in the Champions League.
Manager Brendan Rodgers was far from critical of players who have won only twice in seven league games, but a repeat of Saturday unconvincing performance would certainly result in an embarrassing night at the Bernabeu.
Ayoze Perez, the 21-year-old Spanish forward who replaced Papiss Cisse at half-time, scored a 73rd-minute winner, following up his goal in last weekend's victory at Tottenham Hotspur.
He has found the net more times in two appearance than Liverpool's Mario Balotelli has done in his last 24 Premier League games for his current employers and former club Manchester City.
And Balotelli is not the only headache for Rodgers ahead of Tuesday's test against the European champions.
Steven Gerrard's midfield influence was negligible, amid doubts over his future at the club, while Raheem Sterling contributed little and fatal hesitation from Alberto Moreno led to the goal.
But Rodgers is relishing the trip to Madrid, saying: "It's a wonderful game for us on Tuesday. It is a big one against the best in the world at the moment. We will go into the game hoping to get something out of it.
"Good or bad, we can't complain. We have worked very hard for a couple of years to get to this level and playing against Real Madrid in the Bernabeu says we've been doing OK."
However, that previous success was largely based on the goals of Luis Suarez and the forward threat from Daniel Sturridge, one of whom has left the club and one of whom is currently injured.
"We had enough of the ball, but just lacked that bit of creativity and invention in the final third," Rodgers added.
"Over the last 18 months we have been a team with a real threat going forward, but we have lost 80 per cent of our goals out of the team, with Luis going and Daniel out.
"We can't keep going on about it, but it is an item as to why we're not getting so many goals."
'Well, it is Halloween'
Inevitably, Rodgers had to defend Balotelli, who only emerged for the second half a second before referee Andre Marriner blew his whistle to restart the game.
"It wasn't his fault we lost the game. We lost it collectively," the Northern Irishman said. "I don't want to talk about Mario. It wasn't his fault."
Balotelli at least produced two attempts at goal during Liverpool's best spell shortly after half-time.
Until then, they had struggled to contain a Newcastle side that lost Gabriel Obertan and Cisse to injury before the start of the second period.
Otherwise, Newcastle were the more fluent side and, by the end, deserved their fourth successive win, which arrived after Perez pounced to lash home when Moreno failed to clear.
It is the latest chapter in Newcastle's transformation after manager Alan Pardew looked certain to be dismissed only a month ago. Now they are mid-table and have the look of a side capable of climbing higher.
Pardew had been under intense pressure from supporters, but here they hoisted a banner at the end that read: 'Pardew back from the dead'.
"Well, it is Halloween," Pardew joked. "If you are Newcastle manager, it is not all gin and tonics and aperitifs. There will be rough days. I always knew and I kept saying that we have good spirit and good talent.
"It was a great day for us. Liverpool are always a big target for this club and have had some big games against them. This was not an enthralling encounter, but interesting.
"Brendan surprised me by playing three at the back and that unsettled us at first. We struggled to have a foothold, but we have such pace in the team and we can defend deep and the back four were terrific."