Sunday, 8 December 2013

Liverpool nail Hammers

However they go in, they all count.

Liverpool’s goals in their 4-1 victory over West Ham United at Anfield yesterday were not as aesthetically pleasing as the ones they netted versus Norwich in midweek, and they certainly won’t be appearing in December’s goal of the month competition! However, they were just as valuable, as they secured three more points for Brendan Rodgers’ men; taking them up to second place in the table thanks to City and Chelsea dropping points and setting them up well for a tricky festive fixture list.

Sam Allardyce’s side unsurprisingly proved more formidable opposition than Chris Hughton’s Canaries. With far more experience and expertise in putting ten men behind the ball and defending for their lives, the Hammers managed to keep the Reds’ at bay for most of the first period.

Fortune tends to favour those in form, though, and Liverpool got a stroke of luck just before the break which set them up nicely for the second half, Demel scoring an own goal to break the deadlock. Thankfully, the floodgates opened in the second period, and the Reds went on to claim a relatively comfortable 4-1 win, despite enduring a difficult ten minute spell after Skrtel’s own goal gave the visitors renewed hope.

The Londoners did more than just park the bus in the first half. They unexpectedly threatened as well, Jarvis directing an early header wide and then finding Maiga with a fantastic cross, which the 26-year old Mali man headed goalwards, forcing Mignolet to make an impressive save.

Encouragingly, the number 22 not only proved that he’s a quality shot stopper, but also demonstrated his distribution skills yesterday, sparking a superb counter attack after quarter of an hour when he threw the ball into space for Sterling after confidently catching a corner kick. The youngster, who turned 19 today, squared to Henderson, whose shot was unfortunately blocked.

A minute before the deadlock was broken, Sterling should have scored himself. Set through by the brilliant Coutinho, Sterling was presented with an excellent opportunity to convert but ended up scuffing his shot wide of the target.

Thankfully, West Ham shot themselves in the foot and undid all their hard work minutes before the interval. A relatively tame shot for Luis Suarez could have been held by Jaaskelainen, but instead he pushed it into the path of the backtracking Demel. The ball ricocheted off the Frenchman and rolled into the Anfield Road end net.

Pressing home their advantage, Liverpool netted a second two minutes after the restart. Sakho diverted Gerrard’s dangerous delivery goalwards and, although either Skrtel or James Collins got a touch to the ball before it crossed the line, the goal was awarded to the Frenchman. It was a fitting reward for the solid performance he put in after replacing the ill Agger at the back.

Sakho scored, even though Skrtel tried to claim it
Those two goals either side of the interval couldn’t have been more pivotal. Had the Reds failed to score them, West Ham seemed destined to frustrate their hosts into dropping all-important points that they can’t afford to squander if they are to maintain their lofty place in the Premier League table.

Irritatingly, though, Liverpool let the Londoners back into the contest midway through the second period. After Jaaskelainen made a couple of decent saves to deny Coutinho and Sterling, Skrtel scored his second own goal in the space of six days as he inadvertently diverted Jarvis’ header past Mignolet and into the back of the net.

It was frustrating not only because it let the Hammers back into the match, but also because it meant that once again the Merseysiders failed to keep a clean sheet. After keeping three clean sheets in their first three League matches, Liverpool have since managed to prevent their opponents netting only once more, and that was against the abysmal Fulham, who are struggling to score against anybody at the moment. However prolific Luis Suarez may be, the Reds can’t keep on relying on scoring more goals than their opponents, and must tighten up at the back as a matter of primary importance.

As Brendan Rodgers mentioned after the match, Liverpool’s response to conceding was pleasing. After enduring a tough ten minute spell, which included a worrying goalmouth scramble, the home side scored a third to put the outcome of the contest beyond doubt. Glen Johnson, who was sporting the captain’s armband after Steven Gerrard had pulled up with a hamstring strain and been substituted, whipped a sensational cross to the back post, where Suarez superbly headed home his fourteenth goal of the season.

The Uruguayan then scored his second as his blast took a huge deflection off Joey O’Brien to wrong foot Jaaskelainen. Before then, though, referee Michael Oliver rightly showed Kevin Nolan a red card for his completely unnecessary horror tackle from behind on Henderson.

At least he can enjoy his Christmas dinner now
It was such a stupid and pointless tackle that I wouldn’t be surprised if West Ham’s scouse skipper was trying to pick up a three-match ban so he can put his feet up over Christmas! He has a track record, after all, having been suspended for festive fixtures in the last three seasons. Admittedly Jon Flanagan was fortunate to avoid serious punishment for a similarly bad tackle on Stewart Downing only three minutes in, but that in no way excuses Nolan.

With Tottenham, Manchester City and Chelsea coming up over the Christmas period, Liverpool had to take maximum points from this match. Thankfully, they didn’t slip up and now head into those challenging, season-defining matches brimming with promise, optimism and, crucially, goals.

Bring on the big games!


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