LIVERPOOL FC have at best ticked over this season. The club’s followers have shown a form of patience that belies modern football and many other sets of supporters would have been calling for the manager’s head.
That patience hadn’t been quite rewarded before today’s game. Paul Tomkins wrote recently that Liverpool hadn’t quite recorded a big win that felt like things were back on track.
Today, that big win has arrived.
Numerous times over the last 18 months, Liverpool haven’t got the results that their performances have deserved. Ironically, they have played much better this season and came away with zero points.
This time, they snatched victory, and after a difficult two years in the Premier League, Liverpool fans should milk that for everything it’s worth.
Although the away side started brightly, West Ham recorded the first big opportunity on goal. On 7 minutes, Mohamed Diame’s curled shot took a deflection off Carlton Cole which flashed just wide of the left-hand post.
Glen Johnson meanwhile had made a magnificent contribution to the early stages of the game – against his old club – and his enterprising start was rewarded on 11 minutes. The so far vastly underrated Liverpool full-back cut inside from a wide area and fired in a blockbusting shot into the top right-hand corner.
A few minutes later, Liverpool came agonisingly close to doubling their lead. Johnson again was the orchestrator, crossing in to Raheem Sterling who curled in a right-footed shot from 12 yards that flew just wide of the post.
The game was playing out just how Liverpool would have wanted, but suddenly they lost control and West Ham quickly began to impose their Sam Allardyce-style tactics (the arch nemesis of Rodgers’ philosophy) on proceedings and their physical presence gave them a route back into the game.
After 36 minutes, West Ham notched what was probably a deserved equaliser, but it came from a completely undeserved penalty.
‘Ball to hand’ has become a thing of the past, even before today’s game. But Lee Probert consigned it to the history books forever more after giving a handball against Joe Allen.
Diame’s volley was blocked by the Welshman’s arm, but it was there for the purposes of human biology i.e. balance. The ball nearly took his arm off, but the referee gave a penalty, taken very well by Mark Noble, who gave Reina no chance by slotting it perfectly into the bottom left-hand corner.
West Ham were clearly on top and Liverpool were being bullied. The second goal looked inevitable.
Conceding just before half-time is always a problem, especially when a team is trying to ride things out and stay in the game, and West Ham carried their momentum into the first 15 minutes of the second half and looked like increasing their lead.
But Liverpool – willed on by a superb away following (as usual) – rolled their sleeves up and grew back into the game around about the hour mark.
On 67 minutes, Raheem Sterling had a deflected shot tipped over by Jussi Jaaskelainen and that save seemed to be the turning point, from that moment, it was one long spell after another of Liverpool possession.
Jonjo Shelvey – deputising for Luis Suarez in attack – headed wide from Stewart Downing’s cross a few minutes later. He should have done better.
Despite their territorial dominance, it looked to be a disappointing day, especially when Liverpool had failed to properly breach West Ham’s defensive line, but somewhat out of the blue, an unlikely player fired the Reds level on 76 minutes.
A neat one-two between Shelvey and Sterling culminated in the latter sliding an expertly weighted through-ball to Joe Cole (an early substitute for an injured Jose Enrique), who cut inside and slotted a left-footed shot across Jaaskelainen and into the bottom right-hand corner.
The away end went into raptures, and to reiterate, the travelling Koppites’ support was incredible in the second half. Liverpool are a fearsome commodity when players and fans unite in such a manner, and the goal instantly sparked hope of an unlikely winner.
A few minutes later, that winner came.
Jordan Henderson – a replacement for the excellent but tiring Lucas on 71 minutes – fired in a dangerous low cross from the right, straight down the corridor of uncertainty, and James Collins’ attempted interception looped over Jaaskelainen and into the net.
A tense finish ensued, with West Ham continuing to bombard Liverpool with long balls, but the visitors held on bravely for a precious victory.
As already stated above, there is always something extremely gratifying about snatching a win in these circumstances. Those feelings are heightened in the knowledge that Liverpool have been on the receiving end of such results when their displays have deserved much more.
But the timing of this win is the factor which could prove extremely important. We have felt for a while now that Liverpool are hitting some kind of form, but before this victory, things were on a knife-edge.
Lose and it’s back to square one, win and things are back on track. Thankfully, the latter scenario has transpired and with two winnable home games on the horizon, Liverpool could find themselves extremely close to fourth place within a fortnight.
All of this is before the club have the opportunity to strengthen their ranks in the January transfer window, and even more significantly, it came without the services of Liverpool’s star player.
A massive poke in the eye for those who have accused Liverpool of being a one-man team.
L4L Man of the Match: Glen Johnson. He struggled to contain Matt Jarvis at times but his attacking play is incredibly effective, whilst his calmness and maturity are starting to have a growing influence at the club. We argued on here previously that Johnson is one of the most underrated full-backs in world football. Forget that, he is actually one of the best.
Follow me on Twitter: @antonyjlfc