Wednesday, 30th January 2008
Not that you’d realise that if you get your football news from the BBC, which for many years, has had a strange love affair with the red half of the “City Of Culture”. Those of us “of a certain age” will also remember that, in the days before blanket tv coverage of top-flight football on the box , the only week you could guarantee seeing your team on MOTD would be if you were playing Liverpool. Having said that, seeing us go down to this lot so many times in dubious circumstances over the years does make evenings like this one even sweeter.
Team news – when I finally got there (thank you so very much London Underground) – was that a 4-5-1 formation was in vogue this week. This meant no room for Ashton, who reverted to the bench, and on the left Boa-Morte was preferred to Etherington who joined Deano on the bench. Faubert became yet another to fall foul to the curse of the second injury but this was compensated for by the return of Solano, albeit only to the bench. This left us woth a starting line-up of Green, Neill, Mccartney, Upson, Ferdinand, Noble, Mullins, Ljungberg, Bowyer, Boa-Morte and Cole.
It was a cagey start. Chances were few and far between, though an early one did fall to Benayoun whose move to the opposition following yet another illegal approach during the close season meant that he was roundly booed each time the ball came close to him. The Israeli’s 5th minute shot ended up in the Bobby Moore following pressure that stemmed from a less than convincing clearance from Green, though to be fair to the keeper the back-pass had taken a wicked bobble just before reaching the ‘keeper.
As the game settled down we started to benefit from some sloppy play particularly from the vastly overrated Gerrard who somehow always manages to escape criticism from the press for his tendency to fall over under the least possible challenge. Perhaps if he were one of those untrustworthy “Johnny foreigner” someone might break ranks to point out that he is the worst diver in the Premiership. Either way we benefited from his determination to give the ball back to us as much as possible.
Our first proper chance came with 20 gone when a Linda throw from the left played pinball for a bit in the box before falling to LBM who put his chance over. It wasn’t the easiest of chances but he still ought to have worked the ‘keeper. Unfortunately LBM’s night wasn’t going to get any better.
We pushed forward and Ljungberg was looking especially dangerous on the right. Aurelio ended up having to resort to illegal means to stop the Swede, though this wasn’t always punished by ref Wiley; one blatant body-check in particular being bizarrely considered unworthy of sanction. Eventually Wiley twigged what was happening and yet another foul brought the evening’s first yellow for Aurelio.
A cynical trip by Benayoun was worthy of a yellow but didn’t get one, though the free-kick was welcome even if it came to naught. Then Carragher reminded us of exactly how hilarious his international retirement is with a needless foul on Cole. Noble’s free-kick had pace and clipped a defender before coming back off the bar with the ‘keeper flapping at more fresh air than is contained between Carragher’s ears.
Another promising break down the right ended with Aurelio upending Ljungberg and, finally, Wiley twigged what was happening and yet another foul brought the evening’s first yellow for Aurelio. Noble’s free-kick ended up with a shot from Ljungberg being blocked. Gerrard’s cynical trip on Linda was worth only the free-kick, apparently.
It has to be said that Liverpool were poor during the first half. Any passes out of defence – and launching it in the direction of Torres seemed to be the only plan – foundered on the defensive rock that is Upson and Ferdinand. That is those passes that weren’t going into touch. The half closed with Ljungberg drawing yet another cynical foul, this time from Hyppia who was made to look right mug by the Swede’s clever flick. Wiley was in lenient mood and the card stayed in his pocket.
The kit-kat interval talk was all about the match the previous year when, having matched the visitors, we then undid all the good work by letting in a goal straight after half-time. This time around Liverpool did start the second period a bit better (well they could hardly have been worse) Kuyt tried to make room for a shot but was crowded out. However whilst Kewell did put a cross wide we still looked the better side. Yet another free-kick was given away by Aurelio who was leading a bit of a charmed life. Noble’s delivery ended up at the feet of LBM who screwed a horrible shot wide. It was hard not to feel sorry for LBM for whom nothing had gone right all night. The more he tried the worse things got and eventually pity was taken on the hour with a double substitution that also saw Bowyer depart with Matty and Deano coming on to give the side a more familiar 4-4-2shape.
Liverpool’s best chance came with a little over 20 minutes left on the clock when Kuyt got a shot in from a pull-back. Tellingly it was Green’s first save. More tellingly it was going wide anyway. Much amusement was then gained from a handball claim as the ball struck Neill on the chest. Though there was movement of the arm the usual application of the laws requires the ball to actually come into contact with the arm in the first place. The scousers’ outrage at not being given the soft penalty to which they have been so accustomed over the years was not replicated on the pitch. Cue tons of mickey-taking as the word “handball” replaced most of the lyrics of the most popular chants much in the same way as the word “Paintsil” had a few weeks back at the new library. Even more funny was Torres booking. Having pulled back Neill, the skipper gave as good as he got and ended up surviving a dive before winning a throw-in. Although the dive went unpunished, Torres childish display of dissent didn’t and the yellow card was hilariously deserved.
The switch to a four man midfield gave the visitors a bit more possession and territory, though thankfully, such is the paucity of class in the current Liverpool side, they were not able to take advantage of the extra space. However it appeared that we were happy to settle for the point when, with about 10 left Spector replaced Cole. This meant a reversion to the one up line-up once more with Ashton taking over the lone striker role. An Etherington break was cruelly ended by yet another cynical block, this time by Alonso. Subsequent foul on Ljungberg saw Alonso kick the ball away in a move that might have earned him a second yellow had the ref been actually looking that way at the time.
Deep- and we are talking subterranean here – into stoppage time, the visitors got a corner. Etherington broke out and played the ball up to Ljungberg who, for a second, appeared to have got the ball caught between his legs. However, the Swede recovered enough to play the ball back to Matty who continued his run. Seeing the direct route to goal blocked Matty checked back an curled a fine ball to the left hand side of the box where Freddie had found himself some space. Freddie flicked the ball past Carragher who was suckered into a daft challenge that reminded us once more of exactly how hilarious his international retirement is. Time up and penalty. Up stepped Noble – after the obligatory spot of gamesmanship from Reina – to bury the spot kick with what was effectively the last kick of the match to send the visitors home empty handed.
This was a well-won three points though it has to be said that this was one of the poorest Liverpool sides to turn up in years. It’s had to see why so many Liverpool supporters are so in favour o a manager who clearly seems to be manoeuvring himself into a nice pay-off. I suspect that it’s more of a case of the owners’ unpopularity rather than any deep love for the sometimes baffling rotation policy which, rumour has it, is solely designed to keep Merseyside’s burglars guessing as to which players are likely to be home on any given night. I’d like to say I’m bothered but frankly I couldn’t give a monkeys!
That leaves us 4 points from the magic 40 point number – another two wins and we might be safe guys! I still think Europe might be a season too early for us at the moment but boy is it great to be even considering the possibility!
The last word has to go to the bloke on the radio on the way home who entered into a debate as to whether Ronaldo is, in fact, any good. In a speech reminiscent of the famous “What Have The Romans Ever Done For Us” scene in “Life Of Brian” this bloke came out with something along the lines of “So he can pass, dribble, shoot, head and can score and set up goals out of nothing, not to mention his skill with a dead ball. But for me he doesn’t track back enough” Next week: “Goalkeepers – do they score enough!?”
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Barely troubled all night – most dangerous opponent was the pitch that caused an early back pass to bobble.
Torres was a tough opponent but Neill stuck to the task admirably.
Steady enough performance that improved after Matty’s arrival.
Excellent. Has been a revelation since his return from injury/court. Maybe the close shave with the law has taught him a lesson. If so it has been well-learned.
Mr Consistent. The England call-up is well-deserved.
Was quietly effective without ever bossing the game.
Worked his socks off for the whole match. Nerves of steel for the spot-kick.
Excellent first half. I’d have liked to have seen him get at the already-booked Aurelio a bit more in the second. Brilliant contribution to the goal.
He's definitely had better games this season- there were glimpses here and there, but too many errors stunted his game.
Luis Boa Morte
Had a wretched night. The harder he tried the worse things got. Clearly the boss thinks he’s a better bet than Matty when playing five across the middle.
Battled gamely and caused his usual nuisance to the defenders without ever really looking like he was going to score.
(replaced Bowyer, 58) No real contribution when coming on as sub.
(replaced Boa Morte, 59) Didn’t get quite as involved as one might have hoped but his part in the break that ultimately led to the goal was excellent.
(replaced Cole, 81) A fresh pair of legs as we went to shore things up. Was on the plot when Ljungberg won the penalty.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Mark Noble.
West Ham United
Robert Green, Lucas Neill, George McCartney, Anton Ferdinand, Matthew Upson, Lee Bowyer, Mark Noble, Freddie Ljungberg, Matthew Etherington, Luis Boa Morte, Carlton Cole.
Goals: Mark Noble 90 .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Reina, Finnan, Aurelio, Carragher, Hyypia, Gerrard, Alonso, Kewell, Benayoun, Torres, Kuyt.
Substitutes: Lucas (Kewell 61), Babel (Benayoun 72).
Subs not used: Itandje, Skrtel, Crouch.
Booked: Aurelio (38), Torres (71), Alonso (88).
Sent Off: None.