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Premier League
Saturday, 9th May 2009

West Ham United 0
Liverpool 3

by Gordon Thrower


You’d expect at least one side in a match that ends up with a 3-0 scoreline to be overjoyed at the result. Not this one.

5.30 kick-offs play havoc with your body clock. I suppose such a timing does enable one to extend the pre-match drinking session over a more leisurely interval, The down side of that is that if you send the resident cider-drinking canoeist up to the bar, the extra hours of quaffing Magners will probably render him unable to tell the difference between bitter and lager, with disastrous consequences – especially for those of us who drink bitter.

Team news was, well, all quiet on the West Ham Front really, there being no change to the previous week’s starting XI of Green, Neill, Ilunga, Tomkins, Upson, Boa-Morte, Noble, Kovac, Stanislas, Di Michele, Tristan.

After the previous week’s battle against the aerial onslaught at Stoke, there was a bit of cautious optimism that the battling spirit displayed at the Britannia might carry over with enough force for the depleted squad to make a game of this one. That optimism lasted about a minute. Liverpool were awarded a throw that looked suspiciously like it had come off their own man. The linesman guessed. A couple of passes later Gerrard had sprung the offside trap. Neil was the guilty party – though if Kovac could have been bothered to actually track back Neil’s failure to move up might have been academic. Green was stranded on his own, so much so that Gerrard had time to eschew his traditional dive, take the ball round the keeper and slot home into the empty net with 1:16 on the clock.

Nothing much happened for the next ten or so – any promising moves forward by Boa-Morte usually ending up with a somewhat cynical block by Aurelio. Liverpool are of course past masters of breaking up play in relatively safe areas of the pitch and a prime example of this came with Mascherano’s foul on Tristan on 12 minutes. Noble’s ball in from nowhere territory found Schnorbitz unmarked by the bizarre zonal system that gives the likes of Alan Hansen so much to moan about at the licence-payer’s expense, but his header was easily saved by Reina.

Liverpool can usually rely on Alan Wiley to look kindly on them – just ask Wigan and look at his performance in our Cup Final when Reina was allowed to spend the shoot out on the edge of the 6 yard box. The veteran ref showed that he’d lost none of his fondness for the visitors with a series of baffling decisions that, whilst they might not have actually turned the game, they certainly helped kill it off. Tomkins was the first victim of Wiley’s mad half-hour, a perfectly-timed challenge on Torres being penalised because Neill happened to be watching while it happened. Aurelio tapped the ball to Gerrard whose shot went high into the Bobby Moore to at least lend some justice to the proceedings at that point.

We slowly started to look like getting back into the game for a while. On 25 minutes Kovac again took advantage of the lax marking from set-pieces, beating Reina to a ball that the keeper had no chance of getting only to head well over. None of us gave much thought to the fact that Skrtel appeared to be trying to remove Tomkins’ shirt over the defender’s head throughout the move. Certainly Wiley appeared to be looking at it all the way but, in the context of what was to follow, Wiley’s generosity to his Scouse chums was to become all the more galling.

On 36 minutes Mascherano upended Boa-Morte. That it was a foul was no question. Well unless you happened to be something of a brain donor of course. Or a highly-paid premiership referee from the so-called “Select” group. Unfortunately in Wiley the two are combined and, despite having the best view in the house of the incident, he waved play on. Play moved up the other end and, in a move almost identical to Skrtel’s earlier foul on Tomkins, an obviously incensed LBM tugged on Torres’ shirt. Although the initial contact looked to be outside the box, Torres ensured that his fall took place well inside and Wiley looked overjoyed to be pointing at the spot. In the space of 36 minutes he’d ignored a penalty offence in the box, given one for an offence that took place outside, given a free-kick for a clean challenge that won the ball and failed to give one for a cynical lunge that didn’t. An average of one major error every 9 minutes is some going – even by the poor standards that Keith Hackett deems acceptable these days.

Green saved the penalty well to his right but the deflection was cruel and Gerrard had the easiest tap-in from the rebound to give the visitors a 2-0 lead that flattered them. LBM’s reaction was one of anger. However, whilst the foul was stupid and the result of an obvious red mist, it was hard not to feel a little sorry for him – If we’d had a half-decent referee doing his job the foul wouldn’t have happened.

The half ended in farce. Aurelio threw himself to the floor under minimal contact from LBM. Kovac enquired how many cautionable offences it would take for the Liverpool man to actually get booked and found out that the answer was about 7 more than he himself would require. Carragher then hit an air shot that DiMichele latched onto. However, faced with a one on one with Reina, the striker’s lack of confidence showed and, as he made up his mind he stumbled. That would have been embarrassing enough had it ended there. Unfortunately DDM elected to end what had started out as a genuine stumble with an arms-out dive and a vain attempt at what has become known up and down the country (to all but Premiership referees apparently) as the Gerrard Manoeuvre. To any Premiership referees reading this (or having it read to them) this involves wafting a leg in the general direction of the nearest opponent in the hope that it looks vaguely like you’ve been tripped. Wiley rightly booked the striker – though I suspect that I’ll wait in vain to see him do the same to any bigger name players in the future.

The second half? Nothing much really. Aurelio finally picked up a yellow card at the 6th time of asking, though even that had a slightly unsatisfactory feel to it as Wiley denied the chance of a quick free-kick in dangerous territory in order to complete the paperwork, thus enabling the visitors to get everyone back behind the ball. Which, of course was the whole point of the foul in the first place. Aurelio then completed another two fouls on LBM before Benitez decided that he’d pushed his luck as far as it was going to go and smuggled him off on 53 minutes.

Collison replaced Stanislas on the hour and got another decent run out. DDM saw one first time effort go wide before being replaced by Freddie Sears with 20 minutes left. Mascherano resumed the “kicking LBM up in the air” role and finally received the yellow that he’d deserved for his first half “foul that never was” for yet another asault on the Portuguese midfielder. LBM left the field to generous applause to be replaced by Payne.

The remainder of the match had a flat “end of season” feel about it, a feeling that was exemplified by the third goal which came with 7 left to play. Green saved well from sub Babel’s header but, much as the penalty had done before, the rebound fell very kindly for the visitors and Babel stuck it away from six yards.

The goal prompted a mass exodus, though the visiting support – presumably in mourning for something or other as they usually are – were still outsung by those that remained in the usual expression of gallows humour that accompanies heavy defeats and the match ended without further need to trouble the memory. Even the visitors’ celebrations were flat, presumably any joy at their success being tempered by the knowledge that, for the third match running, the nature of victory had owed more than a little to assistance from the officials. The realists amongst them will also know that the title is Old Trafford-bound and, having seen both sides, and having equal contempt for everything they both stand for, I’d still say that in pure football terms, the Premmiership trophy is going to the better team.

As for us, well playing what, in some positions at least, is effectively a third team is always going to be tough – especially against a top four side needing a result. For all the talk of the Europa League, unless we can get some players back – particularly up front - that isn’t going to happen. Whether or not qualification for the Europa would be a poisoned chalice anyway is probably a debate for another time. However, personally I want us to finish as high as possible and then see what happens. I fancy a trip somewhere sunny this year – though knowing my luck we’ll end up facing a qualifier away at FC Chernobyl or somewhere equally grim in the event we manage to nab 7th spot. Still at least Wiley won’t be in charge if we get there!



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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Unlucky with goals two and three. No chance with the first.


Lucas Neill
Partially at fault for the first and never quite seemed comfortable.


Herita Ilunga
Okish defensively but failed to link up in any meaningful way with Stanislas.


James Tomkins
Wasn’t at all fazed by having to deal with Torres.


Matthew Upson
According to the ladies I sit near, the highlight of his match was his having to change shorts. Me? Having my view of the incident blocked by Ges Steinbergs was slightly the lesser of two evils.


Mark Noble
Best game in ages – as if he took the presence and hype about Divin’ Steve G as a personal insult.


Radoslav Kovac
Not great. Failed to track back for the first and his passing left much to be desired.


Junior Stanislas
Struggled to make any impact on the left and, when given an option, invariably took the wrong one.


Luis Boa Morte
Was fouled so often by the visitors you’d think he was our prime danger man. Got absolutely no protection from the officials.


Diego Tristan
The better of our two strikers on the day. Still poor.


David Di Michele
The dive was embarrassing. Unfortunately it matched the rest of his play on the day.


Substitutes


Jack Collison
(Replaced Stanislas, 59 mins) Looked decent enough in the half-hour he was on and, assuming he’s not injured himself in the meantime, I’d start him up at Goodison.


Fred Sears
(Replaced Di Michele, 70 mins) Requires service. Received none.


Josh Payne
(Replaced Boa Morte, 80 mins) Nice to see the youngsters getting some match time but the likelihood of his being able to affect a match that had long since gone was minimal.


Jan Lastuvka
Did not play.


Jonathan Spector
Did not play.


Walter Lopez
Did not play.


Savio Nsereko
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: Alan Wiley.

Attendance: 34,951.

Man of the Match: Mark Noble.

West Ham United

Robert Green, Lucas Neill, Herita Ilunga, James Tomkins, Matthew Upson, Mark Noble, Radoslav Kovac, Junior Stanislas, Luis Boa Morte, Diego Tristan, David Di Michele.

Goals: None.

Booked: James Tomkins 21 Luis Boa Morte 38 Radoslav Kovac 43 Davi Di Michele 43    .

Sent off: None.

Liverpool

Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Skrtel, Aurelio, Lucas, Mascherano, Benayoun, Kuyt, Gerrard, Torres.

Substitutes: Insua (Aurelio 54), Dossena (Benayoun 82), Babel (Torres 72).

Subs not used: Cavalieri, Hyypia, Degen, Ngog.

Goals: .

Booked: Aurelio (50), Mascherano (76).

Sent Off: None.

 
Gordon Thrower's Man of the Match: Mark Noble