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Premier League
Saturday, 19th September 2009

West Ham United 2
Liverpool 3

by Gordon Thrower


I’m never optimistic for matches against this lot. Whatever happens you just know that they’ll get the rub of the green that they scarcely deserve somewhere along the way and it was no different for this one. Team news was that Diamanti had done enough up at Wigan to earn a starting spot whilst there was a welcome return for Behrami in the middle and Ilunga at the back giving us a starting line-up of Green, Faubert, Ilunga, Upson, Tomkins, Behrami, Parker, Noble, Hines, Diamanti, Cole.

We should have taken the lead within two minutes. Carragher – remember he actually retired from England ho ho – was caught napping by Hines who bore down on goal, beat Reina only to see his shot cannon back off the post. The ball went up the other end immediately where we were treated to the first dive of the day from Torres. It was not to be the last dive of the day from a club that have got simulation down to such a fine art over the years that you suspect that it gets practised in training.

The game settled down a bit and Green made saves from Benayoun and Insua. Not difficult saves but saves nevertheless and Benayoun in particular ought to have done better. Torres fell over again under minimal contact from Tomkins but thankfully Gerrard, who kept up a 90 minute tirade of dissent against a spineless Andre Marriner, made a mess of the free-kick.

Then we went one down. Ilunga saw the ball out for a goal kick but the ref gave it the other way. We failed to clear the corner properly and the ball was worked out to Torres who skinned Tomkins before burying the ball past Green at his near post. Worse still Upson injured himself in the process and played no further part in the proceedings with Gabbidon replacing. Things got even worse when Behrami walked off almost in tears with a back problem shortly after with Kovac being dragged away from the mirror to come on instead.

We pushed forward in an attempt to pull one back and, for the second week running Hines was fouled when clean through on goal. Skrtel’s rugby tackle denied a goalscoring opportunity but, presumably afraid of upsetting Gerrard, Marriner amazingly waved play on. I’d love to give you a plausible explanation for neither free-kick nor red card being given but to be honest I can’t.

Hines was taking some frightful stick – and the usual Liverpool tactic that has done them so proud over the years was working overtime. Every time a promising move looked like developing a cynical foul would stop us in our tracks usually on the half-way line. The more they did it the less action Marriner took. Mascherano in particular upended the youngster on at least three occasions. One can only presume the ref was off school when they analysed the meaning of the word “persistent” in the phrase “persistent foul play”.

Hines, however, was not to be denied. Cole fed him on the left where he left Carragher (no his international retirement REALLY was his own choice) for dead. Carragher shoved Hines to the ground for a penalty that was so obvious that even Marriner had to give it – not that it stopped Gerrard from protesting of course. Carragher was lucky to see only yellow given that Hines was bearing down on goal.

Diamanti stepped up and slipped as he stuck the ball in down the middle. This of course gave Gerrard and co something else to moan about and the ref found himself harangued by no fewer than three players. Despite the clear instructions to referees when such incidents happen. not one player received the yellow card their conduct merited. Gerrard in particular kept at the referee all the way back to the halfway line. There again I suppose if you have the sort of arrogance that suggests you can beat up a DJ if you don’t like the music he’s playing, moaning at a ref is nothing major. And, of course, neither is diving.

Gerrard burst through the middle and threw himself to the ground in the manner that absolutely everyone in football knows is his trait, It’s dishonest in the extreme but he does it time and time again. What amazes me is that absolutely everyone in the game knows he does it so why don’t referees do anything about it? Thankfully justice was done when the free-kick was dealt with comfortably but until the moron Hackett actually starts to insist his officials apply the laws properly, Gerrard will keep diving and getting free-kicks from which no doubt he’ll continue scoring.

Gerrard’s only genuinely meaningful touch of the game came on 41 minutes. Parker gave away a corner which Benayoun took. Gerrard headed goal bound but Kuyt on the line got a faint touch to restore the visitors’ lead. The “sing when you’re winning” tourists made a little bit of noise that lasted a few seconds before being drowned out.

It looked like we would be going into the interval undeservedly behind. However the lively Hines still had something to say. Skrtel’s late challenge was the umpteenth cynical foul on the youngster but only the second to see the perpetrator properly punished with a yellow. Diamanti’s free-kick looked goal-bound but took a deflection to go for a corner. Noble stepped up for the corner and Cole nodded home for a simple goal just to prove that we hadn’t cornered the market for poor defending at corners.

We were treated to some ball-juggling skills during the interval. These were greeted with warm applause from the home support with the visiting support saving their applause for the bit where the lad threw himself to the floor with nobody near him. Funny that.

The second half wasn’t quite as cut and thrust as the first though it was still absorbing stuff. One thing that didn’t change was the treatment dished out to Hines who was fouled by Mascherano (twice) Skrtel, Lucas and Gerrard. Marriner punished some and not others but the general pattern was much the same as any promising moves were cynically terminated on the halfway line. With 50 minutes played Mascherano finally got the yellow he’d deserved 35 minutes earlier but Marriner continued to behave erratically. A later two footed lunge through the back of Carlton Cole received nothing more severe than a free kick and this constituted final proof that the plot had long since been mislaid. When a player is having that bad a game he’ll usually be substituted so why not allow the referee assessors to do the same? Unfortunately knowing our luck we’d get Mike Dean as a replacement.

Diamanti was tiring badly and eventually went off on 65 minutes to be replaced by Dyer (I have vague memories of a player of that name – don’t we have a reserve team boss with that name or something?)

What turned out to be the winner came with about 15 minutes left. Johnson robbed Hines. The ball was eventually fed out to sub Babbel whose chipped cross found Torres in far too much space to head home. This of course woke up the tourist support whose silence throughout the match really ought to put paid to the myth that they are in any way “special”.

We pushed forward in search of a third equaliser and Kovac stopped preening himself for long enough to get a decent header in that had Reina scrambling to get away. We forced a number of corners, one of which saw Reina desperately back-pedalling to keep the ball out from under the bar. Oh and the scousers nicked the ball for a few minutes – that oh-so-legendary wit coming to the fore again. Sheer comic genius.

Dyer then went on a mazy run, staying on his feet through three fouls (there was no point in going down – we’d long since given up on the ref doing his job) but the move broke down as Cole misplaced his pass. By this time the usual time-wasting tactics had come into play. Liverpool goal kicks were taking minutes to complete, the ball was kicked away at throw-ins, Benayoun took half an hour to walk off when subbed. All of which should have meant that stoppage time ought to have been a lot more than the standard three minutes Marriner felt it was safe to give without upsetting Gerrard.

There was just time for the ref to add insult to injury. As the clock ran down Green pumped the ball high into the box. Carragher backed into Cole, backed in a bit more until Cole stood his ground. A cynical old pro trick that most refs work out when they are doing Sunday league. Marriner fell for it and Cole became the first player in the match to get booked for dissent. In a match where Gerrard had spent more energy chasing the ref about than the ball, Cole was the one to get the yellow card. Dreadful.

Once again we’d played well against this lot without getting the point that the performance probably deserved. There were some bright spots. Amidst all the hoo-ha over the arrival of Freddie Sears over the past couple of years, Zavon Hines has appeared with little fanfare almost under the radar. His starts up at Wigan and here against Liverpool have been lively affairs and the scousers in particular had no answer to his pace. A less spineless official might have given him some protection rather than being more concerned about upsetting Benitez.

Liverpool? Well Torres was awesome when he stopped falling over. However, on this evidence they rely too much on what has been referred to in other parts as “anti-football”. They have too many issues in defence and, as Hines proved, they are vulnerable to a bit of pace. With referees being even friendlier to Chelsea and Man Utd their best chance of silverware this season would appear to be the cups.

As for us the injuries to Upson and Behrami are obviously a concern and Diamanti, whilst showing some useful touches, will need to work a bit on his fitness. We’ll need to sharpen up a bit in defence though – this was a point lost because of our failure to deal with crosses and it is to be hoped that, having sold Collins, Upson’s injury is only minor. Or else we’ll be calling on that lady with the handbag pictured in this week’s programme as a replacement.



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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Bossed the box well though some might wonder how Torres’ first got in at the near post.


Julien Faubert
Good game again. At this rate he’ll soon be good enough to flog to Real Madrid.


Herita Ilunga
Just back from injury and it showed. However, there were a few signs that there could be a bit of a partnership developing with Hines.


James Tomkins
Given a torrid times by Torres and must bear a bit of responsibility for the first goal.


Matthew Upson
Barely lasted 20 minutes before injury.


Scott Parker
One header apart he kept the (admittedly overrated) Gerrard pretty quiet. (If you don’t count the whining noise aimed at the referee for 90 minutes).


Mark Noble
Doesn’t seem at home on the right. In the unlikely event that we ever get all our midfield fit at the same time he may be due a rest.


Valon Behrami
Was just beginning to show what we missed for much of last season when ping out went his back.


Alessandro Diamanti
Really needs to get a bit of fitness but when he does there were enough touches to suggest he could be useful.


Zavon Hines
Faded in the last quarter by which time the foul count on him was in double figures. Early days but if he can keep this progress rate going he could become very influential.


Carlton Cole
Battled manfully against the, usually illegal, attentions of the Liverpool defence. The booking was a complete joke.


Substitutes


Danny Gabbidon
(Replaced Upson, 25 mins) A bit off the pace – understandably so under the circumstances.


Radoslav Kovac
(Replaced Behrami, 27 mins) It doesn’t usually work with him and Parker together but this was one of his better games – his strength in the air was an asset.


Kieron Dyer
(Replaced Diamanti, 65 mins) Some good touches and one potentially devastating run. Let’s hope that hasn’t set him back a few more weeks.


Peter Kurucz
Did not play.


Jonathan Spector
Did not play.


Josh Payne
Did not play.


Frank Nouble
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: Andre Marriner.

Attendance: 34,658.

Man of the Match: Zavon Hines.

West Ham United

Robert Green, Julien Faubert, Herita Ilunga, James Tomkins, Matthew Upson, Scott Parker, Mark Noble, Valon Behrami, Alessandro Diamanti, Zavon Hines, Carlton Cole.

Goals: Alessandro Diamanti 29 Carlton Cole 45                .

Booked: Scott Parker 31 Julien Faubert 36 Carlton Cole 90      .

Sent off: None.

Liverpool

Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Insua, Mascherano, Gerrard, Benayoun, Lucas, Kuyt, Torres.

Substitutes: Babel (Kuyt 60), Aurelio (Benayoun 85), Riera (Torres 90).

Subs not used: Cavalieri, Kyrgiakos, Degen, Dossena.

Goals: Torres (20, 75), Kuyt (60)..

Booked: Carragher (29), Skrtel (44), Mascherano (50).

Sent Off: None.

 
Gordon Thrower's Man of the Match: Zavon Hines