Noble 36' (pen)
Gerrard OG 43'
J Cole 76'
Collins OG 79'
From glee to despair to horror to astonishment to elation to anxiety to euphoria. Sports are amazing and terrible and amazing.
It's Liverpool's first comeback win in the league since December 30, 2011. Liverpool's first back-to-back league wins since December 18, 2011. Liverpool's first win after a Europa League fixture this season. Liverpool scored three goals without Suarez involved, including Liverpool's first league goal after the 75th minute, and then another to win the match. Liverpool are in the top 10 and four points off fourth. Joe Cole came up with the crucial equalizer.
It is a literal barrel of monkeys that Liverpool got off its back. Sometimes you just have to suspend disbelief and go along for the ride.
Liverpool couldn't have started better, propelled by mathematical genius Glen Johnson. West Ham's burly threat – hoof and cross, hoof and cross – led to a couple of frightening moments, but Johnson bossed the opening minutes, fittingly scoring a jaw-dropping thunderbolt in the 11th, validating my "always play players against their former club" theory. After reaching rock-bottom in the next 30-45 minutes, there'd be more validation to come.
But West Ham's pressing, pushing Jarvis further and further up the flank until Johnson was less effective, Carlton Cole's ability holding up long balls, and Diame's overall midfield dominance turned the tide. Liverpool certainly weren't helped by a 26th-minute injury to Jose Enrique, replaced by Joe Cole with Downing moving to left-back, but the home side made it hard for Liverpool to keep the ball or build on the early goal, and to be fair, an equalizer always looked likely. Because, well, Liverpool.
Of course, there are valid complaints about how easily the equalizer came, yet another harsh decision from a referee, with Allen punished for a handball despite his arms near his body and the shot from less than a yard away. There was nothing he could do about it. Probert still pointed to the spot. What's most infuriating is that you know Liverpool wouldn't get that call, proven by yet another stonewall penalty ignored in second-half injury time. But we'll get to that.
Noble slotted home the spot kick despite Reina guessing the right way, and with Liverpool on tilt, West Ham scored a second just before the interval. A soft Skrtel foul, a free kick spread wide to Jarvis on the flank, Jarvis' cross bulleted into Liverpool's net by their own captain, arguably fouled by Cole in the process. Just another day in the life for Liverpool.
It's no exaggeration to suggest the first 30 or so minutes of the second half were beyond dire. Liverpool looked awful, completely useless in attack and capable of conceding on the counter at any moment. West Ham vacuumed up Liverpool's ineffective attack and thumped it long for Cole, who held up possession before a last-ditch Liverpool tackle. It was hopeless and infuriating and par for the course.
Until the 72nd minute, that is, when two successive events comprehensively changed the game. Diame, hands down the best player on the pitch, pulled up with a serious hamstring injury, replaced by center-back James Tomkins as a makeshift midfielder. Rodgers responded by sending on Henderson for the tiring Lucas. Those two changes seesawed the midfield battle, and it's no coincidence Liverpool scored within five minutes.
Both of Liverpool's scapegoats were heavily involved in the equalizer, with a large dash of Sterling brilliance. Downing intercepted yet another West Ham hoof, starting the attack which saw Henderson shuttling through midfield before spreading play wide to Sterling. The winger worked an excellent one-two with Shelvey, given far too much space between the lines, before finding Cole with a note-perfect throughball. The former West Ham player made an outstanding run from deep to split the center-backs, dropped his shoulders to feint his marker, and fired first time into the far corner. Absolutely unbelievable. Always play former players against their old club. Always.
We almost got the trifecta three minutes later. Another strong Henderson run after patient buildup from Downing, Allen, and Cole, getting behind the left-back before crossing into a dangerous area, redirected into the West Ham net by James Collins rather than Jonjo Shelvey – although it initially looked like it came from the former academy Hammer. Ecstasy. Sheer ecstasy. Because it's Liverpool, the last minutes were nauseatingly nerve-wracking, requiring some crucial clearances from all four defenders and a free kick from an incredibly dangerous position thankfully ballooned by Maiga. But Liverpool bossed the final five minutes (!!!) of injury time, running down the clock, mainly through Sterling's excellent work, and were denied a clear penalty when Reid felled Shelvey from 10 yards out. Surprise, surprise. We really are gonna have a party when Liverpool win a penalty.
I'm still not sure how Liverpool won that game, although the Henderson/Diame moments had an awful lot to do with it. Still, Liverpool looked lost, demoralized and disconsolate. Rodgers' substitutions initially baffled, and yet it all worked out in the end. It's been far too long since that happened.
It's incredibly tempting to get carried away by the euphoria. There's the comeback, the back-to-back wins, a first win over a team in the top 10, a first away league comeback since the start of the 2009-10 season. Liverpool desperately, desperately needed a win like this: a battling, never-say-die away performance where fortitude and self-belief rather than talent took the three points. The manager's suffered some criticism – some due, some undue – and while Rodgers changes were criticized at the time, both Cole and Downing (and Henderson) proved crucial to Liverpool's victory.
What it is is an identifiable step forward. One small step, not necessarily a giant leap. We needed to see a performance like this – it's concrete proof of progress and should be a massive confidence boost for all involved – but at the end of the day, it's another milestone, not the finish line.