09 December 2012

Liverpool 3-2 West Ham

Johnson 11'
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.


Diana said...

"From glee to despair to horror to astonishment to elation to anxiety to euphoria. Sports are amazing and terrible and amazing."

I love your opening line. That captured my emotions watching this match to a tee.

SmoothSailing said...

For the Allen pen, add, he had his back turned and was not looking at the shot. Also, a bit irrelevant, the ball would have ended up in row z. Just a horrible call.

How does he not call the take down on Jonjo from behind? The refs just will not give us any calls and will find a way to give our opponents any and all pens/calls.

On a related note, heard Big Sam said the Allen pen call was harsh. So, maybe he is a better guy than his sycophantism towards Fergie would infer.

Anonymous said...

nate, move on from the refereeing decisions. It shows up in nearly every post and its becoming difficult to take you seriously as a source with the "woe is us" stuff. Yes, the Allen pen was harsh but it was letter of the law. Shelvey was taken down but it looked like Reid got the ball from the rear, even the announcers needed several angles. Neither ended up mattering in the result, so lets just leave it out.

Every team doesn't get calls. You can go back and find decisions in every game, e.g. Young's "offsides" earlier. But United always get the calls... or not. Goes to show this bias doesn't exist, just a string of referee errors throughout sports. The Suarez cases are another matter, and this will change with his newfound attitude. But again, it is what it is and we dont really need to discuss it at length every recap do we? My two cents.

Stephen said...

Move on from the refs decisions? Really? That's the comment? First, this blog offers the most incisive game analysis of anything I've read that covers LFC. If all you get from it is the refereeing topic, you're missing something. Second, no one thinks that, Suarez aside, the refs are in league against us. However, the tally of wrongs significantly outweighs that of the rights this season. Sooo...should Nate leave out the parts about refereeing? They are a part of the match, they have impacted the results this season and should be discussed. Lastly, I'm pretty sure that he doesn't want to be "taken seriously" and what does that mean anyway...this is the internet for Christ's sake. Half the fun of this blog is how Nate uses sarcasm and exaggeration to play to the emotions we feel while watching...a great mix of fun and insightful match comments.

Anonymous said...

Agree with Stephen. The calls are part of the game and completely change the complexion. If Shelvey gets that pen and we get the goal, it's not as stressful during the last ten minutes. If WH don't get that penalty, maybe we aren't as completely drab and soul-sucking as from the 20th min to the 75th minute.

On a related note, I'm curious to see how many touches in the 18 yd box that we've had, compared to the other teams (who've won penalties). Not that there are any conspiracies, just that it's a little ridiculous, at this point.

nate said...

Honestly, I could have mentioned a few more referee incidents. Taylor's kick in Sterling's midsection which deserved red. Nolan offsides on his lone shot at goal, which luckily sailed over the bar. Another non-penalty when a West Ham defender had Agger in a sleeper hold on a corner kick. Emphasizing just how soft that Skrtel foul for Cole's goal was, when vice versa was rarely if ever called on West Ham.

I realize that complaining about refs comes off as sour grapes, especially when Liverpool lose or draw, but if they're egregious decisions, I'm going to mention them, if only so there's a record of it happening when I want to go back and look before bitching about another decision.

Also, appreciate the subsequent two comments sticking up for my constant griping. Thanks, guys