Sunday, 6th April 2014
I wonder, how did we do last season? That'll be one for him to look up. Because, believe you me, if last season was little different, that is every nail the coffin needs, if you've any notion that Sam will take us onwards.
And oh, the irony! In an interview for the BBC about our opponents in the lead up to the game, Kevin Keegan said, "It's OK to go and win games but at some clubs they want to see a bit more than that. " Indeed. Couldn't have put it better.
So, what did we get today? Actually, a damn good performance. It's not been that often that we can feel hard done by, losing to Liverpool, even for the most die-hard fan, but I do this evening. On balance, it was probably just about right, and the silver lining is it helps the Scousers' chances of beating Man City and Chelsea to the title. But, yeah, definitely a bit hard done by.
There is controversy in all three goals. Two penalties for Liverpool, a dodgy equaliser for us. The ref, who otherwise had a pretty fair game, got two of them wrong. Alas, the two wrong un's weren't both of the Red penalties.
The first was the one he got right. Tomkins had a really good game. Suarez was, perhaps, a bit below par. Whether that was because he was off-form or Tomkins on-form, or whether an on-form Tomkins made Suarez seem off-form is wholly debatable.
Indeed, that is a fair description of the entire game. Certainly, it was a good Irons performance. Was it because Liverpool were a bit out of sorts? Did we make them appear so? Dunno, is the short answer, though it was enjoyable to watch.
But, on 42 minutes, JT's arm was too far away from his body. Ball to hand though it was, there can be little argument, and Gerrard despatched the penalty when Adrian, as too many keepers do too often, moved far too soon.
Three minutes later, in first half stoppage time, we were deservedly but fortunately level. Going in behind at half time would have been something of an injustice. We'd challenged our opponents at every turn, on every blade of grass.
Genuine chances had been few and far between, despite the generally open nature of the game and the decent quality football on display. Only three of 14 shots were on target. That, presumably, includes Gerrard's penalty as well as Demel's smartly-taken equaliser.
We'd had several good passages of play. Not all of them had created chances, even if they threatened. But Mignolet under pressure, unfair pressure it must be said, from Carroll dropped a corner, and Demel put boot to ball and fired it firmly home.
Was it a foul? Yes. Was it also weak goalkeeping? Yes. Carroll led far too much with his arm. The ref had a long talk with his linesman, who seemed to think it was a foul, but overruled him. The ref was wrong but if I were Mignolet, I'd be looking at my own mistake rather than complaining. It was hardly a clattering and, even in an age of over-protected stoppers, it was a pretty feeble effort from a supposedly top-line keeper.
The mistake was evened up on 70 minutes when Adrian got the ball, got a bit of the player afterwards, and a second penalty was awarded. I can see why it was given; Adrian has definitely had a second nibble and clutched, just a little, at Flanagan's calf. But he'd won the ball first first time, it had gone away from Flanagan, and it was a penalty that really shouldn't have been given.
Without that, Adrian made a considerably better effort but Gerrard is as unforgiving as our own Mark Noble; we had just about earned a draw. With it, we never really looked liked equalising.
The second most surprising stat of the day was the first half possession figure - 56 per cent to Liverpool. The most surprising stat of the day was the final possession figure - 64 per cent to Liverpool. That, admittedly, is slightly biased by the final 20 minutes when, for the most part, the Reds quite deliberately and skillfully closed the game down.
Nevertheless, I don't think it really reflects the game as a whole. If we were not quite as good as Liverpool, we were little inferior on the day. We created plenty of threat, caused plenty of problems, played a lot of good football, and certainly gave them much to think about.
If I started by implicitly criticising Sam, I'll finish by praising him. His normal modus operandi against one of the big teams is to shut up shop and try to be difficult. Maybe it's only because he now feels we're safe, but we had a real go today against THE form team in the country.
Yes, we lost, but if we always tried as we did today, if we played as we did today, there'd never be any booing at the Boleyn, never mind how self-righteous Allardyce wants to get about it occasionally happening. And I've still to nominate a man of the match...
It's been a struggle for the last couple of games. Against Hull, everyone was so poor; against Sunderland it was all very workmanlike, humdrum and small margins. Against Liverpool, it's almost an "everyone gets 7/10 game", even though that's not what I'll be awarding. There were quite a few hard-working, not-quite-7 performances today.
I could give it to Tomkins, who did such a good job in keeping Suarez quiet. Demel, perhaps; doggedly consistent all season, he displayed good and well-controlled aggression in attack and defence today (the goal is almost an aside). Diame played well, nagged and worried at Liverpool, and pushed them back whenever he went forward.
By the slenderest of margins, though, Downing just about deserves it, I think. He's still not quite in the form that he was when injured at Anfield earlier in the season. He is, though, over the last few games, asking more questions of the opposition than anyone else.
Next up... Well, it hardly matters, does it? I played the end-of-season game yesterday. You know the one, predict the results for the remaining games. By my reckoning, if Sunderland can get to 35 pts, they'll stay up. If they don't, they'll only have 33 and they'll join Fulham and Cardiff in relegation. We're already safe regardless.
The difference will be in their last game against Swansea. If they do get to 35; even 34 might save them, given goal difference; it'll be Norwich in their place. The real excitement for us now, though, is at the top, not the bottom. We've still a say in matters. We've still Tottenham, Arsenal, and Man City to come. With performances like this, we may still have some influence on Champions League qualification and the Premier League title...
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Little chance with either penalty, as you'd expect. Unfairly penalised for the second; quick off his line twice; little else to do apart from one good save from Sterling right at the end.
Has been a bit average in the last couple of games but, one error aside, had a good game today, offensively and defensively. Took his goal well; a definite MoM candidate.
As expected, replaced the injured McCartney. Occasional errors, but generally is looking very useful. Needs some game time to adapt to the Premier League, I think, but would be a good signing. Has had to wait for a chance, but I'm starting to think Sam should make this loan permanent...
Unobtrusively effective, rather than outstandingly effective. Still feeling his way back into first team footie, it seems to me.
A little unlucky with the first penalty, though it was correctly awarded. Made sure Suarez had little opportunity to shine today, and there's a lot of DC's this season who have failed to do that!
Tidy game with occasional bright moments and occasional damp squibs.
One of his better games this season. Plenty of threat going forwards, if still sometimes lazy working back.
One of the 6+ players today. Often out-classed against the better sides, but not today. Put a real good shift in.
Rather like the Man Utd game, caused a fair amount of uncertainty on the flanks. Barely, just barely, Man of the Match.
Rather like Taylor, definitely put a shift in, even though, ultimately, didn't have much effect on the game.
6+, in truth. Battled well, caused trouble, managed to get Sakho to come through his back a few times to win dangerous free kicks. Unfortunately, his first touch was a bit erratic today.
Even more than Armero, needs some time to adjust to the Prem, I think. Some good work defensively, booked for a rather late challenge, unable to influence much going forwards in the last quarter of the game.
Did make a couple of decent runs & one good cross, but not on for long enough to really contribute.
Hardly saw anything of the ball in the less than 10 mins he was on for...
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Referee: Anthony Taylor.
Man of the Match: Stewart Downing.
West Ham United
Adrian, Guy Demel, Pablo Armero, Winston Reid, James Tomkins, Mark Noble, Mo Diame, Matt Taylor, Stewart Downing, Kevin Nolan, Andy Carroll.
Goals: Guy Demel 45 .
Booked: James Tomkins 43 Adrian 70 Antonio Nocerino 80 Pablo Armero 86 .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Subs not used: .
Booked: None booked..
Sent Off: None sent off..