Saturday, 20th September 2014
I've said this before but I really dislike 5:30 Saturday kick-offs. Your routines get all messed-up and there's a “neither one thing or another” feeling about the place – it's not afternoon but it's not night time either. However, much more of this and I might be persuaded to change my mind.
Off the pitch there were two strange people sitting in the seats previously occupied by Upton Girlie and Tomas. These turned out to be Upton Girlie and Tomas who were making their first appearances of the season, accompanied by a lego Fionn Kiely. As you may know the real Fionn's currently in hospital in Chicago after getting a beating at the hands of a local with a baseball bat. I suspect that the little machine that goes “ping” was working overtime for this one. Get well soon you big tart.
Team news was that there was one change from the team that had drawn at Hull with Song coming in for his first start at the expense of Zarate. Line-up: Adrian, Demel, Cresswell, Tomkins, Reid, Noble, Song, Downing, Kouyate, Valencia, Sakho.
To say we started brightly would be an understatement similar to describing Piers Morgan as a “bit of a twat”. Downing was hauled down on the right by Moreno and took the free-kick himself. Tomkins got up at the far post and nodded back across the six-yard box where Reid nodded in off the thigh of Skrtel. Cue celebrations-a-plenty as the visitors all started pointing at each trying to apportion degrees of blame.
The goal had come with just over a minute on the clock and barely two more had gone before we saw the first yellow card of the game. Reid's challenge on Borini was a tad late but hardly merited the caution it received, ref Pawson's decision clearly being influenced by Borini's rather pathetic play-acting. Tellingly, the ending of Borini's agony coincided with the replacement of the card in the referee's pocket and, job done, even the charade of calling the physio was dispensed with.
Although it was early days we were all over them and the second when it came was well-deserved. An attack broke down but we won the ball back. Noble took over and pushed forward and played an angled ball to Sahko. Sahko chipped the ball towards the far post where the ball dipped in past the stranded Mignolet, just beating Valencia in the race to cross the line. Was it meant? Possibly. However my feelings on the matter can be summed up by use of the phrase “couldn't give a monkey's”. 2-0 and only six and a bit played.
We really were all over them and Cresswell was given the time and space to push forward and chance his arm from distance. Mignolet got down to his left to turn the ball past the post. Mignolet then saved Valencia's header from the resulting corner.
Downing was next to have a pop. Like Cresswell he was given time and space to push forward and shoot from outside the box. This time Mignolet's save was slightly more comfortable.
We saw the second and third cautions of the match on 16 minutes. Adrian cleared a back-pass before being upended by one of those snidey late off the ball challenges for which Balotelli is noted. Adrian reacted and there was a tete-a-tete between the two. Both were cautioned, Balotelli presumably for the challenge and Adrian for the reaction.
Liverpool made their first change on 21 minutes when Manquillo came off for their Sahko. I hope for Manquillo's sake the change was due to injury rather than tactics because their Sahko went on t have a nightmare.
Five minutes later the deficit was reduced. In a rare foray into our half Henderson crossed over to Balotelli whose shot was blocked by Cresswell. The ball fell out to Sterling who buried a low powerful shot into the bottom corner. It was a fine finish but to say that it was against the run of play would be an understatement similar to describing Piers Morgan as “a bit of a twat”.
Kouyate was next into Pawson's book. Moreno just got to a dangerous ball across the face of the goal in front of the no.8 who had to go for the ball. There were worse fouls on the day that went unpunished but the ref seemed more preoccupied with proving that he wasn't a homer than dealing with the match properly. One such challenge was that of Sterling on Downing, a cynical little shove that brought a promising Downing run to an end. I suppose we should be grateful for the small mercy of a free-kick. Valencia took the kick and Mignolet was again the visitors' saviour, turning the shot around the post for a corner.
We then had the rare sight of a Liverpool player going to ground with a genuine injury. Loveren found himself challenged by the rather hapless their Sakho and got a frightful bang on the noggin for his troubles. The player was down for a long while and things didn't look great as the medics brought the canoe/stretcher thing on. Thankfully the player regained his feet and with a bit of bandaging and a fresh shirt he was able to continue.
Mignolet denied Valencia again, Tomkins headed wide and after six minutes of stoppage added following Loveren's head knock we went in with a deserved lead.
With the return of Upton Girlie came the welcome return of the half-time chocolate based comestibles, Spanish Kit-Kats and brownies being the order of the day.
The half-time chat consisted mainly of the worry that, despite the dominance, the visitors were still hanging on to the match by their fingernails and that we'd probably have to soak up a bit of pressure in the second half.
The visitors made their second change of the evening at the interval with Lallana coming on for Lucas.
As suspected the visitors pushed forward more in the second half and they had a lot of posession. However breaking us down proved well beyond them, despite the wide range of diving involved. Writing about Liverpool without mentioning diving is as difficult as mentioning Piers Morgan without employing the phrase “a bit of a twat” and they fully lived down to all expectations.
The passage of play usually went something like pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, dive. Free-kick shot wide or over. It got to the stage where had Sterling gone down one more time I'd have been tempted to go down there and kick him myself, just so he would know the difference for future reference. Despite the “pressure” we were coping well and, for the most part, the few shots that did require any sort of intervention from Adrian were of the “I'll stick my hat on that one later on” variety.
We made our first change on the hour with Demel coming off for Jenkinson. Shortly after they tried to buy a penalty from the hitherto compliant Pawson. Adrian parried a shot to his left and, in coming out to collect the rebound raised a foot slightly. However, the 'keeper withdrew his foot which didn't stop Borini throwing himself to the floor and rolling about in “agony” in what was the day's most embarrassing dive – a prize for which there was sadly much competition over the course of the match. No free-kick but strangely, despite the laws of the game being quite clear on the matter no yellow card either. Pathetic.
The ref did however remember to caution Jenkison for bringing down Moreno, whose injury predictably didn't turn out to be nearly as bad as all the rolling about and slapping the floor had appeared to indicate.
With 20 mins left Song came off to be replaced by Amalfitano for our second change. Despite the pressure we were soaking up, it wasn't all one way traffic and the football equivalent of Muhammed Ali's “rope a dope” tactic (see last season's match report v Southampton for an explanation if you're too young to remember) appeared to be the order of the day. Sahko pounced on a Skrtel error to send another chip just over. The same player was involved in a break down the left squaring the ball to Kouyate who should have put the game beyond doubt but connected with fresh air instead.
More changes took place immediately after Kouyate's miss. Lambert replaced Borini, who managed to make it all the way to the touchline without once falling over, just proving that it can be done. We immediately replaced Valencia – who had run himself into the ground – with Collins to give us a back five for the last 15 minutes.
The game was settled with two minutes of normal time to go. A Tomkins clearance was headed into no man's land by their Sahko. Downing picked up the ball in midfield and his inside pass was perfection itself. As was Amalfitano's finish, a first time prod, the early nature of which caught Mignolet flat-footed.
Four minutes of stoppage was safely negotiated with us looking the more likely to add to any goals total if anything and the first home three points were deservedly in the bag.
The visitor can have no complaints this time round. They either have a new coach driver or a smaller team bus because it seemed to have been parked fine in the car park when I walked by pre-match, saving them that extra 20 yards that they found so tiring last season. Their paranoia means that someone comes around and measures the grass these days and, whilst I have no idea what the temperature was like in their changing room this time around, even the thickest of professional footballers can surely open a window or turn a thermostat down (or at least employ someone to do it for them). Also, they were played off the park and got what they deserved.
Us, well received wisdom has it that the manager has been instructed to play a more expansive game this season. I'm guessing that he might have agreed to give it a go with a thought of “don't blame me if it doesn't work” crossing his mind. If that's the case he must be pleasantly surprised with how things are working out (Southampton notwithstanding). Keep it up I say. Who knows it might even grow on the manager!
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Adrian San Miguel del Castillo
Only had a couple of saves to make. A bit concerned at his reaction to Balotelli's niggly foul which left him only a scouse dive away from a dismissal.
Got forward well first half. Reasonbly solid defensively in the second.
Possibly might have got out a wee bit quicker to bock Sterling's shot but overall a good performance.
Even taking the goal out of the equation this was his best match for a while.
Good defensively and set up Reid nicely for the first.
Helped boss a midfield against a team that are in the Champions League (no really they are). Not England quality though, apparently. I liked his captain's admonishment of Adrian after tha Balotelli spat.
Another who put in a fine shift. Even more so considering that he plyed formuch of the game with a groin problem that looked as if he'd need to go off on a couple of occasions.
Understandably knackered at the end of his stint but what a great stint it was. There were a number of MOTM candidates but he shades it by the narrowest of margins.
If you get a chance, take a look at his celebration after the third goal. Not for him this modern trend of not celebrating against your old club. Looks twice the player in this more central role.
He ran his socks off and thoroughly deserved the goal, meant or otherwise. It's been a while since we had two mobile players up front hasn't it?
Beginning to find his feet in the English game, he was a constant handful to the Liverpool defence.
(Replaced Demel) More of a defensive role than that of Demel who he replaced. Acquitted himself well.
(Replaced Song) Just as I was saying that he hadn't featured much since coming on, he chipped in with a fine finish to seal the points.
(Replaced Valencia) Managed to avoid the faux-pas' that have characterised his recent outings and one thundering but perfectly-timed tackle at the end got the crowd going.
Did not play.
Ricardo Vaz Te
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Referee: Craig Pawson.
Man of the Match: Alex Song.
West Ham United
Adrian San Miguel del Castillo, Guy Demel, Aaron Cresswell, Winston Reid, James Tomkins, Mark Noble, Cheikhou Kouyate, Alex Song, Stewart Downing, Diafra Sakho, Enner Valencia.
Goals: Winston Reid 2 Diafra Sakho 7 Morgan Amalfitano 88 .
Booked: Winston Reid 4 Adrian 17 Cheikhou Kouyate 28 Carl Jenkinson 66 .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Simon Mignolet, Javi Manquillo, Martin Skrtel, Dejan Lovren, Alberto Moreno, Lucas, Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson, Mario Balotelli, Fabio Borini, Raheem Sterling.
Substitutes: Mamadou Sakho (Javi Manquillo 22), Adam Lallana (Lucas 45), Ricky Lambert (Fabio Borini 75).
Subs not used: Brad Jones, Jose Enrique, Kolo Toure, Lazar Markovic.
Goals: Raheem Sterling (26).
Booked: Mario Balotelli (17).
Sent Off: None sent off..