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Premier League
Saturday, 29th August 2015

Liverpool 0
West Ham United 3

by Gordon Thrower


Football. It never ceases to amaze.

At the end of a testing week on the job front my first thought as I stood on the platform at Chislehurst Station at some really stupid hour of the morning was that if I needed cheering up this was probably not the fixture that was going to do the trick. I mean come on I had history on my side for that one didn’t I.

Whilst waiting for our cab to the ground the receptionist at the Romford party hotel informed us that we were her second favourite team. She seemed most put out when we asked her “why?”

The performances West Ham have given this season had previously been as random as a the games at Pokies Palace official site, with a great away victory and two setbacks at home. Having failed to sign a striker in midweek the team news was pretty much as expected. Tomkins shifted over to right back to replace the suspended Jenkinson. Nolan’s P45 meant that Lanzini came in for his first start. Team: Randolph, Tomkins, Cresswell, Reid, Ogbonna, Obiang, Noble, Kouyate, Payet, Lanzini, Sakho.

On finding my seat I found they had given me the seat a few away from Pink Palermo. I cursed my luck – it was far too late to demand a refund. We’d barely had time to exchange light-herted unpleasantries when we took the lead. Bored with watching the home side playing it across the park we broke out and fed Payet. Payet’s cross was headed out only as far as Cresswell, whose low pass was turned in by Lanzini. That’s right, we were one nil up with fewer than three minutes on the clock.

The ironic humour kicked in immediately, with most observers tongue--in-cheekedly remarking to the effect that we had probably scored far too soon and that that was precisely the sort f thing that wouldn’t have been allowed to have happened under the previous management.

The game settled down a bit. The home side enjoyed a fair bit of possession but were woefully lacking when anything of a penetrative nature would be useful. They did hit the post, Firmino’s effort from distance giving the home support a brief glimmer of the falsest of hopes. However, we said at the time that Randolph had the effort covered and a subsequent look at the replay on the box proved this to be the case.

More worrying was the home side’s traditional tendency to throw themselves to the floor at the drop of a hat, a tradition that has been honed and polished by years of compliant refereeing. Benteke, already carrying a reputation for that sort of thing, has fitted in very well in that respect; his swallow-dive a good second after a light brush with Reid in the box being so embarrassing that even the player himself thought better of appealing. It did wake up the crowd though, although they quickly remembered that they were still mourning something or other and returned to the Trappist monastery impersonation for which they are becoming increasingly famous.

We were looking increasingly dangerous on the break and Lanzini in particular was having a lot of fun breaking out of midfield with a powerful runonly to pull his shot wide of the left hand post. Cresswell, who had obviously cleared his mind of the previous week’s debacle, also got into good position after Kouyate’s effort had been blocked and perhaps he might have done better than the effort high into the Kop that resulted.

It didn’t matter. There seemed to be little danger as Lanzini chased down Lovren out on the right wing. It was a race that the defender seemed to have won, with Lanzini taking out the linesman instead, something that if I live to be 100 will never cease to be funny. Maybe Lovren was also laughing at the situation. Whatever the reason he made a complete hash of the ball and Lanzini nicked it off him. The Argentinian’s ball across the box was meant for Sakho but was cleared as far as Noble who passed the ball into the net with an air of nonchalance that belied what an excellent finish it really was.

Noble’s goal acted in the same manner as the electronic wizardry you get in those expensive noise-cancelling headphones. I didn’t think it could get much quieter in the home support but I was proven wrong as the away section celebrated like, well like supporters who think they might be on the verge of seeing their team win at a ground they haven’t won on in 52 years.

Of course at Anfield they can often rely on an assist or two from the officials. Noble’s booking for a late tackle looked really harsh even without the assistance of a replay and ref Friend’s explanation of why he hadn’t given a goal kick when the ball had gone out of play (“the whole of the ball”) was simply a lie.

The general feeling was that we would need to go into the interval two up to have a decent foundation on which to build the second half. In the end we had little to worry about. Just before the interval Firmino brought down Payet for a regulation foul which nobody was much bothered about. However, Coutinho somehow worked his way into the book – it wasn’t particularly clear whether the transgression had been for dissent of for delaying the restart – and having seen a replay it’s still not clear. Whatever the reason it was a daft booking which was to later prove costly. There was just time to restart before the interval.

Half Time: Liverpool 0 West Ham United 2


The half time discussions were all about not tempting fate and how many times we’d been stitched up at that venue over the years. There was little internet connection available (they still point at traffic lights in some parts of town up there so 4G or wi-fi is being introduced only very slowly lest the locals fear witchcraft) but during the “up” periods I was receiving messages from all over the world as to how good it was all looking. Maltese Hammer was particularly impressed watching from the small bar on Gozo he took me to the other week, the performance coinciding with his 50th birthday bash. Happy birthday mate.

Well we knew we needed to keep the performance levels high in the second half and we did. We also had the unique experience of seeing a home player actually sent off at Anfield, something that isn’t usually allowed. Payet’s marvellous sleight of foot deceived Coutinho who upended the Frenchman. Again, from distance at the Anfield Road end it didn’t look much and we just assumed that with a better view of the incident that we had, ref Friend had seen something in the challenge that we hadn’t. Having seen it on replay, whilst one angle does make it look slightly worse than it was, hand on heart I couldn’t describe the challenge as anything more than clumsy and the second yellow looked harsh in the extreme. Still if they get another 15 of those this season up there it still won’t begin to make up for all the stuff they’ve gotten away with over the years on that ground so I can’t say I’m all that bothered.

With 54 minutes played Randolph saved Lovren’s shot from outside the box. That is the only time in this match report you will see the words “Randolph” and “save” next to eachother, such was the toothless nature of the home attack.

We, on the other hand, were looking good. A fine ball out to the left from Noble found Cresswell who was having a lot of fun. The left-back cut in and nearly surprised Mignolet at his near post, the ‘keeper having to get down sharply keep the ball out for a corner. The corner was the first in a series which culminated in Reid heading narrowly wide, had the Kiwi been slightly more accurate Mignolet was stranded.

Well no match at Anfield is complete without a major bad decision going in favour of the home side and, possibly feeling sorry for them, ref Friend displayed precisely why he was voted last season’s worst referee. Noble was clipped as he mopped up a loose ball and just managed to toe poke the ball away from sub Ings, for whom contact was minimal in the extreme. From distance at the Anfield Road end it looked for all the world that Noble had taken the ball pretty cleanly for one very good reason: that is precisely what he had done. The subsequent straight red card for something that wasn’t even a foul suggests that it’s not just players who should be tested for drugs.

It was all a bit confusing up our end. With everyone stood outside the box whilst Ings was being given acting lessons from the physio (“do try and look a bit more convincing darling”) it looked like a penalty had been given and the traditional leg up back into the game had taken place. In fact Friend had blown half a second earlier for the foul on Noble and when the dust had settled in the space between Friend’s ears that would be occupied by a brain in a normal human being we had the free-kick.

Oxford replaced Lanzini for the remaining 10 minutes, which, because of various stoppages that had occurred turned into 17 minutes. Payet came ashore to be replaced by Jarvis and, as the board confirming the extra 7 minutes was raised, Pinky was adamant that this was a good thing as it would give us time to get another. Amazingly he was right.

Kouyate’s attempted pass to Jarvis was blocked but the home defence seemed to think that that meant job done. Sakho picked up the loose ball, Skrtel backed off and Sakho rolled the ball past a leaden-footed Mignolet. Grown men had tears in their eyes in one corner of the ground. I privately admitted that we might just get a draw out of the match if we kept it tight for the rest of stoppage. I say “privately” because I certainly wasn’t going to say so out loud and jinx it. Just to rub it in a bit we took off Sakho to give the kids a run out with Josh Cullen making his Premier League debut. Well you want to give the kids an easy introduction, don’t you?!

That was pretty much it – we saw out the remaining five minutes of stoppage as the advertising hoardings told us that over 26 million follow Liverpool on Facebook, those numbers being swelled by a good 30,000 or so who could no longer handle following them inside the ground. Eventually Friend realised that we could play on for another four hours without things improving for the home side so he decided to put them out of their misery and blew for time. At which point I conceded that we had a good chance of winning.

Full Time: Liverpool 0 West Ham United 3


In our bit of the ground we had people who had seen 35 of the previous 42 visits to Anfield and immediately to my right a young man maybe five years old or so for whom the mach was his first visit to Anfield. All were united in having really silly grins on their faces. All joking apart, this was a well-deserved win. It didn’t flatter us in the slightest and those of you who don’t get to travel to away matches can rest assured that those of us who witnessed both this and the Bournemouth match are as baffled as anyone as to how the same team could play so badly one week and so magnificently the next.

Getting transport back to the city centre proved a bit problematic which precluded my making the trip across to the Wirral to have a bite to eat with some dear friends (sorry El & V) – though they would probably have got annoyed with my stupid grin pretty quickly anyway.

My previous visits to Anfield have always ended up with me going home the same night but I’d decided to have a night of it for once which was why I’m indebted to the usual suspects for showing me around some interesting hostelries – the gargantuan gin and tonics in the Belvedere have completely ruined the concept of gin and tonic for me now, it being a bonus that they were served to us by a Hammer from Dagenham. They are not so much poured as constructed. Normal G&Ts just won’t seem the same in the future. Special mention goes to the Philharmonia where, although the G&Ts are pretty standard, the architecture is pretty special.

In retrospect it seems a shame that one didn’t end up doing a late one through the night but the 5am alarm call after what was mentally a pretty exhausting week was beginning to take its toll on this particular middle-aged correspondent. I was not alone in that so we all agreed on a relatively early night. Having been unable to get into the posh hotel everyone else was in I was staying up the road in a Travellodge and even being called “cute” by one of the hen parties in residence there wasn’t going to ruin a day that good.

Oh gawd we’re at home next…..



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Player Ratings

Darren Randolph
The locals weren’t the only ones unemployed on Merseyside.


James Tomkins
Looked quite comfortable at right back, So much so that I would seriously consider starting him ahead of Jenkinson.


Aaron Cresswell
As good this week as he was bad last week.


Winston Reid
Outstanding and might even have scored.


Angelo Ogbonna
How much did they pay for Benteke?


Cheikhou Kouyate
A powerhouse who was as full of running in the 97th minute as he had been in the first.


Mark Noble
Fine goal. Fine game. Must surely appeal the sending off on the grounds of refereeing insanity.


Pedro Obiang
One of those quietly unheralded performances. Stepped in, broke things up, laid it off.


Manuel Lanzini
Scored one, made one, popped up in attack, popped up in defence. In the city that the Beatles legged it from as soon as they could he was “Here, There and Everywhere”. MOTM.


Dimitri Payet
What a bargain. How much did they pay for Benteke?


Diafra Sakho
Ran himself into the ground and earned the goal for his hard work.


Substitutes


Reece Oxford
(Replaced Lanzini) It’s easy this football lark isn’t it. Useful game time for the kid.


Matt Jarvis
(Replaced Payet) Looked lively late on and kept the full back busy for the last few minutes.


Josh Cullen
(Replaced Sakho) Not sure if he got a touch but good to get him a few minutes in a Premier League ground. Even if it was half empty by the time he arrived.


Raphael Spiegal
Did not play.


Kyle Knoyle
Did not play.


Martin Samuelsen
Did not play.


Elliot Lee
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: Kevin Friend.

Attendance: 0.

Man of the Match: Dimitri Payet.

West Ham United

Darren Randolph, James Tomkins, Aaron Cresswell, Winston Reid, Angelo Ogbonna, Cheikhou Kouyate, Mark Noble, Pedro Obiang, Manuel Lanzini, Dimitri Payet, Diafra Sakho.

Goals: Manuel Lanzini 3 Mark Noble 29 Diafra Sakho 90              .

Booked: Mark Noble 38          .

Sent Off: Mark Noble 78    .

Liverpool

.

Substitutes: .

Subs not used: .

Goals: .

Booked: n/a.

Sent Off: None sent off..

 
Gordon Thrower's Man of the Match: Dimitri Payet