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Saturday, 29th December 2001

West Ham United 1
Liverpool 1

by Graeme Howlett

Michael bloody Owen. Back in August we were heading to a flying start at Anfield after Paolo Di Canio had given a 1-0 lead, before the boy wonder turned the game around with two late strikes.

This afternoon we were treated to the rare pleasure of watching the current European Footballer of the Year start from the bench - yet even that wasn't enough to stop him from banging in a late equaliser to break Hammers hearts yet again.

The Hammers went into today's game unbeaten since December 1st - a run of five matches without defeat, which had included games against the likes of Man Utd and Arsenal. The opposition today was of the highest calibre again - despite Owen starting on the sidelines.

His place was taken by Nicolas Anelka - not a bad substitute really, a lad who at only 23 has already played for the likes of Arsenal, Real Madrid and PSG.

In stark contrast the Hammers were forced to begin with young Jermain Defoe, starting as a replacement for Paolo Di Canio who was suspended for the game.

But it was Defoe who had the better chances of the two on a freezing cold afternoon in East London, in front of a capacity 35,000 crowd at the Boleyn.

And the young striker will be kicking himself tonight for not adding to his tally of five for the season as he missed several glorious chances to put the game beyond the reach of the visitors.

In all fairness Jermain couldn't really be blamed for not scoring today; Liverpool keeper Jerzy Dudek was simply outstanding for the visitors and single-handedly kept his side in the game when the Hammers threatened to run riot in a purple patch toward the end of the first half.

But even Dudek couldn't stop Trevor Sinclair's blistering 20 yard drive which gave the Hammers a deserved lead on 39 minutes. It came at a point in the game where the Hammers arguably played their best football of the season so far, and that took some doing considering the final 15 minutes against Derby last week.

Sinclair added to his first of the season last week with the goal today - and it couldn't have been better timed, coming as it did in front of the watching Sven Goran Eriksson who was watching a fair few of the players who will accompany him to Japan next summer, including some of East London's finest.

England hopefuls Joe Cole, Michael Carrick Trevor Sinclair and David James all did their World Cup chances no harm at all with competent displays - especially Michael Carrick, who had a stormer of a game in the centre of the park.

In the end those missed chances cost the Hammers dear, as late sub Michael Owen scored the equaliser following a long period of sustained pressure from the visitors.

His 89th shot from the edge of the box curled away from the despairing dive of David James which left the Hammers, who had worked so hard to preserve their lead in the face of relentless assaults from the visitors holding their heads in despair.

In truth the goal was no more than Liverpool deserved; they enjoyed the lions share of possession after the break as the Hammers reverted to defending as deep as possible much to the despair of the watching crowd who had noisily supported the team throughout, creating another excellent atmosphere at the Boleyn.

In all honesty you could count the number of Liverpool's clear-cut opportunities on the fingers of one hand, whereas West Ham could have had a hat-full in the first half which would have left the game beyond the reach of the visitors.

But at this level you cannot afford to miss such opportunities - especially against teams of the calibre of today's visitors, who currently hold four major trophies and are going well in both the Premiership and the Champions (sic) League.

Despite all the Hammers early pressure, it was a Liverpool striker who was guilty of missing the clearest opportunity of the first half. Nicolas Anelka, sent through one on one with David James after 10 minutes saw his first shot brilliantly saved by the Hammers number one. The rebound fell kindly to the French striker but his shot was weak, and allowed James to get down and smother. James had already made his point to the watching Eriksson

Joe Cole and Michael Carrick were imperious in that first period. The two young England hopefuls took control of the midfield and were at the heart of the best Hammers moves.

Both went close with good chances too; Cole with a low drive in the opening fifteen and Carrick with a rasping drive shortly after Sinclair's opening goal that surprised Dudek.

But it will be the aforementioned Defoe who will most be kicking himself for not scoring tonight; he had three good chances in the first period, the most important of which came a minute after Sinclair's goal. Had Defoe (who turned Henchoz superbly in the box before shooting low) managed to beat Dudek (who responded with a superb save to divert the shot wide of the post) the Hammers would surely have gone on to record their fifth home win of the season.

Sinclair could have had a second in the final moments of the half; his 12-yard bicycle kick, had it gone in rather than been superbly tipped wide by Dudek would have rivalled last week's blistering strike for goal of the season.

The second half was a different affair; Steven Gerrard, replacing the ineffective Gary McAllister was instrumental in turning the game in the visitors favour - as were the subsequent two Liverpool subs, Jari Litmanen and Michael (bloody) Owen.

Yes, Liverpool ended the game with four strikers on the pitch, and their adventurous nature was duly awarded with Owen's clinical 89th minute strike. The Hammers failed to clear their lines, and a robust Heskey challenge gave Owen the opportunity to notch his 100th Liverpool goal with a curling drive.

There was no time for the Hammers to restore their lead; in fact, Liverpool looked the more likely of the two sides to win as they continued to pile forward.

But time was against both, and official Rob Styles - who was criticised heavily for his performance in the Hammers/Leicester clash at Upton Park last season, but atoned with an excellent performance today - duly blew for time after two added minutes to send both sides home with a share of the spoils.

The Hammers will look back on this one the more disappointed of the two - and but for Michael bloody Owen they would have celebrated the new year sitting comfortably inside the Premiership's top ten.

Player ratings:

David James (7) The double save he made from Nicolas Anelka was exceptional, as was his first half dribble that left Hammers fans with their hearts in their mouths. But he still had one or two dodgy moments - the most notable being in the first half when he missed two successive crosses from which Liverpool fortunately failed to profit. Looking good, but still prone to one or two errors which could prove to be costly.

Seb Schemmel (6) Schemmel found himself more often than not up against Emile Heskey, and the big striker came out on top with nearly every challenge. Where Archie was good today was on the break; he gave the Hammers that much needed extra width on the right flank and several times he combined well with Don Hutchison. Not his greatest game, but by no means his worst.

Nigel Winterburn (7) Nutty Nige has a good game today, and nearly capped it with a low shot in the first half which went only narrowly wide. Defensively he was solid and was perhaps deserving of being on the winning team. Most importantly he is still defying his years, and on this performance he should easily be capable of playing on for another year at least.

Tomas Repka (7) Tommy was up against the best in the business today in the shape of Emile Heskey and Nicolas Anelka. Once or twice he was beaten for pace by Anelka (most notably in the Frenchman's aforementioned double miss) but generally he was solid, commanding and strong.

Christian Dailly (7) Dailly is finally getting some positive feedback from supporters after suffering a difficult period, and it seems to be showing through in his game. His confidence, once shot, is back and he was exceptional at points today. His early exchanges with Heskey in the air went the way of the Liverpool man before he stood off slightly - which paid dividends in the end.

Don Hutchison (7) Don followed his Man of the Match performance against Derby with another solid performance today. He was a constant thorn in the side of the Liverpool defence in the first half, although he was forced much deeper after the break. Made captain for the day in Di Canio's absence he did the armband proud, and is finally showing why Glenn Roeder felt it necessary to part with a third of his transfer budget to procure his services earlier in the season.

Trevor Sinclair (7) Trevor must have known Mr.Eriksson was in the crowd, as he turned in his best performance for many a week. In the Hammers first half purple period he was outstanding, and capped it all with a superbly taken goal. Had the overhead kick gone in too we would all be raving about it, as it is it will probably be forgotten only too soon. Heading for the World Cup if he continues his recent form.

Michael Carrick (9) Michael was a giant out there today. His passing was crisp and precise, and his tackling was reminiscent of a certain B.Moore at times. The young Geordie seems to be getting to grips with his defensive duties more and more as the weeks pass; one can only hope that this doesn't come as a detriment to his flowing, attacking play. Today it certainly didn't; Man of the Match.

Joe Cole (8) Joe excelled in the middle of the park without perhaps providing the final, cutting edge. Once again the tricks were in full flow, as he ran ragged several more established Liverpool players today. His best chance came when Jermain Defoe was perhaps better positioned to score; a diving header late on in the first half which Defoe was ready to connect to with a flying volley. That went agonisingly wide, and perhaps summed up Joe today. An excellent game, but he needs to start finding the net.

Frederic Kanoute (6) Freddy was frustratingly disappointing today. Apart from missing one gilt-edged opportunity in the first half he was largely anonymous, and looked a good distance away from his best. Perhaps the old hamstring injury is still causing him concern; maybe he's just suffering one of those periods that strikers often go through. Whatever, he needs to buck up his ideas if he is to be any threat to Rio Ferdinand and co at Leeds on New Years Day.

Jermain Defoe (7) It has been mentioned that Defoe appears to give his best performances when coming on as a sub, rather than playing the entire 90 minutes. Today's game would add weight to that argument; over 90 minutes he failed to provide the cutting edge which is so prevalent when he starts from the bench. However he can't be faulted for his efforts, and facing any other keeper he would have scored at least once today. His frustration was clear towards the end as he threw his arms in the air on occasions and began to remonstrate with team-mates after one or two passes went astray. Still capable of turning the game with a moment of magic though.

KUMB Stats

West Ham United: James, Schemmel, Repka, Dailly, Winterburn, Hutchison, Carrick, Cole, Sinclair, Kanoute, Defoe.

Subs: Hislop, Foxe, Moncur, Courtois, Todorov.

Liverpool: Dudek, Carragher, Henchoz, Hyypia, Riise, Smicer, McAllister, Murphy, Berger, Anelka, Heskey.

Subs: McAllister (Gerrard 45), Owen (Murphy 59), Litmanen (Smicer 75), Kirkland, Wright.

Goals: Sinclair (39), Owen (89)

Booked: Sinclair

Referee: R.Styles (8)

Attendance: 35,103

Man of the Match: Michael Carrick

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