Liverpool made it seven wins from eight at Anfield so far this season, in the end comfortably seeing off West Ham in a match that saw three own goals scored.
The hosts looked largely comfortable during the first half and doubled their lead in the opening exchanges of the second, but endured a nervy period after the withdrawal of captain Gerrard through injury and Martin Skrtel’s Own goal. During that time West Ham looked to be getting back into the game but a combination of missed chances, indiscipline and ill fortune for the visitors saw the Reds run out comfortable winners in the end.
The first real opportunity of the match came the way of the visitors in the 9th minute, but Diame’s through ball had just too much on it for Modibo Maiga to get a touch on the ball with his outstretched leg. The second came just a minute later, when Suarez broke into the penalty area, but his shot was straight at Jaaskelainen in the West Ham goal. The home side had another good chance in the 16th minute, when Suarez again broke, this time teeing up Henderson inside the area, but the Uruguayan then proceeded to get in the way of the midfielder’s shot.
At the midway point of the first half it was evident that West Ham would provide a much sterner test for the hosts than Norwich and Fulham had in recent weeks, fixtures in which Liverpool had scored 9 and conceded just 1 goal. In the 21st minute, Mignolet was called into action and reminded everyone why he is considered amongst the best shot-stoppers in the Premier League, reacting quickly to produce a fine reflex save from Maiga’s close-range header.
The breakthrough came just 4 minutes from the interval. Jussi Jaaskelainen, got down well to save a Luis Suarez half-volley from inside the area. Unfortunately for him and West Ham, he inadvertently parried the ball straight into the path of a back-tracking Guy Demel, who was unable to get out of the way in time, left standing helplessly as the ball trickled over the line.
At half time Liverpool looked comfortable, but West Ham could consider themselves unfortunate to be behind and were by no means out of the game. The visitors would come to rue their missed chances in the first half just 2 minutes into the second, when Mamadou Sakho scored his first goal for the club since his summer move from PSG. His miscued shot from the back post was already on its way in when Collins attempted a goal line clearance under pressure from Martin Skrtel, only to see the ball ricochet off the bar and into the goal. Steven Gerrard provided the assist, taking his total for the season to 7.
Unfortunately, this was to be Gerrard’s last meaningful contribution to the game. He took a shot in the 54th minute and immediately reached for the back of his leg before signalling to the bench that he was unable continue. After his departure, Liverpool’s midfield became slightly disjointed and West Ham found their way back into the game, enjoying more of the ball and being able to get forward more often.
Raheem Sterling failed to capitalise on two good opportunities to increase his side’s lead. First he blazed over from a cutback by Jordan Henderson, before Jaaskelainen made another great save to deny him in the bottom corner of the goal.
Liverpool would come to bemoan not having made the most of such opportunities to further their advantage when in the 65th minute Martin Skrtel scored an own goal for the second time in three games. West Ham then proceeded to enjoy their best of the game. Maiga was extremely unlucky not to get a good enough contact on the end of a James Collins volley and had he done the game would have been all square at 2-2. They had another great chance to go level when Glen Johnson was caught out of position high up the pitch. Matt Jarvis broke past the Liverpool defence but opted to square the ball rather than taking a shot on, and the danger was cleared.
On 80 minutes the Reds finally got the all important goal they needed in order to establish breathing space between themselves and the visitors. Stand-in captain Glen Johnson provided an brilliant deep cross towards the back post and Suarez didn’t waste any time, converting from a few yards out for his 14th league goal of the season, and his 5th in his last 2 appearances.
All hope faded for the visitors in the 82nd minute when Kevin Nolan made an ugly challenge on Jordan Henderson. Replays showed him stamping on Henderson’s calf, leaving referee Michael Oliver with no option but to brandish a red card. His dismissal added to what has been a difficult start to the season for both him and his team, and West Ham will now be without their captain for the next 3 games.
Just a minute later Luis Suarez made it 4-1. The Uruguayan striker twisted and turned on the edge of the area before unleashing a shot which deflected off Joey O’Brien leaving Jaaskelainen stranded and sealing the win for Liverpool.
Philippe Coutinho was excellent throughout, constantly providing a threat, either cutting in from the left-hand side or from the number 10 position behind Suarez. The Brazilian was involved in consistently good link-up play, competing 37/45 final third passes, 5 of which were key passes that created chances for teammates.
Raheem Sterling was another bright spark, and was involved in many of the good Liverpool moves. He also produced some excellent work a the other end of the field, winning the ball back off McCartney inside his own penalty area before winning a free kick off the West Ham full-back. The youngster again demonstrated what he is capable of, catching out James Collins high up the pitch in the first half by flicking the ball over the defender’s head before setting up Suarez, whose shot was disappointingly wide of the goal.
Overall, Liverpool were perhaps deserved winners but were assisted by a combination of the visitors wastefulness, ill discipline and misfortune. The victory puts Liverpool in 2nd place in the Premier League, just 4 points behind leaders Arsenal who play Everton at the Emirates tomorrow, and level on points with Chelsea, who fell to a disappointing 3-2 defeat away at Stoke. West Ham remain 17th, and are now separated from the bottom three solely on goal difference after Palace beat Cardiff 2-0 at Selhurst park.
Yesterday’s defeat at Anfield means the Hammers’ trip to Sunderland next week is now even more important than before, especially with Palace’s recent run of good form. Liverpool face the daunting task of a trip to White Hart Lane, followed by further tough away fixtures over the Christmas period against Chelsea and Manchester City. More pressing a concern for Liverpool fans though is likely to be the fitness of Steven Gerrard after he limped off with an apparent hamstring injury. Their midfield definitely missed him after he was taken off, and fans and players alike will be wishing for an early Christmas present of his swift recovery.