Hapless Hammers Perfect Tonic For Liverpool

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Liverpool 3-0 West Ham
Saturday, 20th November 2010

Liverpool cruised to a comfortable win over a hapless West Ham United side, to secure the three points which were demanded against the league’s bottom club.

In truth, Hodgson and his players would have had plenty of questions to answer had they not claimed victory here. Perhaps facing the desperate Hammers was the ideal tonic following successive below-par away showings and the frustration of losing Steven Gerrard to injury in a meaningless friendly international in midweek.

Much had been made in the week leading up to the game of Liverpool’s over reliance on their formidable duo in terms of scoring goals and winning games. The Reds went some way to contesting this assertion with three first half strikes in this victory. All of which – aside from Fernando Torres’s forward thrust, which forced Danny Gabbidon to handle in the lead up to Kuyt’s goal – were scored without the intervention of their Spanish striker, nor of course their injured skipper.

An 18th minute goal from, the fit-again, Glen Johnson. Followed by two further first half strikes – first courtesy of Dirk Kuyt from the penalty spot and then Maxi Rodriguez – emphatically decided the contest by the interval.

In the absence of Gerrard and the suspended Lucas, Roy Hodgson switched Raul Meireles back to a much more favourable central role. Alongside the much-maligned Christian Poulsen, on his return to the starting line-up.

With Joe Cole also still sidelined, the manager opted to break from the norm and play a front two of Torres and David Ngog. And his decision paid dividends. The addition of Ngog to the attack gave the West Ham defence plenty to ponder. Whilst, the French strikers movement, pace and skill was evidence of his continued personal improvement.

Recent performances and results may have cranked the pressure up on the Reds boss – who has yet to win over much of the Liverpool faithful. Yet, Hodgson can rest-assured that he is not yet under the same level of scrutiny that his West Ham counterpart is currently living through.

Having similarly taken charge at Upton Park only this summer, Avram Grant has struggled fopr results. And, even before this defeat, found his new charges propping up the Premier League table.

Grant has clearly failed to win over the Hammers supporters on this evidence. West Ham’s first half capitulation culminating in cries of ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’ from the visitors section. Although, this is not a fixture which the visitors would have genuinely expected to win beforehand.

Liverpool completely dominated the first half of this encounter from the very first whistle. The Hammers afforded Hodgson’s side far more time on the ball than Stoke City had the previous weekend. Whilst the visitors less direct, physical approach suited the Reds far more.

Dirk Kuyt Liverpool 2010/11 Liverpool V Chelsea (2-0) 07/11/10 The Premier League Photo: Robin Parker Fotosports International Photo via Newscom

A couple of goals courtesy of Johnson and Kuyt in the opening half hour all but ended the contest. And, when Maxi added a third before the break, it looked as though the Reds may go on to rack up a big score. Somewhat disappointingly, though, Liverpool seemed to take their foot of the gas after half-time. As they saw the game out, in a non-event of a second half.

The lively and impressive N’Gog was the first to test Rob Green. The French striker – who built on some good recent substitute appearances, to form an encouraging partnership with Torres – showed good skill before forcing Green into a comfortable save.

The Reds stated their intention with a few decent efforts from distance early on. First Maxi shot wide from outside the West Ham area. Then, after more good work from Ngog, Torres shot narrowly wide from a similar range.

Another long-range drive – this time from Meireles – forced Green to athletically tip over his crossbar, to keep the scoreline level. But, from the resulting corner, Liverpool were in front. Meireles’ delivery eventually made its way to Johnson; who reacted quickest to fire past a helpless Green, for his first of the season.

Having dominated the early exchanges and taken the lead, the Reds used the impetus which they had gleaned to put the game beyond their faltering opponents. Torres – not at his best but as ever a threat – scuffed a chance at the far post from Johnson’s cross. But the striker had a hand in winning the 27th minute penalty.

Torres attempted to chip the ball beyond the West Ham defence and get in behind the visitors backline. But, in doing so, Gabbidon clearly blocked the ball with his arm. Kuyt coolly slotted the resulting spot-kick down the centre of the goal.

Maxi could have added a third soon after, with the Hammers defence struggling. Green’s flap at a Liverpool free-kick delivered into his 6-yar box failed to fully clear the danger. Maxi’s goal bound, looped effort had to be scooped clear by Gabbidon; the Welshman called into action once more.

Maxi did have his goal before half-time though. A Liverpool counter-attack led to Torres testing Green at his near post. Subsequently, the ball came out to Paul Konchesky; who delivered a pin-point cross to the Argentinean winger. His excellent glancing header drifted away from Green and into the far corner of the goal.

The game was all but over as a contest at the interval. Yet, Liverpool failed to capitalise on their prominent position in the second half. The deflated Hammers tightened up in the second period but the Reds rather seemed to settle for what they had.

Meireles undoubtedly looked far more cultured and effective in a central role. Demonstrating what he can add to this Liverpool team if deployed there on a more regular basis. And another Meireles corner was cleared out to Maxi on the edge of the box. A volley from the Argentine was deflected wide.

Before that, Green produced two superb saves in quick succession to keep the goal count at three. Firstly, stretching to palm away Torres’ powerful drive from outside the area. Before producing a similarly impressive fingertip save to deny Poulsen his first Liverpool goal.

Fabio Aurelio – making a rare substitute appearance, having been confirmed fit in midweek –also went close with a long-range left footed effort. But ultimately the Reds were able to close out a comfortable win, as West Ham produced a paltry one shot on target throughout.

A much-needed routine win for the Reds in the absence of Gerrard. But the Reds will surely have much greater tests to face in the coming weeks, in the absence of their hugely influential captain.

Man of the Match: David Ngog

Johnson was particularly effective down the right, even if he did not have to do much defending. Raul Meirles had his best game for the club so far. However, Ngog was lively and threatening throughout. His presence took some of the attention away from Torres. And this front pairing is surely an option which can be considered on a more regular basis.

Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Konchesky, Kuyt, Meireles (Shelvey 83), Poulsen, Kuyt, Torres (Babel 85) , Ngog (Aurelio 74)
Subs not used: Kyrgiakos, Kelly, Eccleston, Jones
Goals: Johnson (18), Kuyt (pen 27), Rodriguez (38)

West Ham: Green, Gabbidon, Jacobsen, Upson, Ilunga (Tomkins 76), Kovac, Noble, Boa Morte, Piquionne, Cole (McCarthy 69), Obinna (Barrera 45)
Subs not used: Spector, Stech, Reid, Nouble
Booked: Noble (73)

Attendance: 43,024
Referee: Lee Probert

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