Randolph spent a large chunk of 2016 on West Ham’s bench, yet still made it to Euro 2016 as the Republic of Ireland’s first-choice keeper and, against the odds, helped them to the knockout stages.
He has had to wait patiently for chances at club level throughout his season-and-a-half with West Ham, but has finally been given regular Premier League matches following Adrian’s loss of form. Randolph needs to grab his chance. What he did not need was the kind of error that gave a panicky Liverpool side a way back into a match that was sliding away from them.
The goalkeeper’s moment to forget came two minutes into the second-half, with West Ham leading 2-1. Sadio Mane, who appeared to be running into a dead end down the Liverpool left, spun away from his marker and looped in a hopeful cross. Randolph, stretching and off balance, was unable to gather. To his horror, as the ball ran loose, Divock Origi pounced to turn it in off the post. It was a nightmare moment.
Anyone who has played as a goalkeeper will tell you these moments happen. What matters is the keeper’s reaction afterwards. Here, Randolph earned his money. Midway through the second half, Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson collected a pass 25 yards from goal and bent a beautiful shot towards the top corner. It was a goal all the way – or so it seemed. Randolph, diving to his left, thrust up an arm and tipped the ball over. Having cost his side their lead, the goalkeeper did much to preserve the point that lifted them out of the relegation zone.
It was not enough to satisfy him, though. At the final whistle, he buried his head in his shirt, seemingly still distraught at his earlier error. His manager, Slaven Bilic, at least had words of consolation. “That’s the nature of the goalkeeper’s job,” Bilic said, “He made a mistake for their second goal, but before and after that he showed great individual reactions. He was there at the moment we needed our goalkeeper. After the goal, he showed his quality and composure. The strike from Henderson it was a crucial moment for us and he showed great quality.”
These have been rough times for West Ham. Having qualified for Europe by finishing seventh last season, momentum has been lost, through a combination of troubles at their new London Stadium home, poor summer recruitment, injuries to some key players and under-par displays from others.
Yet even though their run without a victory was extended to six matches here, and even though they spent much of the second-half in retreat, there were reasons for hope. They responded positively to an awful start, which saw them go behind inside the first five minutes to Liverpool’s first significant attack. It was a well-worked goal, with Sadio Mane cutting in from the left and pulling the ball back for Adam Lallana, who controlled the pass before slotting it under Randolph.
Michail Antonio’s pace created one chance for the visitors, which was pushed around his near post by Loris Karius, before Dimitri Payet equalised with a free-kick before the half-hour mark.
Payet is one of those players who has not hit the heights of last season, yet here he posted a reminder of just what he can do. When Lallana fouled Pedro Obiang in a central position 25 yards from goal, it was the perfect range for the France playmaker. He did not waste the opportunity, floating the ball over the wall and beyond the goalkeeper.
As Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp later noted, his players rather lost their heads at that point, and they were behind before half-time. Havard Nordtveit’s hopeful diagonal ball from the right-back position looped off Henderson’s head, and a wrongfooted Joel Matip was too slow to react. Antonio’s pace got him in behind Liverpool’s back line, and he nicked the ball beyond Loris Karius to make it 2-1.
Liverpool ought to have been level by the interval; Lallana was denied a clear penalty when Payet put his arm across the forward’s chest, but referee Mark Clattenburg gave only a corner, from which Matip headed against the bar. The equaliser, instead, came following Randolph’s error.
A point was not really what Liverpool wanted, though. League leaders last month, they have won just one of their last four matches, and have fallen six points behind a Chelsea side who appear to be unstoppable for now.
Klopp said: “It’s a negative thing we didn’t win but it’s still a point. We started brilliantly. We were wonderful against a formation which surprised us. They want to defend. We played really well. Then we got a little bit too excited. We had not a real formation for protecting ourselves. We gave the game away a little bit.
“At half time, we told the boys to cool down, and that we can score if we go back to our usual idea. The equaliser was more than deserved.”
Karius 5; Clyne 6, Matip 6, Lovren 5 (Klavan 46, 6), Milner 7; Lallana 6, Henderson 7, Wijnaldum 7; Mane 7, Origi 6, Firmino 5.
Mignolet, Alexander-Arnold, Moreno, Lucas, Ejaria, Woodburn.
Randolph 6; Nordtveit 7, Reid 7, Ogbonna 7, Cresswell 7; Noble 6, Obiang 6; Ayew 6 (Carroll 63, 6), Lanzini 6 (Fernandes 78), Payet 7; Antonio 7.
Adrian, Browne, Pike, Quina, Fletcher.
Mark Clattenburg (6)