West Ham United 2 Liverpool 3
In the end, then, Liverpool didn’t need Luis Suarez.
Part of that, though, was down to the fact West Ham United contributed enough to cover his absence themselves.
Both of Liverpool’s first two scorers were former Upton Park players while the winning strike, of course, was a James Collins own goal.
For Sam Allardyce, it summed up a “bizarre game”.
It’s difficult to deny there were a few other oddities to this match beyond Liverpool ultimately coping so admirably without Suarez. As such, it’s still a little difficult to say whether this represents the progress Brendan Rodgers has been preaching about or a mere aberration. For a start, there is the startling stat this was actually the first time Liverpool have scored after 75 minutes in a league game this season. And they didn’t just get one, but two.
Then, there was the identity of one of the scorers, even beyond his West Ham connections. After a thoroughly disappointing two and a half years at Liverpool, Joe Cole finally had discernible influence at the club as he drilled home superbly to equalise.
Finally, there was the fact that, by the end, Rodgers could argue the Jonjo Shelvey ‘false nine’ experiment worked. If the Liverpool attacker can’t claim the decisive Collins own goal, his presence was enough to pressure the centre-half into the error. Rodgers also praised his movement, which allowed Cole to slip in to equalise.
“That was our idea in terms of when you’ve got that moving number nine,” Rodgers said. “If any of the centre-halves get drawn out, it creates space for the wingers. He [Shelvey] was outstanding. And there was a lot of pressure on him, people trying to compare him to Luis Suarez.
“For us, there was no drama [about losing Suarez]. My focus here was about the collective. We all share the ball, we all share the workload and we’re not asking anyone to do more than anyone else. I had great faith in the players to score goals.”
But, while much was being made of the fact so many former West Ham players turned the game, it is a current one who also attracted the attention of Liverpool that had the biggest influence.
Mohamed Diame was on the verge of moving to Anfield before Kenny Dalglish got sacked and it was his hamstring injury here, just four minutes before Cole equalised, which allowed them back into the game. Before then, the dynamic midfielder had been at the centre of every West Ham attack, with his drives forward giving them so much impetus.
As Allardyce said, Diame possesses the “sort of quality that opens opposition up”. The one “silver lining” to what looks a lengthy injury, though, was that it may mean any January interest cools. “I’d sooner have the aggravation of agents and people trying to buy him than doing without him,” Allardyce countered.
On a similar note, Rodgers said Raheem Sterling’s contract situation will “be fine”, as the winger illustrated his own importance with a fine pass to Cole.
Diame had to go off for such openings to come, however. Because, up to then, West Ham had been good value for their lead. Although Glen Johnson had scored the opening goal with a stupendous long-range strike, the home side were beginning to get on top by the time Joe Allen was penalised for handball. Mark Noble put away the penalty before Liverpool buckled under pressure, with Steven Gerrard heading into his own net.
It fit a theme of the day. Rodgers, however, will now hope to change the theme of Liverpool’s campaign.
“We’ve supposedly had an unbelievably bad season,” he joked. “It’s more about how you finish.”
Without Suarez, Liverpool got a bit of a helping hand in that regard yesterday.
WEST HAM UNITED: Jaaskelainen; Reid, Collins, Demel (McCartney 45), O’Brien; Noble, Nolan, Diame (Tomkins 72), Jarvis, Taylor (Maiga 85); Cole.
LIVERPOOL: Reina; Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique (Cole 27); Lucas (Henderson 70), Allen, (Coates 85) Gerrard; Sterling, Downing, Shelvey.
Referee: Lee Probert (Wiltshere).
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