Clinical Keane seals win for Liverpool
Liverpool 3 West Bromwich Albion 0
While Liverpool have been living up to the bill as title contenders this season, one player had been left behind.
Robbie Keane cost £20million in the summer and, until last night, the striker's return in the Premier League had been a big, unflattering zero. Goals had arrived from numerous sources, none had come from him.
Not any more. Last night Keane scored his first and second goals in the League for his new club to not only temporarily silence the "what a waste of money" chants but to push Liverpool three points clear at the top of the table. His haul for the season – with the two he got in Europe last month – now looks far more ample at four. His honing of his domestic sights was timely because it restored Liverpool's equilibrium after their unexpected defeat at Tottenham Hotspur last week and means the worst they will be by tonight is second on goal difference. West Bromwich Albion, with their commitment to the passing game, might have proved a difficult hurdle, instead they were clinically despatched.
It is 41 years since Albion last won at Anfield and last night there was little hint that run would end. Indeed, it could be a while before they get the chance because their lack of threat last night – they have only two goals on their travels this season – did not bode well for the immediate future. Their only strike of any note was a free-kick into the side-netting by Chris Brunt.
It was a comfortable night for Liverpool and a comforting one for Keane, as his manager acknowledged. "I have supported Robbie because he has been playing well and working hard for the team," Rafael Benitez said. "It's always important for strikers to score. Now he will be happier."
As is their wont, Liverpool began slowly, their first real effort coming after 10 minutes when Steven Gerrard tried an optimistic shot from 30 yards, miscued, and the ball skimmed straight into the arms of Scott Carson. Three minutes later the Albion goalkeeper made a similar save although he would have had more work to do if Keane had spent a fraction longer directing his shot on the turn.
Albion, whose reputation as a team with an attacking ethos was confirmed by their playing two strikers, Roman Bednar and Ishmael Miller, also had a half-chance in the 18th minute when Robert Koren slipped a pass to the side of Daniel Agger and Borja Valero would have gone close if he could have made better contact with the ball.
This was a rare piece of encouragement for the visitors, however, and Liverpool felt they should have had a penalty after 29 minutes. Gerrard found Yossi Benayoun and the Israeli winger's shot was partly blocked by Carson and then carried on to hit Jonas Olsson on the arm. Albion would say it was ball to arm, the Kop did not agree.
The visitors' reprieve lasted just five minutes, Gerrard again piercing their defence with a deft pass to meet Keane's dart into space.
Where the Republic of Ireland striker had been hasty with his first chance, he was the epitome of calm on this occasion, chipping over Carson as he came out to block.
After 43 minutes it was 2-0 thanks to a textbook example of a breakaway goal. Albion's corner was repelled, Javier Mascherano passed to Fabio Aurelio and the full-back released Keane with a long ball down the left. One-on-one with Carson, Keane skipped round the Albion goalkeeper and then scored from a tight angle.
With a two-goal cushion, Liverpool could look for another sucker punch and they almost found it just before the hour when Keane should have completed his hat-trick. Having prised possession off Ryan Donk, however, he did not complete the job with a shot worthy of the name.
That proved to be Keane's last chance to get his first hat-trick for the club he supported as a boy because he was replaced with 18 minutes to go by Fernando Torres. So instead of the Irishman getting the third it was left to Alvaro Arbeloa to complete a stress-free night for Liverpool, curling a shot into the top corner in stoppage time.
"We are top of the table and we want to be there a long time," Benitez said. Tougher tasks than Albion lie ahead to test that resolve.