Fans boo as Liverpool go top
Liverpool 0 West Ham United 0
Published 02/12/2008 | 00:45
It's not only their proprietors who are struggling to find lines of credit. Liverpool are, the league table tells us today, the best side in the Premier League but their labour for goals last night suggests anything but supremacy.
West Ham provided opposition as far removed from the pedigree of their manager, Gianfranco Zola, as any could be but the domination turned to frustration for Liverpool at an opportunity to open a three-point lead on Chelsea.
Add to this result the goalless home draws with Stoke and Fulham and a similar struggle to overcome Portsmouth and the pattern becomes clear. It delivered the extraordinary scene of Rafael Benitez's side leaving the field to muffled boos even as they climbed back to the top of the league. West Ham left with their first point in eight years at Anfield.
Liverpool undertook to fight other people's battles last night – the actress Sue Johnston was on the pitch before the kick-off, exhorting fans to support the case of supporter Michael Shields, still in a British jail for an alleged attack on a barman in Bulgaria on the night of Liverpool's Champions League triumph three-and-a-half years ago. There will be a judicial review of the case in London on Thursday.
But the Reds had a case of their own to answer last night. They remain unbeaten at home in the Premier League, but they have lacked fluency lately and both Benitez and his captain, Steven Gerrard, admitted as much in their programme notes.
There were heavy hints in West Ham's early play that they were going to help Liverpool to a more handsome return than the stalemate against Fulham and eked-out victory over Marseilles here.
There were waves of red pressure and Herita Ilunga, at left back for West Ham, looked a particularly startled figure, handling the ball three times in the first half-hour as Yossi Benayoun worried him.
Gerrard, once again, was the fulcrum. He supplied the cross which looked like breaking the dam on 13 minutes, Robert Green punching it out to Albert Riera whose shot back in was cleared off the line by Hayden Mullins. Gerrard's next delivery, a corner, reached Sami Hyypia who climbed above Mullins but headed over.
After Mullins had been booked for hacking at Benayoun, who had been sent through by Gerrard, James Collins took his turn to clear off the line. Again, the Liverpool captain crossed, this time for Dirk Kuyt, who nodded back in for Hyypia. His close-range header was desperately cleared.
Gerrard then danced past Carlton Cole and Scott Parker into the area and hit the side netting, and only 10 minutes from the break did West Ham provide a reminder that there was actually another team in this.
Craig Bellamy, making his 200th career appearance and playing against the club he represented 42 times before his £7.5m move to the Hammers in July last year, gathered the ball and unleashed a thumping 30-yard shot from nowhere which hammered the inside of a post and rebounded clear.
Xabi Alonso was providing more evidence of the distribution which has characterised his season and a looping cross from him found Hyypia once again, whose push on Matthew Upson went unnoticed but Green saved well and pounced on the ball. It was 45 minutes of utter domination for Benitez's side but a period in which they failed to break through once again.
Amid the artillery, Robbie Keane was conspicuously absent, the ball which he gathered and fired wide of Green's right-hand post on 54 minutes the first meaningful attempt on goal by a player.
"If I said I was happy with his record in front of goal clearly that is not true," Benitez had admitted earlier in the day. Keane looked to the heavens as he was called from the field again five minutes past the hour and avoided eye contact with his manager.
All around him, though, a tide of red shirts continued to advance. Benayoun, proving a point to his manager, latched on to a ball knocked out by Collins and unravelled another thunderous shot which extracted an even finer, finger-tipped save by Green.
The pressure looked like it was starting to tell on Liverpool. When Riera crossed from the left Gerrard was allowed time to take the ball down on his left thigh but found fresh air with the shot he tried. West Ham's threat remained meagre – Carlton Cole's header from a Bellamy corner hit the side netting – but a fine tackle was needed from Jamie Carragher to prevent Cole striding through on goal on the counter attack.
Another long ball found Kuyt but Green saved again at point blank range. Ryan Babel, also sent on to try to break the deadlock, ran through and fired a shot which hit a stanchion but there was simply no way through.
Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Arbeloa, Hyypia, Carragher, Dossena; Benayoun, Alonso, Gerrard, Riera (Babel, 77); Kuyt, Keane (Ngog, 65). Substitutes not used: Cavalieri (gk), Agger, Mascherano, Leiva Lucas, Insua.
West Ham (4-4-2): Green; Neill, Collins, Upson, Ilunga; Faubert (Boa Morte, 85), Parker, Mullins, Behrami; Bellamy, Cole. Substitutes not used: Noble, Lastuvka (gk), Tristan, Davenport, Collison, Di Michele.
Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).
Man of the match: Green.