West Ham punish slack Liverpool
Published 28/02/2011 | 03:01
West Ham United 3 Liverpool 1: There was a time when the announcement of stoppage time would put fear in West Ham's hearts when they played Liverpool.
That all stems from when the east London club were about to claim the 2006 FA Cup, before Steven Gerrard struck from 30 yards at Wembley.
Yesterday afternoon, however, it was the Hammers' turn. When stoppage time was shown, Carlton Cole was on the ball. His persistence took him past Martin Skrtel and his slash at the ball beat Pepe Reina at his near post to confirm a victory that should have been assured long before.
It pushed Avram Grant's side off the bottom of the Premier League and they are in the relegation zone only because their goal difference is one goal worse than Wolves. It was also their second win in a week, after they thrashed Burnley in the Cup.
Where Liverpool have Gerrard, West Ham have Scott Parker, whose feats of derring-do inspired fulsome praise from his last manager, Gianfranco Zola, and now from Grant. Yet Parker, who scored the opening goal, shouldn't even have been on the pitch.
Grant said: "Scott came very close to not playing. He is a special guy, he showed great spirit. Today until three hours before the game we didn't think he could play. He hurt himself five minutes before the end of training. It was a bad, bad injury, he couldn't walk or move his arm.
"He had 24 hours' treatment and I had prepared the team without him. He needed an injection and more. He is the person who decided to play. Scott is the type of player I like."
Whether this is the start of the Hammers' late escape from the threat of relegation is too early to tell, but the arrival of Thomas Hitzlsperger, whose "massive experience" was acknowledged by Parker, and the signing of Demba Ba have added depth and ability to their first team. Hitzlsperger played a vital role in the first goal while Ba's second, on the stroke of half-time, appeared to discourage Liverpool until their inevitable late surge.
The win was entirely merited, something Kenny Dalglish acknowledged: "We got what we deserved, nothing," he said. It also brought to an end Liverpool's run of eight games without defeat, an impressive-sounding sequence that has possibly papered over some cracks. They only squeezed past Sparta Prague in the Europa League on Thursday.
That competition can be more a curse than a blessing when you have to play three days later and the visitors were slack in their passing and speed to the ball. When Hitzlsperger dispossessed Gerrard, back for his first game in three weeks, it showed how the game was going. By then, Parker had put the Hammers ahead.
Dribbling in from the wing, Parker found Hitzlsperger. As the Liverpool defence pondered and wondered if the German would use his potent left foot, the former Lazio player instead laid the ball off. Parker got as much as he could on his shot, which wasn't much, with the outside of his right foot. It was enough, however, to curl beyond Reina's dive and inside the far post for his fifth league goal of the season.
There was no disguising West Ham's superiority, as they tore into tackles on Raul Meireles and Luis Suarez, and it was confirmed just before the break. Liverpool had already lost Martin Kelly to a hamstring injury but it was from the opposite flank that the second goal came. Ba headed on Robert Green's clearance to Gary O'Neil and the former Middlesbrough midfielder crossed for the Senegal forward, who was unmarked, to head past Reina.
Ba signed last month from Hoffenheim in Germany and Hitzlsperger recovered from injury only last week. Grant is reaping the benefits. He said: "Now it seems when there's more competition it's easier for us. Hitzlsperger is intelligent and with him our midfield is more complete. When we are doing the right thing we are not an easy team to beat."
Dalglish was given some late hope when Glen Johnson tapped in from two yards, but the Liverpool manager said: "We were disappointed with the way we played. There was nothing West Ham did that surprised us because they are fighting for survival. But we never played as well as we are capable of. When we scored I thought we might steal a point. We'll try and correct the mistakes we made." Next Sunday will demonstrate whether he has done that. Their opposition at Anfield? Manchester United.
* Avram Grant dedicated this win to David Gold last night. The West Ham chairman and co-owner is in hospital and Grant said: "Our chairman David Gold is not feeling so well. I want to wish him all the best, he's a good guy and I'm sure he enjoyed the game. I know he watched it."
Booked: Liverpool Skrtel.
Man of the match Parker
Referee M Halsey (Herts)