Monday, 1 December 2008

Liverpool vs West Ham 0-0

Wasteful Liverpool Frustrated By West Ham

After Arsenal re-entered the Premier League title race by upsetting the form-book with a 2-1 win at Chelsea, Liverpool had the chance to go three points clear at the top with a home win over West Ham United. But they failed to take advantage.

Rafael Benitez rang the changes by giving starts to Sami Hyypia, Andrea Dossena and Yossi Benayoun, with Robbie Keane and Dirk Kuyt paired in attack, the Dutchman playing just off the Irishman, and Benayoun playing on the right wing in a 4-4-1-1 formation - with Javier Mascherano on the bench. His Hammers counterpart Gianfranco Zola made one change to the team that beat Sunderland, Hayden Mullins replacing Lee Bowyer in midfield, with Carlton Cole partnering Craig Bellamy up-front.

Liverpool co-owner George Gillett was at Anfield for the game, attending his first match since the Reds beat Manchester United in September.

Rafa's side began confidently, enjoying plenty of possession, and after seven minutes, they had a half-hearted penalty appeal for handball rightly dismissed by referee Peter Walton when a Benayoun effort struck Herita Illunga's stomach from point-blank range. Three minutes later, there was another shout for handball and again it was against Illunga, who brought his arms together to block a centre from Kuyt.

West Ham defender James Collins was forced to cover for Robert Green and clear the ball to safety when the goalkeeper's attempted clearing punch lacked distance.

And with Liverpool beginning to lay seige to the Hammers' goal, Hyypia headed a Gerrard corner just over the bar, before Benayoun was brought down by Mullins as he dribbled his way into the Hammers' defence. The resultant free-kick from Gerrard, some 30 yards out, was deflected for a corner by Ilunga with another suspicion of handball. Carlton Cole then had to clear another Hyypia header off the line, before a rare West Ham attack proved to be an anti-climax when Julian Faubert's feeble shot was comfortably dealt with by Pepe Reina with his feet.

The first 30 minutes had been largely one-way traffic and Liverpool should have been ahead, but without the injured Fernando Torres they lacked that killer touch in front of goal, and despite some intelligent probing by Xabi Alonso from midfield they were short on creativity, relying mostly on set-pieces.

But Gerrard went close when he went on a mazy run into the box, leaving Cole in his wake, and let fly with a shot that hit the side-netting.

Suddenly at the other end, former Red Bellamy produced the best moment of the half when he collected the ball and fired in a superb effort from 20 yards that beat Reina and hit the inside of the post, rebounding across the open goal to safety.

Gerrard then fired another a long-range shot high over the bar, and from an Alonso corner Kuyt at the far-post forced Green into a good save at the near-post. Hyypia stayed up-field and met a Gerrard cross with a header that flew wide.

But Bellamy drove in a low free-kick from long-range that Reina fielded at the second attempt.

As half-time came, it was still goalless, with Bellamy's earlier effort off the post still the closest either side came to scoring, Liverpool losing impetus after having enjoyed most of the possession, and lacking penetrative width. Although West Ham had been limited going forward, Matthew Upson and Scott Parker had begun to excel as the half wore on.

The second-half started with Kuyt soon wasting an opening by producing a weak shot wide when captain Gerrard was better-paced for a pass.

After a dangerous Bellamy free-kick was cleared up-field, the ball found Keane but his shot was both high and wide.

But Green saved superbly from Benayoun, who volleyed a Gerrard cross goalwards after Collins failed to cut it out.

Mullins thumped a low ball through a crowded Liverpool area for Reina to gather and launch Riera down the left-wing, only for Gerrard to slice the resultant cross high.

On 66 minutes, David Ngog replaced the ineffective Keane, and a minute later, Cole wasted a great chance for the Hammers, heading wide of the goal from six yards at a corner as the Liverpool fans began to express some frustration with their team's performance.

Gerrard uncharacteristically wasted a chance with an air-shot, but with West Ham beginning to pose more of a threat, Cole burst forward and forced Dossena into an important tackle. Then Gerrard, not enjoying one of his better games, blazed the well over from some 30 yards out, before Alonso shot from distance, but straight at Green.

On 78 minutes Ryan Babel replaced Riera, and a couple of minutes after that substitution, Hyypia went close again, beating Green to the ball from a corner but lacking direction with his effort, which Kuyt just failed to turn into the net at the back post.

Liverpool had another scare, though, when Cole dwelt on the ball too long with Parker well placed for a pass in the box.

Gerrard shot well wide again from 25 yards, and Upson blocked an Ngog shot. Two minutes from time, a good diagonal ball into the danger area by Gerrard was well controlled by Kuyt at the far post, but Green saved his shot.

Then as Liverpool were stretched in pursuit of a goal, Luis Boa Morte, on for Faubert, was put through on goal but wastefully sliced his shot well wide.

And Reina had to save from Cole at the death, though the flag went up for offside as Liverpool wasted the chance to pull three points clear of Chelsea. It was West Ham's first point at Anfield for nine years.

Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Hyypia, Dossena, Benayoun, Gerrard, Alonso, Riera, Kuyt, Keane.
Subs: Cavalieri, Agger, Babel, Mascherano, Leiva Lucas, Insua, Ngog.

West Ham: Green, Neill, Collins, Upson, Ilunga, Faubert, Parker, Mullins, Behrami, Bellamy, Cole.
Subs: Boa Morte, Noble, Lastuvka, Tristan, Davenport, Collison, Di Michele.

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