West Ham 1 Liverpool 2: Three talking points as Reds go top
West Ham 1 Liverpool 2: Three talking points as the Reds cling on at Upton Park to move top of the table
SAS make their mark
In the build-up to this vital fixture, much of the focus was on how the home backline would cope with the potency of Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez. Sam Allardyce’s side were fully aware of the danger posed by the frontline as the latter had netted twice in the reverse game at Anfield in December. The pair had scored a combined total of 49 goals between them prior to this encounter at Upton Park, with the Uruguayan netting 29 of those, and they had more records within their crosshairs. As a double act, they were just three away from breaking a club record set by Ian St John and Roger Hunt in 1963-64 and just seven from becoming the most effective partnership in Premier League history, usurping Peter Beardsley and Andy Cole. Suarez was also nearing a record-breaking tally, as he was a brace behind breaking the goal-scoring record for a 38-game campaign, which was held by Alan Shearer and Cristiano Ronaldo. The Uruguayan was inches away from reaching in fine style on two occasions his lobbed efforts rattled the crossbar – the 26th time that Liverpool have hit the woodwork this season. His impact wouldn’t stop there as the frontman won a penalty just before the half-time interval, which skipper Steven Gerrard coolly dispatched, after James Tomkins handled inside the box. Although he didn’t manage to get on the scoresheet, Suarez illustrated his work-rate and an ability to be an effective outlet. It proved to be a frustrating fixture to England international Sturridge though, as he was reduced to being a bit-part player in proceedings. Despite failing to break any records in this vital win, the overall contribution of Suarez and Sturridge may prove enough to write a new page in Liverpool folklore.
Old boys prove threatening
Recognised as being the hub of West Ham’s direct style, which is much derided by their own fans, Andy Carroll was looking to put a dent in his former side’s title aspirations. He has a seemingly unerring ability to win headers and set up attacking opportunities, more often than not for good friend Kevin Nolan, who was raised in Toxeth. Despite their attacking threat, a weakness in the visitor’s armoury is their defensive security and aerial prowess, with 11 headed goals being conceded by Brendan Rodgers’ side so far this campaign. Sound bites from Rodgers’ pre-match news conference illustrated his respect for their club-record signing as the Northern Irishman declared that Carroll was “one of the best of his type in Europe”. The striker, who was signed for £35m in January 2011, caused problems for the opposition defenders as his movement gave the defence something to think about. His bustling presence would prove to make a controversial effect as the 25-year-old played a part in his side’s equaliser. Carroll put a hand into the face of Simon Mignolet, before Guy Demel stabbed home an equaliser, with referee Anthony Taylor overruling linesman Simon Burt’s decision. It also meant that eight different players, including an own-goal by Hull’s James Chester, have scored the last nine league goals scored by the Hammers. Mignolet was a spectator for his next contribution though as the pony-tailed striker planted a textbook header onto the visitors’ crossbar. Fellow Liverpool old-boy Stewart Downing, who left Merseyside in a cut-price deal in 2013, also proved to be a tricky presence on the left-hand side for the hosts as he kept Glen Johnson honest. Neither would spoil the party for the visitors as they secured a ninth consecutive victory for the first time since 2006 and opened up a two-point gap at the summit.
Does history beckon for the Reds?
After finishing seventh and failing to get beyond the fourth of both domestic cup competitions in an underwhelming first season under Brendan Rodgers, few pundits would have predicted Liverpool’s lofty status at this stage of the season. Despite this disappointment, Rodgers laid crucial foundations for the future development of the squad as he brought in five new signings, including the crucial additions of Daniel Sturridge, for £13.2m and Brazilian Philippe Coutinho. The manager also dispensed with a number of experienced figures and fringe players, including Craig Bellamy, Charlie Adam and Joe Cole. He continued the strategy of building a stronger squad into the 2013-14 campaign as six new faces arrived, including Simon Mignolet and Mamadou Sakho, and the likes of Jonjo Shelvey and Jay Spearing departed. A title challenge seemed to be a pipe dream for fans populating the Red half of the city but everybody has been proved wrong as the bandwagon has kept on rolling. They took another significant step towards claiming the title in London as they overcame a tricky test against West Ham, thanks to a pair of penalties from skipper Steven Gerrard. Their success has been built on pressing and counter-attacking and an irresistible appetite going forward and five games lie between them and a maiden Premier League trophy win. The run-in won’t prove to be easy though as they face crucial home encounters with fellow title challengers Man City and Chelsea and potential away banana skins against Crystal Palace and Norwich mixed in to the equation. One thing for sure is that there will be a number of squeaky bums in Merseyside as we draw to an enthralling end to the season.