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Liverpool 0 West Ham 3: Ghosts of Season’s Past Return to Haunt Reds

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The game against the Hammers was my first of the season thanks to a badly timed holiday and Sky’s right to reschedule football matches to suit themselves. Your first game of a new season at Anfield is always accompanied by excitement and optimism. Plus it’s a chance to escape home-life responsibilities for a whole afternoon and maybe, on rarer occasions, the whole night.

I’d had to make do with text updates for both the Bournemouth and Arsenal games. It’s not the best way to judge how your team is doing, but the general feeling I had was that the Reds were making a decent start to the season.

Against a newly promoted side they had somehow found a way to win the game when they didn’t really deserve to; just as they did at Stoke. The trip to the Emirates, while goalless, at least provided hope that we would be able to go toe-to-toe with the top four sides this season. Seven points out of a potential nine was far from the nightmare start everyone had expected.

Maybe last season would prove to be a blip after all. Even the defence seemed to be functioning well, as evidence by three shut-outs and surely our attack would eventually gel. So I was in optimistic mood going to the game yesterday. Besides the ‘cockney boys’ hadn’t seen a win at Anfield since 1963 so what could possibly go wrong?

Not that there was any reason for the Reds to take a relaxed approach to the game. West Ham may have shipped 6 goals in their last two games, but they can score goals. Bilic had also masterminded an unlikely 2-0 victory at Arsenal on opening day. There were plenty of warning signs that this wasn’t going to be a walkover.

Still, there was enough confidence in the air for me and others to predict a win in the pub before the game. The sun was shining, I was back at Anfield and last season was fading from the memory. All was well with the world and then the game kicked off.

Whatever the Red’s new coaching team had drilled into the back-four seemed to have been quickly forgotten. They may have been resolute in the first three games but they were comically inept from the start yesterday. Some fans were still taking their seats when on three minutes the Hammers were a goal up. A poor headed clearance by Skrtel fell to Cresswell who delivered a perfect pass for debut boy Lanzini to slot the ball past a helpless Mignolet.

Pandemonium erupted in the Anfield Road end, as happy hammers could hardly believe what they were seeing. I doubt there would have been a single fan among them who would have been there to see them win in ’63. There were probably not many in the rest of the ground either. To be fair The Kop did briefly respond, raising the noise levels to a dull roar and there was a semblance of a response from the team in red.

First Coutinho fashioned a shot that went high and wide then on ten minutes his Brazilian team-mate let loose a fierce left-footed strike from distance that thumped the upright and went out for throw-in on the left side. What is it about Liverpool and woodwork? Hope flickered and then succumbed to the kind of pedestrian monotony that was all too common last season. Liverpool lacked any kind of spark and Benteke looked woefully isolated on his own up-front.

West Ham’s game plan was obvious and entirely understandable. Pack the defence and midfield and hit Liverpool on the break whenever possible. They executed perfectly, attacking with pace and went close again before winning a succession of corners and free-kicks. The Reds had no response and backed off too easily in the face of the ‘Hammers’ attack.

Frustration was starting to grow all around me, but I felt we just hadn’t got going yet. At some point we would get a grip on the game and we had enough to beat this lot. That’s what I thought, but Dejan Lovren had other ideas. Brendan Rodgers pre-match praise for him turned kiss-of-death on the half-hour mark as the Croation made a complete hash of what should have been the simplest of clearances on his own byline, allowing Lanzini to punish the Reds defence once more. This time he set up Noble for the second.

Cue delirium amongst the ‘Eastenders’ and complete despair on The Kop. I turned to my neighbour and said something like “sometimes you just get a feeling don’t you.” He replied that there was “plenty of time yet lad”. He didn’t sound like he believed it and neither did I. This was starting to feel painfully familiar. Those ghosts of last season were starting to haunt us again. Still if we could just fashion a goal before half-time you never knew. Anything would do; an own goal, a deflected shot or in off the referee’s arse, anything would do.

Instead it was West Ham who managed the half intelligently. Their delaying tactics drove me insane at times, but who could blame them really. Two up at Anfield, staring down the barrel of a first win in over half a century and a priceless three points why should they do anything else. It was up to the referee to deal with these tactics and Liverpool to find a way around them. Both failed woefully in their duty.

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The referee did add on four minutes of injury time, but you got the feeling he could have added four hours and it wouldn’t have made a difference. There was time however for Coutinho to pick up a completely needless yellow card for trying to delay a free-kick. It was an act that would cost him and Liverpool dearly in the second half.

Half-time brought a smattering of boo’s from The Kop. It was hardly universal and it did die down quickly, but it was met with anger from quite a few people in my section. It pissed me off too, but it clearly symbolises the tightrope act Rodgers is performing with supporters. After a decent start to the season the anger and disappointment of last term had gone quiet and here, at the first sign of trouble, it resurfaced in all its glory.

Hearing even a small but audible section of The Kop booing their own team off the pitch at half-time is disappointing at any time of the season, but four games in seems massively premature. Such behaviour has always been the reserve of of the Gladwys Street and I hope it remains that way.

As if atoning for this half-time transgression the supporters raised their game significantly as the second half got under way. The noise levels were high and ‘Fields of Anfield Road’ bellowed out loud and proud at one point. There aren’t many supporters who would rally behind their team at 0-2 down and this was better from The Kop. Shame the players failed to respond. Instead they carried on where they had left off.

They limped through the half and offered little to suggest they were ever going to get back into the game. When Coutinho walked just seven minutes in our fate was sealed. It was all we deserved and I am struggling to think of a single player in red who distinguished themselves at all.

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On the hour mark Rodgers made a positive substitution, bringing on Ings for Firminho who had offered little apart from testing the upright in the first half. The introduction of the former Burnley man at least provided the increasingly forlorn Benteke some support. To say he had been feeding on scraps would be an exaggeration. He hadn’t received a decent ball the whole game.

Ings looked up for it and his display roused The Kop back into life. It’s not saying much, but he was the only bright spark for Liverpool in a game where they managed just a single shot on target. This is a damning statistic in any game but for this to happen at home is appalling.

All that remained was for Kevin Friend to even up the numbers by dismissing Noble for a foul on Ings after he had already awarded the ‘Hammers’ a free kick just outside their own area. It was never going to make a difference to the outcome though and in fact more defensive lapses led to Sakho adding a third, two minutes into seven minutes of injury time.

It was an embarrassment, but West Ham deserved their celebrations at full-time. Early optimism has received a bitter blow. Brendan and his back-room staff have a great deal of work to do if they are to exorcise the ghosts of last season. The mood at Anfield suggests they need to move fast. Still at least we’ve only got a trip to Old Trafford next.

This article by me was originally posted on http://www.theliverpoolway.co.uk on 30th August 2015

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