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Steve Blowers, Recorder Reporter
Sunday, December 9, 2012
West Ham 2 Liverpool 3
The Hammers seemed to be in charge at Upton Park, but former West Ham star Joe Cole inspired Liverpool to a comeback win
Two goals inside the final quarter-hour prevented the Hammers from notching back-to-back victories at Upton Park, where old boys Glen Johnson and Joe Cole returned to inflict Merseyside misery on Sam Allardyce’s side.
After Johnson had arrowed the visitors ahead with a brilliant early opener, Mark Noble levelled from the penalty spot with his third goal of the season, before England captain Steven Gerrard inadvertently nodded into his own net to give West Ham an interval lead.
And the Hammers looked all set to tick-off another win on their daunting December fixture list, before Cole fired Liverpool level on 75 minutes and then James Collins scooped into his own net under pressure from Jonjo Shelvey.
Following last Saturday’s rousing revival against Chelsea, Allardyce had made two changes from the side that so spectacularly saw off the European champions as game-changers Mohamed Diame and Matt Taylor replaced substitutes James Tomkins and Gary O’Neil.
Kicking off in 12th spot, two places below the Hammers, Liverpool’s pre-match preparations had been hampered by suspension to 13-goal Luis Suarez and an unwelcome, unscheduled overnight stop in Italy after their plane broke down following Thursday evening’s Europa League victory at Udinese.
But having made a quintet of changes with Gerrard, Lucas Leiva, Daniel Agger plus strike-duo Shelvey and Raheem Sterling each returning, Brendan Rodgers saw his side take-off with just 11 minutes on the clock.
With the grounded Carlton Cole having a decent shout for a foul turned aside by referee Lee Probert, Liverpool quickly worked the ball cross-field to Gerrard, who swiftly picked out the overlapping Johnson down the right flank.
And the former Hammers defender needed no invitation to cut inside and curl an unstoppable 20-yard shot around the jockeying Joey O’Brien and under Jussi Jaaskelainen’s far left-hand angle.
That just added insult to injury for Cole, who had earlier seen Diame’s scorching 18-yard effort deflected off his back and just wide of the base of Pepe Reina’s left-hand post.
Having just bagged his second goal of the season, Johnson again created panic down that right flank that he used to call home and after Sterling fired into the side-netting, the Liverpool youngster then fired another shot just inches wide.
Certainly it was proving to be a frustrating, freezing opening for the claret and blue fans in the sell-out crowd of 35,005, who took the chance to warm their hands with a welcome for that other old boy Cole, who replaced Jose Enrique.
Yet again, West Ham’s Carlton Cole found himself in the thick of things once more but Agger got a stud on to Matt Jarvis’ low cross into the six-yard box as the striker prepared to pounce.
After Shelvey was booked for fouling Diame, moments later Gerrard was also yellow carded for tripping the stampeding Senegal midfielder as he charged deep into Reds’ territory.
Slowly but surely, Big Sam’s side were finally getting a foothold on the game and, 10 minutes before the break, Mark Noble exquisitely picked out the overlapping Jarvis, whose hanging cross was headed clear by Agger, whereupon Guy Demel’s sizzling 18-yarder flew straight at the hands of the jumping Joe Allen.
Referee Probert pointed to the spot and, once again, the ever-reliable Noble expertly despatched the penalty beyond the outstretched right fingertips of the correctly guessing Reina, who could only lie on the damp turf, with the ball nestling in the bottom left-hand corner of the net and the West Ham fans going wild.
After his side’s sluggish start, Allardyce would probably have been happy to go in all-square at the break, but his first-half got even better just two minutes before the interval, when Noble’s quick free-kick released Jarvis down the left flank.
And when the £10.7 million wide-boy crossed into the danger zone, the red-faced Gerrard haplessly rose between Winston Reid and Diame to nod the ball beyond Reina to give West Ham an unlikely half-time lead.
Nothing will even compensate for the Three Lions centurion breaking Hammers hearts with a late, late leveller in the 2006 FA Cup Final, but the half-time replays of Gerrard’s gaffe certainly warmed an East End crowd, who had so painfully been denied the silverware in Cardiff, six years ago.
George McCartney replaced Demel for the restart and whereas Johnson had been the threatening force at the start of the first period, now it was the electrifying Jarvis, who was enjoying his best moments to date in a claret and blue jersey.
Wearing a green shirt, Jaaskelainen brilliantly tipped over Sterling’s rising 18-yarder, while at the other end, Taylor – who had earlier been booked for upending the Liverpool’s lightning winger – then nodded another Jarvis cross straight to Reina.
Shelvey also headed inches wide before Jordan Henderson replaced Leiva but more worryingly for West Ham was the sight of the downed Diame pulling up in full stride and being stretchered away with a hamstring injury.
The Hammers were still coming to terms with the loss of their influential midfielder and with a quarter-hour remaining, Joe Cole galloped on to Sterling’s defence-splitting pass and rifled an angled 12-yard shot across the lunging Reid, beyond Jaaskelainen and into the far corner to level.
Respectfully, Cole did not celebrate his second goal of the campaign, but just four minutes later, the Liverpool fans packed into the lower tier of the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand were going wild once more, when Henderson broke down the right and crossed into the near post, where Shelvey and James Collins slid in, only for the ball to fly high into the roof of the net off the Welsh defender’s boot to give the Merseysiders victory.
HAMMERS: Jaaskelainen, Demel (McCartney h/t), O’Brien, Reid, Collins, Noble, Diame (Tomkins 73), Nolan, Jarvis, Taylor (Maiga 86), Cole. Unused subs: Spiegel, Spence, O’Neil, Moncur.
REDS: Reina, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique (Cole 27), Leiva (Henderson 70), Allen (Coates 86) Sterling, Gerrard, Downing, Shelvey. Unused subs: Jones, Carragher, Suso, Morgan.
Bookings: Shelvey (31), Gerrard (33), Taylor (38).
Referee: Lee Probert.