West Ham battle to deserved draw after controversial Liverpool strike
PUBLISHED: 22:08 04 February 2019
PA Wire/PA Images
The Hammers hit back through Antonio to put a dent in Liverpool's Premier League title push
West Ham United 1 Liverpool 1
Just when the wheels appeared to be coming off the West Ham wagon, Manuel Pellegrini’s battling side gave title-chasing Liverpool the game of their lives with a performance full of intensity, invention and industry to earn a richly-deserved point.
Despite the undaunted Hammers flying out of the starting blocks, Sadio Mané controversially swept home a cross from a clearly offside James Milner midway through the first half to give Liverpool the lead.
But thanks to an expertly engineered free-kick, Michail Antonio netted his fourth goal of the campaign with a collector’s item of an equaliser as the half-hour mark approached.
Victory over Arsenal last time out at the London Stadium had seemed light years away as the Hammers returned to the green, green grass of home having sustained a hat-trick of away losses at Bournemouth, AFC Wimbledon and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
And following Tuesday night’s dismal defeat at Molineux, which left the Hammers in 12th spot – 30 points adrift of the visitors - Pellegrini made a trio of changes as Javier Hernández replaced the injured Marko Arnautović (bruised foot), while fresh-faced full backs Aaron Cresswell and Ryan Fredericks came in for substitutes Arthur Masuaku and Pablo Zabaleta.
And with just two minutes on the clock, Hernández almost marked his recall with a lightning-quick opener when Mark Noble prodded him into the Liverpool area, where he cleverly turned Virgil van Dijk before flashing a low, curling 12-yarder across the outstretched left glove of Alisson and just an inch or so beyond the far post.
Keeping up their energetic, electrifying start, the Hammers comfortably fended off two Reds’ corners before heading upfield, once more, where Antonio’s right wing cross eventually fell to Cresswell, who also sent a low angled 18-yarder whistling beyond the base of that same right-hand upright.
The advancing Robert Snodgrass was then only a stud or two away from completing his run into the visiting area, while Hernández also forced Alisson to save a rare long-ranger from the Mexican after Naby Keïta was ambushed by three hungry Hammers on the half-way line.
Liverpool’s draw with Leicester City on Wednesday had seen them fail to extend their lead at the summit by seven points and, with Manchester City having now beaten Arsenal 24 hours earlier, Pep Guardiola’s men had closed the Merseysiders’ advantage to just two.
Responding to that Foxes frustration, Jürgen Klopp – chasing Liverpool’s first title for 29 years – also made three switches as Milner, Fabinho and Adam Lallana replaced Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and substitute Xherdan Shaqiri but his reshuffled side barely had a sniff of goal inside the opening quarter-hour.
On 20 minutes, though, Roberto Firmino finally forced Lukasz Fabianski into a low save after the Hammers defence allowed the Brazilian too much time and space to shoot from 18 yards.
Just two minutes later – totally against the run of play - the Hammers curiously found themselves behind, when Lallana’s right-wing wizardry on the touchline, released the clearly offside Milner, who – right in front of the assistant referee - advanced into the West Ham area, where his low cross was turned home by Mané as Issa Diop struggled to hold his footing on the slippery Stratford turf.
Aggrieved, agitated and angry at seeing the Senegalese striker take his tally for the season to a dozen goals in such contentious fashion, West Ham took just six minutes to ensure that justice was done, when Snodgrass was upended 40 yards out and they levelled with a goal that was cleverly crafted on the training fields of Rush Green.
With the Merseysiders expecting Felipe Anderson to float a deep, angled free-kick into the Liverpool area, the Brazilian cleverly rolled the award short to the dusted down Snodgrass, who merely stopped the ball to allow the South American to release the alert Antonio wide of the statuesque Reds’ wall and Alisson could only watch as the escaping Hammers No.30 sent a low angled 15-yarder across his right palm and in-off the far post.
Ron Greenwood once declared that ‘simplicity is genius’ and the former West Ham United supremo would have been so proud of that one.
Indeed, Anderson also floated another free-kick onto the boot of Hernández but the Mexican could only launch his shot into orbit and, as the interval neared, the Brazilian craftsman found the forehead of Declan Rice with another cross but the unmarked young Hammer somehow steered his header inches over the angle to leave an exhausting, energised first-half, all-square at the break.
Just after the restart, Diop nodded a Snodgrass corner wide, while at the other end, Mohamed Salah produced his first shot of the evening that Fabianski held before Joel Matip was booked for tugging back Anderson ahead of Hernández following him into referee Kevin Friend’s book for flattening Fabinho.
Salah then embarked on a one-man mission to get the Merseysiders back on top as he cleverly bobbed and weaved his way into the area before unleashing a curler that the flying Fabianski saved at full stretch before the Egyptian then sent another effort high over the top.
Shaqiri stepped from the bench to replace Lallana for the final 20 minutes and he soon saw Snodgrass and Anderson ghost behind him down the left but when the ball fell to Noble, the Hammers skipper saw his 18-yarder loop inches over Alisson’s crossbar.
Divock Origi was then summoned from the dug-out as Firmino retired but still Liverpool could not break West Ham’s steely resistance and, with ten minutes remaining Pedro Obiang replaced Noble, while Andy Carroll – a man who once cost the Reds £35million – came on for Hernández as both Hammers departed to rapturous applause from the appreciative home supporters in the crowd of 59,903.
Still Angelo Ogbonna and Diop marshalled the rearguard as the reinforced Red line moved further and further forward into Claret & Blue territory, calling for Masuaku to make a late appearance in the defending ranks as Anderson made way.
And with Origi firing straight at Fabianski with the last kick of an enthralling night, the Hammers duly held on for a deserved, confidence-boosting point, while Liverpool’s lead at the top is now just a slender three points with 13 matches to play.
HAMMERS: Fabianski, Fredericks, Cresswell, Diop, Ogbonna, Rice, Noble (Obiang 79), Antonio, Snodgrass, Anderson (Masuaku 90), Hernández (Carroll 79) . Unused subs: Adrián, Zabaleta, Pérez, Diangana.
REDS: Alisson, Milner, Robertson, van Dijk, Matip, Keïta, Fabinho, Lallana (Shaqiri 69), Firmino (Origi 74), Mané, Salah. Unused subs: Mignolet, Sturridge, Moreno, Jones, Camacho.
Booked: Matip (55), Hernández (60)
Referee: Kevin Friend