Saturday, November 20, 2010
ESPNsoccernet: November 22, 4:42 PM UK
Woeful Hammers provide no test
Richard Jolly, Anfield
Humour, cruelty and piercing honesty can go hand in hand on the terraces. The greater a club's plight, the more illuminating the insights from the supporters can prove, and the more absurd their flights of fancy can become. If it tends to be worth watching the side at the top of the league, it's instructive to listen to the fans at the foot of the division.
West Ham's faithful provided more entertainment than their embarrassment of a side mustered at Anfield. In a match that had been billed as a private duel between the leaders of the sack race, respite for Roy represented anguish for Avram. On the field, an impressive Liverpool side were his tormentors; off it, his own fans were.
Taunted and mocked, it made for a harrowing 90 minutes for Avram Grant. A manager who can look beleaguered at the best of times cut a lonely figure. He didn't respond when the visiting supporters in the Anfield Road Stand asked for a wave; little wonder, either.
They, rather than their Liverpool counterparts, were the ones suggesting he would be sacked in the morning; they advocated Paolo Di Canio, loudly and regularly, as his replacement; they chorused "that's why we're going down" when Victor Obinna's shot landed in the upper tier of the Anfield Road Stand; they chanted "Avram, sign him up" when referee Lee Probert intercepted a pass from Christian Poulsen; they borrowed Barnsley's chant of "it's just like watching Brazil" and laced it with irony.
The facts can provide a rationale to underpin the words. Grant has four wins in 34 league games, a solitary victory in his time at Upton Park and has spent a whole year in the relegation zone. Portsmouth, admittedly, was a poisoned chalice of a job. West Ham represented an opportunity.
Yet, with seven signings made and a squad that, man for man, certainly isn't the weakest in the division, the Hammers remain a one-man team. And when that one man is missing, as Scott Parker was, it left a gaping void in the centre of midfield. Important as the injured Steven Gerrard is to Liverpool, West Ham's talismanic No. 8 seems still more significant to his club.
Grant, whose mumbled moanings have become a constant, accepted defeat was justified but attempted to use injuries as an excuse, though Liverpool have as many absentees. "The minute I think I cannot do my job, I will not be here," he said. "If I can take West Ham to the place I can take them, that's important to me."
The concern is that their destination is the Championship. "In the first half, we were very poor," he admitted. They were dreadful. The opening 45 minutes amounted to a surrender. Waves of attacks yielded three goals and could have brought more. It had been an example of Liverpool's reliance upon their two marquee players that the last time they scored a league goal that didn't involve Fernando Torres or Gerrard, either as creator or finisher, was the opening day of the season. This was a game where there were plenty of willing contributors in the final third.
"We have showed we are more than just a two-man team," said Dirk Kuyt after his penalty was sandwiched by strikes from Glen Johnson and Maxi Rodriguez. The opener came from a new combination, Raul Meireles' corner being met by Johnson on his chest before the former Hammer was allowed to drill in a low shot.
Then Kuyt converted from 12 yards after Danny Gabbidon handled a pass from Torres before Robert Green denied the Spaniard, only for the rebound to fall for the on-rushing Paul Konchesky. He whipped in a cross and Rodriguez diverted his header past the unfortunate goalkeeper.
"What was most pleasing was we had done a lot of work trying to get our full-backs forward so it was nice to see Glen score one goal and Paul Konchesky make another," said Hodgson, whose defenders had been deemed rather too defensive in previous matches.
A further pair to impress patrolled the centre of the pitch. Minus Gerrard and the injured Lucas, two of Hodgson's summer signings were paired. Christian Poulsen enjoyed his finest Liverpool game (admittedly, that isn't saying much) and Meireles excelled. "In a good team, Christian showed what a good player he is," Hodgson added. He almost opened his Liverpool account with a fierce shot that Green saved, seconds after tipping a Torres thunderbolt on to the bar.
By then, the West Ham supporters had long since started celebrating minuscule achievements ("we've won another free-kick") and imagining life after Avram.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Maxi Rodriguez - A man who may be seen as an archetypal Rafa Benitez signing is delivering more for his successor. The Argentine scored one goal, came close to another and eluded West Ham throughout with his movement.
LIVERPOOL VERDICT: A fine performance contained some welcome attacking intent from the first whistle, but it has to be put into the context provided by West Ham's ineptitude. It was only the second time Hodgson has paired Torres with David Ngog in a league game, another progressive move, and it made for a stark contrast with the display at Stoke seven days earlier.
WEST HAM VERDICT: Only Green and Radoslav Kovac, who made two terrific last-ditch blocks, can hold their heads high after such an abject display. Quite why Grant still seems to believe Luis Boa Morte is a central midfielder is a mystery.