Gaffes galore as luck runs out for Hammers
West Ham Utd 0 Liverpool 3 WHEN THEY come to collate the season s Premier League gaffes, this game will surely provide the grand finale, writes DAVE EVANS. They can show referee Alan Wiley s ridiculous interpretation of what is a foul and what isn t; the
West Ham Utd 0 Liverpool 3
WHEN THEY come to collate the season's Premier League gaffes, this game will surely provide the grand finale, writes DAVE EVANS.
They can show referee Alan Wiley's ridiculous interpretation of what is a foul and what isn't; then show Jamie Carragher's comical control of a football which allowed David Di Michele to run through on goal.
Then of course they can show the great Italian himself. Signor Di Michele stormed clear and with just keeper Pepe Reina to beat, he contrived to kick the ball with the wrong foot, then fall over his own feet and laughably get booked for simulation.
It was a comical moment, but it was also the moment that summed up the difference between the two teams.
Hammers boss Gianfranco Zola hit the nail on the head: "We said that the gap between the top four or five teams and the others was huge, so for teams like us who want to get on to that level, it is going to be hard," he explained.
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"We need to work hard, but the way we played in the first half was encouraging. Obviously we need a bit more quality in the last third and then maybe we can match teams like these."
You can get away with playing two 33-year-olds up front against the likes of Stoke City or Sunderland, but against a team like Liverpool it simply isn't good enough, and however much Zola extols the virtues of both Diego Tristan and Di Michele, he knows that they are not the way forward for the Hammers.
"Probably the forward line has been our weakest link," said the manager. "We are a team that creates a lot of chances, but doesn't score as many as it creates."
West Ham showed they are a good side on Saturday. Mark Noble showed his class in midfield, James Tomkins and Matty Upson were once again outstanding in defence with Herita Ilunga also a class act going forward, but there were too many people missing to match a team of Liverpool's class.
As well as the forward line which was simply not good enough, Lucas Neill had a real stinker; Radoslav Kovac continues to baffle us all with what he offers to the team, and youngster Junior Stanislas looks in need of a rest.
The Hammers played well in the first half of this match, but didn't help their cause by letting in the simplest of goals in the second minute.
Fernando Torres played a clever through ball to the onrushing Steven Gerrard, and with Neill playing him onside, he expertly rounded Rob Green and slotted into the empty net.
The West Ham goalkeeper saved at Torres' feet two minutes later and as the half wore on, it was the home side who were in the ascendancy.
Kovac shouldd have done better than head over Noble's left-wing free kick, while Di Michele got himself into some good positions without carving out a real chance as the Hammers dominated possession.
But the killer blow came on 38 minutes. Luis Boa Morte was scythed down by former Hammer Javier Mascherano only for referee Wiley to wave play on. Within 30 seconds, the furious Boa Morte was back in his own penalty box, grabbing hold of the shirt tail of Torres and quick as a flash, Wiley was pointing to the penalty spot.
To add insult to injury, Green brilliantly saved Gerrard's spot kick, only for the rebound to fall kindly for the England man, who slotted it in for a two-goal lead.
Then came Di Michele's hilarious miss and the West Ham players trooped off at the break feeling a little sorry for themselves.
"I don't think that on the pitch there was a big difference," said Zola. "In the first half, probably we played better than them, the quality of the passing was good.
"I think 2-0 was too much really. It could have been 2-1 and in my opinion, it should have been 1-1."
Zola will never criticise an official, but he came pretty close on this occasion: "I'm not going to have a go at the referee. He is a human being like us and he can make mistakes," he said.
"The penalty I didn't see, but Luis Boa Morte said it was a free kick before, but it is pointless to go back to that because it is part of the game and we have to accept it.
"It was very painful though, because the quality in the first half was very good for us."
Maybe it was, but at 2-0 this game was all over by half time
Liverpool were able to play on the break and could have added three or four more goals, while at the other end, West Ham failed to test Reina with a single shot on target.
Tristan headed over Noble's free kick, while a fine move involving Noble and Ilunga saw the defender pull the ball back for Di Michele to shoot well wide.
At the other end the action was more frenetic. With Upson off the field changing his blood-stained kit, Liverpool took advantage and Dirk Kuyt's cross saw Yossi Benayoun volley over, while Kuyt's next cross was nodded over by Torres.
Sub Jack Collison's shot was charged down to allow Gerrard to break at pace and set up Kuyt, whose shot was superbly saved by Green, while Benayoun carved out another chance for himself, only to shoot wide.
The coup de grace came with five minutes left as again West Ham lost possession at the other end.
This time it was confusion between Kovac and Tristan that allowed Kuyt to cross on to Ryan Babel's head. His first effort was brilliantly saved by Green, but once again the rebound was thumped into the net for 3-0.
Upson saved West Ham's blushes with a brilliant last-ditch tackle on Gerrard to deny him a hat-trick, but it was mere damage limitation as the Hammers finished a well-beaten side.
"I can't be too hard with my players because again they played a good game," said Zola.
"They just played all the time very high quality football. It is just that teams like Liverpool, every time you give them an opportunity they just punish you and that is how it was today."
So if West Ham had the likes of Scott Parker, Dean Ashton, Carlton Cole, Valon Behrami, Kieron Dyer and a fully-fit Collison at their disposal would this have been a different story? Would that team be able to compete with the big four?
Maybe we will find out next season, but one thing is for sure, with Di Michele and Tristan as the fulcrum of West Ham's attacking options, Zola will never be able to fulfil his ambitions.
West Ham: Green, Neill, Ilunga, Tomkins, Upson, Kovac, Noble, Boa Morte (Payne 80), Stanislas (Collison 59), Di Michele (Sears 70), Tristan. Unused subs: Lastuvka, Lopez, Savio Spector.
Attendance: 34,951. Referee: Alan Wiley.