Crouch completes revival but Kuyt clouds his day
This attractive encounter gave Liverpool their first league victory of the season, as they responded to the rallying call of captain Steven Gerrard, who had described the visit of West Ham as a 'must-win' game, a somewhat extreme analysis of a match coming all of seven days into a 10-month campaign.
But such are the standards and expectations surrounding Liverpool - not unreasonably, given the fact that manager Rafael Benitez has invested £34million on new talent since January and has opened the campaign with some underwhelming displays at home and abroad. Against such a backdrop, his team needed a spectacular long-range goal from defender Daniel Agger and a well constructed Peter Crouch effort to win the day and cancel out Bobby Zamora's opener.
But the performance, in general, posed more questions than it answered - not least of all, just how effective a player will new £9m striker Dirk Kuyt prove to be and what does his arrival mean for Crouch? Crouch looked out of sorts for his 52 minutes, constantly finding himself on the receiving end of team-mate Craig Bellamy's bellowed complaints, although he could point to an excellent finish as offering considerable consolation.
After superb passes from Gerrard and Luis Garcia had played Crouch behind the line of defenders, there was still much for the striker to do in the 45th minute - and he did it, rounding the goalkeeper and scoring convincingly through a crowd of defenders on the goalline. But early in the second half, Benitez replaced him with Kuyt who, within 60 seconds, had sent a 35-yard shot curling just wide, headed off target and almost beaten the West Ham off - side trap from a through ball.
Thus, the Kop - celebrating its 100th anniversary on Friday, incidentally - had a new cult hero and Crouch had some very serious competition for the role of Liverpool's big target man. 'I think there is always room for improvement, but when you analyse his first day, he played 40 minutes and had three or four chances which is not bad for a striker,' said Benitez, clearly content with Kuyt's performance.
I didn't have to say anything to him before the game. He is an experienced player and I have confidence in him - he knows what to do. Shooting and creating chances for himself was the idea and he did that.' Still, impressive as Kuyt was, coming close with another effort from distance, one that Roy Carroll did well to turn around his post, the lacklustre manner of Liverpool's opening 40 minutes did little to ease the concerns of those supporters fearing another slow start to the domestic campaign.
Admittedly, it was against the run of play that West Ham took a 12th-minute lead, a fortunate one at that, through Zamora. The forward collected Nigel Reo-Coker's ball out on the right flank and whipped in a vicious cross towards the near post . Goalkeeper Jose Reina misjudged his angles, then assisted by palming the ball into his own goal. It was the second time in little more than three months that Reina had been beaten by a West Ham cross, after Paul Konchesky's effort that so nearly won the FA Cup final.
Had Marlon Harewood scored two minutes later, instead of rolling the ball wide with his left foot from Yossi Benayoun's through pass, the outcome might have been very different. But, like all good teams, Liverpool made the most of their good fortune. Moments after Reo-Coker had seen a 'goal' disallowed for an unnecessary foul on the unimpressive Fabio Aurelio, Liverpool centre-half Agger was allowed a huge amount of space as he gathered a loose ball just inside the West Ham half, the Dane advancing to around 30 yards from goal before delivering an unstoppable left-foot strike that swerved deceptively in the air as it beat Carroll.
Despite Kuyt's second-half efforts, the best remaining two chances of the match fell to the visitors, with Lee Bowyer's far-post shot scraping the post when scoring looked the easier option and Carlton Cole striking a close-range eff ort at Reina.
'It was a difficult start, conceding the goal,' said Benitez. 'But after that we scored two very good goals and created a lot of chances. This kind of game, against a good team, you need to finish, to find a third goal, to kill the game off because if you cannot, you need to be nervous at the end. 'But if you create chances you are happy, as a manager, and we will just have to keep working to score more goals.'
Perhaps, in Kuyt, Benitez has the answer.
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