West Ham United were cut to set-pieces yesterday, their inability to defend corners leading to Liverpool's three goals and renewing doubts over their future in the Premiership and Glenn Roeder's at Upton Park. Whatever Roeder's failings as a manager, he cannot be held accountable for the wretched individual errors of Tomas Repka and David James.
Roeder could barely conceal his anger yesterday, questioning the commitment and concentration of certain players. "Those were cheap goals," he said, in the wake of West Ham's biggest home defeat of the season. "Certain people have certain responsibilities at set-plays and they didn't do it. We do plenty of work on set-plays at the training ground but it was down to individual mistakes out there. Some of the players were fearful but they have to be bigger than that. Some of them have got to roll their sleeves up."
Wasting all the good work and whipped-up hope following the midweek victory over Blackburn Rovers, West Ham lacked the qualities spicing Liverpool's display - work-rate, passion, and intelligence in possession. All of the visiting scorers, Milan Baros, Steven Gerrard and Emile Heskey, exuded industry. Danny Murphy, too, sweated over-time and even the oft-criticised El-Hadji Diouf was an energetic presence down the right.
Gerard Houllier's defence was splendidly organised by Sami Hyypia, whose desire to guard a clean sheet brought him a bloodied shirt, stained by a seeping head wound. In contrast, certain West Ham players look prepared to wear claret but not spill it for the cause. "Liverpool's back-four were brilliantly marshalled by Hyypia," said Roeder.
These were words designed to be heard by Repka, an experienced international centre-half with the Czech Republic but naive and accident-prone with West Ham. It was an indictment of Repka that West Ham's best player was probably their little-known right-back, Glen Johnson, who showed determination in disrupting Liverpool moves and some neat touches on the ball.
Upton Park had little else to console it. With Repka and James slipping up, West Ham were two down within eight minutes. First, James froze as John Arne Riise's corner arrowed in. Far more alarmingly, Repka paused as well, allowing the man he was meant to shadow, Baros, to head home from four yards.
The disease of defensive unease has recurring bouts with West Ham. Within two minutes, James did manage to meet Riise's inswinger, but his punch lacked conviction and Gerrard drilled it back in with interest. Gerrard's celebratory run took him straight to the Liverpool bench and hand-slaps with Houllier, Sammy Lee and Phil Thompson, reflecting the bond between management team and dressing-room. It was a sweet moment for Gerrard, on the eve of the FA disciplinary hearing into his two-footed tackle on Gary Naysmith in the Merseyside derby.
Roeder's men briefly flickered into life, Lee Bowyer going close with a header, but their game remained scarred by mistakes. James's kicking was haphazard, Repka and Christian Dailly struggled in the air against Heskey, Michael Carrick failed to impose his considerable talent while Trevor Sinclair seems to have forgotten to resume playing after the heady days of the World Cup.
It was not until the longed-for introduction of Frederic Kanoute, and then Jermain Defoe, that West Ham showed any semblance of a cutting edge. Just before the hour, a neat head-down by Sinclair found Kanoute but the Frenchman could not keep his volley down.
Liverpool merely stepped up a gear, exploiting further hesitation by James and company. Again it was a Riise corner causing chaos. Hyypia headed back across and, as James attempted to control the ball, Heskey nipped in to head into the net. "He [James] said he had both hands on the ball and that Heskey knocked it out," said Roeder.
It was certainly a knockout blow. They came off the ropes momentarily when Paolo Di Canio's shot brought a good save from Jerzy Dudek, but the home fans were already flooding towards the exits, leaving the odd dissenter to boo Roeder.
"I sympathise with Glenn, who's a very dignified man, but he's got the ingredients to keep West Ham up," said Houllier. Roeder smiled wanly when Houllier's comments were relayed. "It's nice he's said that but we've got to put our own house in order. We have to show more fight." Before it's too late.
West Ham: James, Johnson, Repka, Dailly, Winterburn (Brevett 59), Bowyer, Carrick, Cole, Sinclair (Defoe 68), Les Ferdinand (Kanoute 55), Di Canio.
Subs Not Used: Van Der Gouw, Schemmel.
Liverpool: Dudek, Carragher, Hyypia, Henchoz, Riise, Smicer (Cheyrou 79), Diouf, Murphy (Hamann 82), Gerrard, Heskey, Baros (Owen 72).
Subs Not Used: Arphexad, Traore.
Goals: Baros 7, Gerrard 9, Heskey 67.
Ref: M Messias (N Yorkshire).
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