WHAT a refreshing change. During a season that has seen complications and conundrums reign supreme, Anfield took great delight in welcoming the simple and straightforward home again last night.
Placing all talk about refinancing, debts, takeovers, upheaval in the Boot Room and unrest in the boardroom on the back burner, a smaller crowd than usual was able to sit back, relax and watch Liverpool canter to a routine victory.
There was no panic or angst, no simmering frustrations or nervous impatience but, perhaps, it was always destined to be this way; West Ham United never win at Anfield and they never once threatened to end a wretched sequence that spans almost 50 years.
Three goals separated these two teams at the final whistle but, had the Reds chosen to engage overdrive, it would not have been beyond the realms of possibility that they would have scored 13, so big was the gulf between the sides.
Easy pickings such as this do not come along all that often and though this result might not be enough to hoist them back into the top four come May 9, it at least gave them a fillip before they embarked today on their own version of planes, trains and automobiles.
A muted atmosphere early on suggested that it might have been another one of those nights to be endured rather than enjoyed and David Ngog’s fluffing of a great chance inside three minutes did little to placate the anxieties of an anxious few.
They need not have worried. West Ham might have a likeable and decent manager but results have shown them to be a desperate side in a mediocre division and it is no surprise the relegation trapdoor is creaking heavily underneath them.
Should they fall out of the top flight, Gianfranco Zola – who has conducted himself with immense dignity in hugely testing circumstances – will be missed but the same cannot be said of their unctuous new owners, David Sullivan and David Gold.
Judging on the evidence of this display, it is more likely than not they will be in the Championship next season, as without ever having to produce free-flowing, eviscerating football, Liverpool sauntered into a two-goal lead they never looked like relinquishing.
Once Yossi Benayoun had improvised to steer a Steven Gerrard free-kick past Robert Green with his stomach on 19 minutes, the outcome was never in doubt and Liverpool could not have wished for a more genteel start to the week. Toying with their visitors, they were able to keep West Ham at arms length without really having to over exert themselves and that simple approach led to the second goal arriving just before the half hour.
Again the busy Benayoun was involved, scuttling across West Ham’s penalty area, slipping a ball out to Maxi Rodriguez, who wasted little time in firing in a cross to the danger zone, which Ngog smashed past Green with aplomb.
There is no way it could ever be said replacing Fernando Torres with Ngog is swapping like for like but, while the young Frenchman might not yet have a firm fan following, he has made a contribution since August.
This latest strike was his eighth of the campaign, a figure which includes a decisive effort against Manchester United and the goal which ensured Liverpool’s Europa League adventure started with a home win over Unirea Urziceni.
To dismiss him out of hand just because he is not in vogue is, without doubt, unfair and it is worth pointing out that there are not too many 21-year-old strikers operating in the Premier League with similar totals.
He and certain other Liverpool players – Lucas, Emiliano Insua and, to some extent, Dirk Kuyt – have found themselves bearing the brunt of myriad frustrations which stem from the way events have unfolded in the past eight months.
Only time will tell whether there might be a trophy to compensate for those difficulties but one thing that can be safely predicted is that Liverpool are unlikely to get an easier match before the curtain falls than they did here.
Without Scott Parker to drive them on, West Ham’s lack of fight was alarming considering their predicament and the only thing that was missing from this offering was a white towel being flung onto the pitch after Ngog’s goal.
Sotirios Kyrgiakos should have extended Liverpool’s advantage before Ngog intervened – he somehow missed a free header from six yards – and Dirk Kuyt saw a fizzing half volley turned aside by Robert Green on the stroke of half-time. No matter. It was always going to be a case of ‘when’ not ‘if’ Liverpool would hit the target again, the only surprise being that they needed an element of good fortune to do so, Kyrgiakos’ toe poke rebounding off the post and into the net off the hapless Green.
Predictably, Kyrgiakos celebrated the goal as if it was his but few would have begrudged him that little moment in front of the Kop; he has become something of a cult hero, a man who has simply enjoyed rising to the challenge of proving he belongs at Liverpool.
A bigger test awaits him in the confines of the Vicente Calderon but this quiet improver will not shirk the challenge if he is selected for battle; from initial doubts about his capabilities, he is well worth his place in the squad.
Sentiments which apply to Rodriguez; having failed to cover himself in glory against Fulham, the little Argentine resumed normal service, the elegant simplicity of his game a joy to behold and he is evidently building up quite a following. For a period of almost 20 minutes in the second half, one pocket of the Kop chanted his name continuously, a chant to the tune of ‘Heartbeat’; only a smart stop from Green prevented him crowning another hugely satisfying performance with a goal.
While it is immensely frustrating Torres has been deprived a return to the Calderon, Rodriguez will be missed just as much against ‘Atleti’; life, you see, is about to get complicated once again.
LIVERPOOL (4-2-3-1): Reina: Johnson, Carragher, Kyrgiakos, Agger: Gerrard (Mascherano 72), Lucas: Rodriguez, Kuyt, Benayoun (Degen 77): Ngog (Babel 81). SUBS: Cavalieri (GK), Aquilani, El Zhar, Ayala.
Goals – Benayoun (19), Ngog (29), Green (og 59)
WEST HAM UNITED (4-4-2): Green: Faubert, da Costa, Upson, Spector (Daprela 80): Behrami, Stanislaw (Franco 46), Kovac, Noble; Cole (McCarthy 72), Ilan. SUBS: Kurucz (GK), Gabbidon, Mido, McCarthy, Diamanti,
Bookings – Kovac (65), Faubert 81)
Attendance – 37,697
Referee – P Walton
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