West Ham United completed a stunning 3-1 victory against Liverpool, with captain Scott Parker opening the scoring to lift the Premier League strugglers off the foot of the table. Goals from Demba Ba and Carlton Cole sandwiched a Glen Johnson strike as the East Londoners grabbed a vital three points in the battle against relegation.
Liverpool were set-up in the same 5-3-2 formation that served them so well in the victory over Chelsea earlier on in the month, with Raul Meireles handed an attacking role in midfield, as he looked to add to his impressive tally of five goals and an assist in his previous six matches.
Hitzlsperger gave Liverpool an early reminder of why he is nicknamed, 'Der Hammer' in Germany, as he struck a 35-yard volley at goal in only the third minute. It went straight into Pepe Reina’s arms, but let the Anfield club know what they could be in for later in the afternoon.
Five minutes later Meireles went close, running onto a Steven Gerrard lofted through ball, but he made a mess of the header, putting it high and wide from the edge of the penalty area. In truth, it would have taken a Herculean effort to score, but showed some of Liverpool’s early attacking intent.
Martin Kelly, who looked so impressive against Sparta Prague in midweek, was given license to attack along with Glen Johnson, and his devilish cross could have given Liverpool the lead in the 13th minute, with a West Ham defender sliding in to clear behind for a corner.
It was West Ham who took the lead in the 21st minute, through their captain and talisman, Scott Parker, with an outrageous finish.
The Hammers midfielder exchanged some slick passing and a quick one-two with Hitzlsperger before poking home a finish from the edge of the area, a shot that curved in the area and brushed the inside of the post before nestling in the net.
West Ham were immediately pressing for a second, but almost came unstuck as Liverpool counter-attacked through Luis Suarez and Dirk Kuyt, with the Dutchman firing in an effort from range that could only find the outside netting.
With that scare avoided, West Ham almost doubled their lead, with Frederic Piquionne putting a ball across the face of goal that Demba Ba just couldn’t get on the end of. If he had made any contact it would have been a certain goal.
The Hammers certainly weren’t holding back in their tackles, seemingly keen to test out Liverpool’s new recruit Suarez, with the Uruguayan twice going down under challenges from James Tomkins, and he wasn’t the only one, with Raul Meireles seemingly buckling under a challenge from Parker midway through the first half, and he was replaced by David Ngog after only five minutes in the second.
Liverpool were forced into a tactical change only minutes before half-time, as the promising Kelly had to leave the pitch with a serious-looking hamstring injury.
And barely a minute after he had been replaced by former West Ham favourite Joe Cole, the Hammers were 2-0 up thanks to some good old-fashioned route one football.
It was a long ball from Robert Green to Demba Ba, who flicked the ball wide to an on-rushing Mark Noble. Perhaps because of the tactical switch, Liverpool looked all over the place at the back, with Jamie Carragher forced wide to close down Noble. He chipped a ball back into the box, slightly behind the defenders to Ba, who flung himself at the ball, and his header flew into the top corner, with Reina helpless.
It was just reward for West Ham, who had dominated the match. Hitzlsperger in particular was playing well, getting forward to attack while nullifying the threat posed by Gerrard in defence.
Ba almost put the result beyond doubt after seven minutes of the second half, blazing a shot along the ground just wide of Reina’s post, with the Spanish keeper nowhere near stopping it.
Hitzlsperger was again involved, pushing on from midfield to take a shot which deflected wide. From his corner, Piquionne was again close to getting a third, with a combination of Liverpool defenders blocking his header.
To say West Ham were dominating the second half would be a grand understatement. Liverpool were barely involved. The Hammers would just have to be wary that none of their missed chances would come back to haunt them.
The East London club were given a vital reminder of how easily things can change when, from nothing, Gerrard’s flicked pass to Suarez turned into a chance as the Uruguayan easily rolled past Tomkins and shoot for the top corner, only for Green to match his effort with a fantastic save, pushing the ball out for a corner.
They were still content to attack Liverpool’s defence though, with the Danish full-back Lars Jacobsen allowed to advance too far, before striking his shot just over.
Piquionne then missed perhaps the easiest chance of the match. He didn’t connect properly with a free header only six yards out, and screwed his effort wide. It would have been interesting if the ball had gone in, however, as Liverpool felt aggrieved about the corner.
Noble went to take a short corner, but didn’t make proper connection with the ball, causing it to roll only slightly. He then placed the ball back in the quadrant with his hand, making Liverpool’s Lucas Leiva complain to the referee, who ignored his protests.
Certainly, if the ball had gone in, there would have been plenty of complaints from Liverpool, and an interesting topic for debate.
Liverpool began pressing for a goal and on the 70th minute Gerrard came close with a dipping volley that Green did well to push over.
Green was producing the sort of form that led to his England call-up before his howler against the USA in the World Cup, and genuinely didn’t look like he would be beaten.
Gerrard earned himself a place in the Hammers fans’ bad books as he appeared to dive under a Piquionne challenge in the area. However, he immediately acknowledged that it wasn’t a foul, as did the referee who told him to get up.
The game was turned on its head in the 84th minute, as Liverpool finally found a way through the West Ham defence. Luis Suarez superbly turned Parker before slamming a pass across the face of goal for former West Ham player Glen Johnson to turn in from three yards out.
However, substitute Carlton Cole made sure of the win in the 91st minute, as he won a high ball before battling off Martin Skrtel. After a step-over to get past a tired Carragher, his left footed shot was hit with venom, and wrong-footed Reina to find his near corner.
Reina will be disappointed at being beaten by such a simple shot, but the Hammers fans didn’t care, their hopes of survival having been given a huge lift by this vital victory.