Joe Cole equalized and a James Collins own goal gave Liverpool an unexpected 3-2 result at Upton Park that leaves them four points off fourth place.
West Ham 2: Noble (p.) 36', Gerrard (og) 43'
Liverpool 3: Johnson 11', Cole 76', Collins (og) 79'
It was largely as expected in the eleven from Brendan Rodgers, even if that was accompanied by the disappointment of having Stewart Downing on the flank opposite Raheem Sterling. They started on either side of Jonjo Shelvey, who "replaced" Luis Suarez in some sense of the word, with what's become the new norm throughout the rest of the squad--Lucas, Joe Allen, and Steven Gerrard in the midfield, and Glen Johnson, Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger, and Jose Enrique across the back in front of Pepe Reina.
Liverpool's start was gangbusters, as they quickly forced a corner after some sharp passing and hoarding possession for the opening minute. West Ham gradually turned that over, most notably later in the half, but when Glen Johnson opened the scoring just after the ten minute mark, it was well deserved. The former West Ham youth player drifted in from the right, held possession, and then unleashed a superb strike that sailed past Jussi Jaaskelainen into the far corner.
The right-back pressed on from there, again creating a threat for Liverpool from the right, this time as he cut back from the in-rushing Sterling, who curled just around the post. Liverpool were on top, at least until they weren't and it was exciting to see the pressing, forceful display without the main goalscoring threat in the lineup.
It didn't last, of course, as West Ham began to take the match over, culminating in a ten-minute stretch that saw the hosts take the lead. Joe Cole replaced the injured Jose Enrique, and West Ham went into overdrive--they'd been on top starting around the twenty minute mark, were well in front after Cole came on, and they leveled when a hand-to-ball penalty was whistled on Joe Allen, which was placed past Pepe Reina, and took the lead on a perfectly-placed header by Steven Gerrard into his own net. As good and encouraging as the opening fifteen to twenty minutes had been, the finish to the first half was just as bad, if not worse.
The second certainly wasn't any better, with no changes made and West Ham looking far more dangerous. It was nigh-on unwatchable, with no real attacking impetus coming from anyone other than Glen Johnson, and a midfield that, even with a serviceable Lucas present, was being overrun by the impressive Mohamed Diame. West Ham stretching out their lead wasn't really a question.
But then Diame limped off injured, apparently with a serious-seeming hamstring injury, and Liverpool turned the match over. It didn't happen immediately, but more space was evident, and it was the explotation of that space that gave Liverpool an equalizer or their own. Raheem Sterling one-touched a lovely ball into the box for Cole, who hesitated briefly before hitting a perfectly-placed left-footed shot into the far side. It was mind-boggling stuff--Liverpool were so, so bad for most of the match, and all of a sudden Joe Cole pops up to turn the match on its head.
Stranger still was the reality that Liverpool then pushed on to force a winner, with Glen Johnson playing Jordan Henderson down the right into space, with the midfielder slicing a dangerous cross into the middle for Jonjo Shelvey. Initially it looked to be Shelvey's, which would have made it three-for-three in West Ham old-boys scoring against their former club, but replays showed that it was James Collins who toed a swirling effort up and over the helpless Jaaskelainen.
The resulting shock and nausea made for a thoroughly uncomfortable final fifteen-plus minutes; ten were left of normal time, and nearly seven minutes of injury time were played before the final whistle. No clear chances for West Ham, though, and a breakaway for Sterling and questionable penalty denied for Liverpool. It couldn't have been easy, but it was a win.
I'm honest-to-goodness lost for words about how today ended. Liverpool were unbearably bad for most of the middle part of the match, and yet they pop up in the final twenty to win all three points and catapult themselves into the top half of the Premier League table. As angry and disappointed as I was during that stretch, I was unbelievably elated to see the way things ended. It seemed no comeback was possible, and history suggested that it wasn't.
Objective viewing of what came before the last twenty minutes of the match would have most of the squad outside of the defense indicted for their performances--Lucas, Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel, Glen Johnson, Pepe Reina, and Jose Enrique (before his injury) ranged from solid to excellent (Johnson, as per), but Jonjo Shelvey was lost, Raheem Sterling overmatched, Joe Allen and Steven Gerrard ineffective, and Stewart Downing...Stewart Downing. Joe Cole's introduction was met immediately with West Ham dominance, and for most of his time on the pitch he did exactly what we've grown to loathe.
And yet, Liverpool 3, West Ham 2.
Cole's finish was sublime, Downing became adequate from the fullback position, and Liverpool came back after looking so incapable for most of the match. It made little sense, and while football generally doesn't--results earlier in the day confirmed that--it seems as though those nonsensical moments rarely see Liverpool come out the beneficiaries.
Today they did, whether or not they deserved it and whether or not it made sense. There's no way it really could have, and odds are that if you were paying attention for the full ninety minutes, you ran the gamut of emotions from complete and utter despair/loathing/anger to rapturous joy/happiness/relief. That's not being a fair-weather fan, it's caring about Liverpool. They weren't very good for long stretches today, and yet they found a way to win. Amongst all the positives and negatives, that one proved most important. It doesn't erase the concerns, but it certainly makes them tolerable for right now so long as there's plans in place to address them moving forward.
Three straight wins, two in the Premier League, and another emotional rollercoaster in the books. Roll on next Saturday.