x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Premier League: Europe no longer on Liverpool's horizon after 0-0 draw with West Ham

Their top-four challenge had already ended. Securing European football for next season now looks less likely after a must-win game was not won, writes Richard Jolly.

Steven Gerrard, right, had his appeals for a penalty against West Ham's James Tomkins, left, turned down. Andrew Yates / AFP
Steven Gerrard, right, had his appeals for a penalty against West Ham's James Tomkins, left, turned down. Andrew Yates / AFP

LIVERPOOL // Basking in the glow of a hard-fought victory at Aston Villa, Steven Gerrard had rued the handful of poor performances which have stymied Liverpool's challenge for a Uefa Champions League place.

Now there is another addition to a list that includes the home games against Arsenal, Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion and the trips to Albion, Stoke City and Southampton. Unlike on earlier occasions, Liverpool were not abject as much as uninspired yesterday, especially in a first half where they were strangely flat, but the end result brought further frustration.

Their top-four challenge had already ended. Securing European football for next season now looks less likely after a must-win game was not won. Liverpool could cite a series of second-half chances, plenty of pressure and some outstanding defending from West Ham United, and indeed all were mitigating factors, yet their own lacklustre start was just as significant. A previously prolific team lacked a spark.

"I thought we were more than deserving of three points," said manager Brendan Rodgers, but that was a red-tinted interpretation of events. Close to winning it, they were also near a defeat that would have brought West Ham three points at Anfield for the first time since 1963. Jack Collison's 86th-minute header was superbly cleared off his own line by Lucas Leiva.

"We should have won it," said Sam Allardyce, his West Ham counterpart. "Our consistent quality defending allowed us to create the best chances of the game."

Besides the substitute Collison's effort, Mohamed Diame almost struck. The Senegalese attracted Liverpool's interest during Kenny Dalglish's reign. He did so again in a different fashion, drawing three opponents towards him, beating all and hammering a shot just over.

It was a rare highlight of an uneventful first half. While Rodgers insisted Liverpool "kept pushing" from the opening minutes, they played with greater tempo after the break. Yet as their game improved, so did West Ham's, the central-defensive pair of James Collins and James Tomkins forming twin rocks at the heart of their back four.

Their collective commitment to keeping a clean sheet was admirable but Tomkins was particularly pivotal. He denied Gerrard twice, with a goal-line clearance and a perfectly-timed tackle that nonetheless had the Kop howling for a penalty.

"Collins and Tomkins were really, really good," Allardyce added. "I don't remember [goalkeeper] Jussi [Jaaskelainen] having to pull off any heroics." Indeed, though the Finn saved from Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, they were stops he ought to make.

Suarez's pursuit of a 30th goal of the season continues; he almost reached the landmark with a shot from an improbable angle but endured an afternoon when his considerable efforts brought no reward.

Sturridge did have the ball in the West Ham net, his predatory instincts allowing him to turn in Jordan Henderson's mishit shot. It was controversially disallowed - "Daniel Sturridge was clearly onside," Rodgers said - yet had the goal stood, it would also have been contentious: albeit accidentally, Suarez had handled before the ball fell to Henderson.

Indeed, West Ham had a grievance of their own.

"Jose Enrique kicked James Tomkins when we should have had a penalty," Allardyce complained. Compensation came in the form of an invaluable point that nudges them nearer safety. "I'd like another three [points]," the manager said.

But the reality is that, while the possibility of Europe receded for Liverpool, so did the threat of relegation for West Ham.

 

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