Football: Liverpool cornered into a draw by Keller

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Liverpool 2

Fowler 22, Owen 45

West Ham United 2

Lampard pen 24, Keller 74 Half-time: 2-1 Attendance: 44,511

LIVERPOOL TRANSFERRED their recent exasperating away form to Anfield, surrendering a sixth successive home League win with an unforgivable defensive error. The frustrated Liverpool manager, Gerard Houllier, summed it up to perfection: "Liverpool 2 Liverpool 2."

It was typical of the Merseysiders' season; an infuriating display when least expected. Having penetrated the massed West Ham defensive ranks to take the lead twice, Liverpool eventually had to hang on for a point as their visitors belatedly sensed that an upset was on.

The West Ham equaliser was almost farcical. Jamie Carragher, guarding the near post, thought Marc Keller's corner kick was drifting into the side netting, but the ball hit the post and dribbled over the line after bouncing off the heels of Jamie Redknapp. Father's Day had arrived early this year.

The near-post blunder was almost repeated from a second Keller corner, this one scrambled away after contact with the bar. Then both the young substitute, Gavin Holligan, and Trevor Sinclair raced through on the Liverpool goalkeeper David James, only to squander their opportunities at the death.

Houllier is a manager who searches hard for explanations and the Frenchman blamed a disjointed display on the distraction of the last international break. "I don't think we've got the same kind of sharpness as we used to have, particularly since the international date. We are in a period when we are struggling a bit, a period of turbulence," was Houllier's considered analysis. "We gave two goals away and it affected our confidence. The team were more compact and defended well but the passing was not as good as it usually is."

While on level terms, West Ham, with a makeshift forward line of the teenager Joe Cole partnering Sinclair, had been content to force Liverpool to ask the questions. When prompted to chase the game, West Ham demonstrated enough ability and invention to pose their own problems.

Twice, however, their guard dropped and Liverpool were allowed to sneak a lead. First, after Robbie Fowler had already probed the growing chinks in the West Ham armour, the striker hit the sweetest of left-footed drives past Shaka Hislop after Vegard Heggem intelligently back-heeled into his path.

The response was almost immediate. Heggem was this time the villain as the referee Neale Barry rightly awarded a penalty when the Norwegian checked the progress of Scott Minto in the Liverpool area. Frank Lampard's spot- kick allowed James no reprieve.

Liverpool hit back before half-time when Steve McManaman spotted Michael Owen in rare space on the edge of the area. Immaculate control allowed the striker to set his sights, although his shot took a strong deflection off Rio Ferdinand to beat the helpless Hislop.

The West Ham manager, Harry Redknapp, was fierce in the defence of his players and recent criticism of his own management. "We've had a bad little spell and suddenly the world is coming to an end. I've never seen a reaction like it after a couple of bad results. We had a couple of great chances at the end; the young kid Gavin Holligan was playing non-League football a couple of weeks ago for Kingstonians and then he found himself with only the keeper to beat at Anfield," explained Redknapp. "It would have been real Roy of the Rovers. Our second goal was a fluke but their goal was a fluke on half-time and took a wicked deflection."

Rigobert Song, the Cameroon defender, made an eye-catching home debut and Redknapp also reserved particular praise for his own player of the same nationality, Marc Vivien Foe, who played an anchor role in the West Ham midfield.

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