Liverpool 2 West Ham United 1: Agger's class marks Anfield tradition
Monday 28 August 2006
Anfield had history on its mind. Friday marks the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Kop and a mosaic of cards spelt out a birthday greeting. Then, on the pitch, there was also a reminder of times past.
Liverpool have a history of footballing centre-halves and the Kop would love to welcome a back pair to match the elegant Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson from the 1980s. Two is wishful thinking on a Roman Abramovich scale, but one may have been acquired.
Daniel Agger is known in his native Denmark for his creative as well as his destructive skills and so far this season he has been a rare unmitigated plus for the Liverpool manager, Rafael Benitez. He may not give the sense of quiet security Jamie Carragher provides but even the strongest advocates for Liverpool's Mr Reliable would be astonished if he started walloping in 30-yard goals. It was beyond Hansen and Lawrenson, for that matter.
Yet Agger dragged his team back from potential embarrassment when he equalised with a left-foot shot that Steven Gerrard would have been proud to claim.
"He's a young player but he has a lot of confidence," Benitez said. "He has a lot of qualities, including the ability to play from the back and pass properly. A player for the future but also for now.
"Sami Hyypia is good in the air and Jamie Carragher is more aggressive," he added, "but Daniel can play with both of them."
What Benitez did not say is that Liverpool should not be having to rely on wonder goals from youngsters to prise points from opponents, but if it were not for a dubious penalty at Bramall Lane and Agger's intervention they would have just one point to mark a lot of chances and £34m worth of spending since January.
Which is why the 38-minute glimpse of Dirk Kuyt's muscular attributes was of considerable importance. For all Peter Crouch's strengths, he lacks pace and does not exude confidence. The £9m replacement from Feyenoord does and he galvanised Liverpool from a first touch that curled the ball just the wrong side of the post. That was just the first of several opportunities he created largely single-handedly.
Kuyt has the build and self-assurance of a latter-day Mark Hughes, which may not be appreciated by Liverpool supporters but will have centre-halves throughout the Premiership concerned. As Benitez put it: "Four chances for a striker is not too bad."
The way Bobby Zamora is accumulating goals West Ham would have been confident of gaining their first win at Anfield since 1963 if he had been given so many chances.
They would have also come away with something if Marlon Harewood had been accurate with a chance after Zamora's opener and if Lee Bowyer's late shot against a post had rebounded in.
"The important thing is that we won," Benitez said. He and a 100-year-old Kop both know more is needed if Liverpool are to make a credible challenge for their first title since 1990.
Goals: Zamora (12) 0-1; Agger (42) 1-1; Crouch (45) 2-1.
Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Finnan, Hyypia, Agger, Aurelio; Pennant (Zenden, 82), Gerrard, Alonso, Garcia (Gonzalez, 60); Crouch (Kuyt, 52), Bellamy. Substitutes not used: Dudek (gk), Kromkamp.
West Ham United (4-4-2): Carroll; Paintsil, Ferdinand, Gabbidon, Konchesky (Mears, 81); Benayoun, Reo-Coker (Sheringham, 82), Mullins, Bowyer; Harewood (Cole, 73), Zamora. Substitutes not used: Walker (gk), Collins.
Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).
Booked: Liverpool Aurelio.
Man of the match: Ferdinand.
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