Red storm blows itself off course

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The Independent Online
Liverpool 0

West Ham United 0

Attendance: 40,102

The results elsewhere consoled Liverpool, but the failures of the other top teams is no real compensation when such a poor performance as this delivered the result it deserved. The draw means Liverpool have now dropped 11 points from their last seven games at Anfield.

It could have been worse. Once West Ham had survived a whirlwind opening 20 minutes, when Liverpool's passing and speed had threatened to over- run them, the red storm suddenly fell silent. West Ham got into the game and stayed there.

Liverpool will point to their ill-luck, which saw two early efforts by John Barnes and Robbie Fowler hit the same West Ham post, while Patrik Berger hit the other one with a low right-foot shot just before half-time. The home team were also disrupted by injuries to Phil Babb and Neil Ruddock, both of which required substitutions, and some uneasy shuffling of players to re-form their defence.

But, at the heart of this match was Liverpool's loss of will- power as West Ham out-tackled them in midfield and snuffed out Fowler and Stan Collymore in attack. Two gestures, one by Steve McManaman as a Jason McAteer cross sailed through the West Ham box without a red-shirted challenge, and the other by John Barnes just before he limped off late on, spoke volumes about a sense of disarray, or even a loss of morale. Yet, had Barnes' flick from a corner gone in, instead of finding the woodwork, or Fowler's 10th-minute header not been deflected on to the post, West Ham would have been deservedly behind.

By half-time, though, David James had become the busier goalkeeper - diving to his left to keep out Marc Rieper's bouncing shot from a corner, and then low to his right to stop Hugo Porfirio's volley on the edge of the box. Tim Breacker's deflected effort beat James, but came back off a post and, with Berger's shot suffering a similar fate, the woodwork had technically deprived the game of four goals by half-time.

But Liverpool's understandable anxiety increased when Ruddock failed to come out for the second half. With him gone, West Ham's Steve Jones began to cause even more problems. It needed another good save by James to turn over Rieper's header.

As Liverpool's passing game broke down, their goal-scoring opportunities withered. Barnes's soaring header from a corner, which just cleared the bar, was their only real chance of the second half, as Slaven Bilic and Rieper easily smothered Liverpool's increasingly desperate crosses.

At the whistle there were, as on several recent occasions, boos for the home team. The Reds are still top, but the fans must fear it cannot last the final 15 games.