West Ham 3 Liverpool 1
In Ken’s Café Michael the Whovian is discussing theatrical matters with his pal Nick (who comes to Ken’s but doesn’t go to games, such is the attraction of Carol’s salon), before revealing that Giles Watling the Tory candidate in the Clacton by-election is the brother of Doctor Who actress Deborah Watling (who played Victoria) and the son of Jack Watling who played Professor Travis in the Yeti stories. Not a lot of people know that.
I’m with my daughter Lola, who is enhancing her sixth-form studies with a trip to the Upton Park Academy. Nigel arrives breathless from Edinburgh having saved the Union after being in the front row at Kate Bush. Matt is away at a gig by Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals, who is performing his concept album about his Welsh ancestor who went to America in 1792 to find a Welsh-speaking Native American tribe, as you do.
WHO PUT THE BALL IN THE SCOUSERS' NET?
At 5.30pm the atmosphere is buzzing under the lights inside Upton Park, as the Liverpool fans are regaled with, “Sign on with a pen in your hand…” In the first minute West Ham gain a free kick wide on the right. "We always score from free kicks…” I tell Lola. Bizarrely, we do. Downing crosses to the back post, Tomkins heads across goal and Winston Reid can’t miss with his header. Blimey. That wasn’t meant to happen. “Who put the ball in the Scousers net?” asks the Bobby Moore Stand.
WE'VE GOT SAKHO IN THE MORNING
West Ham are taking full advantage of any tiredness Liverpool might be experiencing from their midweek Champions League game. After seven minutes Sakho breaks down the right and scores with a brilliant chip over the keeper. What sort of thing is happening here? Can we play Liverpool every week? Sakho is stating to look like a real bargain and he and Valencia are working the channels and bemusing the Scousers’ defence.
“Dad, have West Ham been replaced by aliens?” asks Lola.
This is very strange. Matt texts to remind us that we have previously effed up a two-goal lead against Liverpool. Still, we play really well in the first half. Downing is playing at the tip of a midfield diamond and looks much better when he sees more of the ball. Song is strong and mobile, Kouyate gives solid support and Noble has a fine game with two anchor men behind him.
Downing wins several free kicks, Cresswell has a shot saved by Mignolet and Valencia has a low shot tipped away for a corner. There’s a fracas as Adrian is clattered by Balotelli and confronts the Italian. Both players are booked and Noble sensibly tells Adrian not to risk getting sent off when we’re 2-0 up — though it’s also quite reassuring to think we have a bit of a nutter in goal who won’t let forwards rough him up. Liverpool pull a goal back after 26 minutes when Balotelli turns and shoots, the ball is blocked, and Sterling fire home the rebound from the edge of the box.
THREE ONE TO THE COCKNEY BOYS!
It’s been really entertaining and at half-time we wonder what we can moan about. The second half is a different kind of game with Lallana on for Lucas and Sterling causing problems. Liverpool have much more of the ball. Balotelli twists past Tomkins to get in a hard effort that Adrian tips away and Borini has a couple of tame efforts, but the Reds don’t trouble the keeper too much. The biggest scare is when Adrian risks getting booked again after collecting the hall with his foot up. West Ham have to regroup and Song is replaced by Amalfitano and Enner Valencia goes off to be replaced by an extra defender in James Collins. Maiga pokes one effort over but Lambert comes on and Liverpool normally go on to get a late winner in these situations.
Yet our defence plays excellently and with two minutes to go Liverpool’s Sakho makes a poor clearance that goes straight to Stewart Downing. The rejuvenated midfielder plays a finely weighted through ball to Morgan Amalfitano, who cleverly pokes the ball past Mignolet, before running along the front of the Bobby Moore Stand as the place goes mental.
This is incredible. Two-nil and we haven’t f***ed it up. I text Matt to suggest that West Ham have just performed a 90 minute concept album where they rediscover their ancestral attacking roots. Fraser goes to the pub to smoke three cigars. Never in doubt. Football on the ground. We go eighth! And the best home performance since we returned to the Premier League.
TEAM RATINGS: Adrian 6, Demel 7 (Jenkinson 6), Tomkins 7, Reid 7, Cresswell 6, Kouyate 7, Song 8, (Amalfitano 7), Downing 8, Noble 7, Valencia 6 (Collins 6), Sakho 7.