A performance lacking in cutting edge from both sides, will only be seconded in Barry Lewtas’ concern to the potential injury to star striker, Layton Stewart.
Glimpses of quality sprinkled into West Hams defensive doggedness and Liverpool’s disjointed forward play ensured spoils were shared at The Kirkby Academy. It wasn’t a bad performance, but Liverpool struggled to find their groove.
Hosting a side fighting the prospect of relegation, on a windswept Saturday afternoon, provided exactly what one would expect. It was arduous work for The Young Reds.
A frostbitten crowd – King Kenny included – will have undoubtedly been warmed by the vigour in the press Lewtas has coached from back to front, which again, was evident from the first whistle. But The Reds were slightly off going forward.
A tennis rally of an opening 30 minutes saw the midfield regularly bypassed with wayward long balls. Loose touches and passes alike often resulted in turnovers in the way of West Ham. West Ham threatened before West Ham punished.
A deep Hammers defence looked to wingbacks, Emmanuel and Rosa, as an out-ball in an attempt to catch the high Liverpool back line in transition. Kai Corbett had already threatened with a diagonal run across Boyes into the space behind Koumetio once, before Rosa craftily angled a ball in behind the Frenchmen and acted on their warning. Boyes did well to recover up to Corbett, but will be disappointed he allowed the striker to chop back on to his favoured foot, as the ball deflected of the leg of Boyes in to the net.
Promising glimpses featured on the left for Liverpool, as Beck, Woodburn and Clayton looked to be Liverpool’s chief perpetrators in the opening stages, however, combined to little avail.
Tyler Morton stood out. Regularly finding Cain who’s running to disrupt the backline proved largely fruitless. Morton would later turn saviour, covering in defensive areas and making a certain goal saving challenge on the penalty spot. Morton then initiated Liverpool’s best chance of the half, intercepting the ball high up the pitch to set Ben Woodburn away in transition, who found the ball stuck under his feet after a one-two with Stewart. A busy two-way performance.
West Ham probed and continued to threaten in transition, while a single goal would not be enough to dishearten Liverpool as the screw began to turn after 30 minutes.
Dixon Bonner found himself behind the opposition midfield several times with some smart running, forcing a save from West Ham keeper Anang before Jake Cain saw a freekick high and wide. Not like him.
Finally, after good work in the box from Dixon-Bonner, Liverpool’s protagonist came in the form of Northern Irish right back, Conor Bradley, who picked up on a loose ball on the right hand side the box and rattling the bottom left corner. While the performance was not quite the level Lewtas had wanted, the industry was there.
No sooner had the half time whistle blown than had Ojrzynski found himself picking the ball out of the net. Luckily, it was ruled out for offside – a decision that was at best, incospicuous.
The first 30 minutes of the second half mirrored the first – this time both teams huffed and puffed, and neither could knock down the hatchet. Morgan Boyes headed close, while Dixon-Bonner blasted over.
To the dismay of everybody involved in the Liverpool set-up, Layton Stewart hit the deck deep in to the second half, writhing in pain. A genuinely permittable challenge saw Stewart land awkwardly only to be quickly serviced by paramedics and oxygen. While Stewart was down for around ten minutes before being stretchered, any outcome is at this point, speculation and should be given every opportunity to resume his Liverpool career in the safest way possible. He has overcome injury before, and will do so again. A marvellous footballer who works as hard as he is talented. I wish him all the best for his inevitable return.
The subsequent action feels redundant – even a winner would have felt bittersweet – with genuine concern from coaches and players alike. Neither side looked like scoring after the resumption. Beck did well to find himself high and wide twice late on in the second half in what was a good Andy Robertson impression, but both times, hit over.
Lewtas’ will be keen to get back on the training ground with The Young Reds, who travel south next week to face Southampton.
TYLER MORTON: A rapid rise this season has seen Morton ascend from U18 to U23 with little sweat. At times today he found himself at left back and centre back, working hard to cover for those around him showing his sense of awareness and willingness to take responsibility without shirking defensive duties. All while complimenting his ability on the ball, with an ever improving end product. A well rounded midfielder who does well to affect both phases of play.
KAI CORBETT: While the West Ham man wasn’t in the game for large parts due to how deep West Ham found themselves. Intelligent running in behind did cause problems for Boyes and Koumetio, finding himself free on several occasions. Corbett also linked well with his fellow attackers, and showed off a delightful turn before hitting the back of the net.
VERPOOL: OJRZYNSKI; BRADLEY, BECK, BOYES, KOUMETIO; CLAYTON, CAIN, MORTON; DIXON-BONNER, STEWART, WOODBURN
WEST HAM: ANANG; CAIGER, POTTS, BAPTISTE, ROSA LONGELO CHESTERS, FORSON, CORBETT; ASHLEY, FEVRIER