The cheers for full-time at the London Stadium were premature, jubilant cries as Craig Pawson raised the whistle to his lips. But that only meant two bites of the most indulgent of cherries for West Ham fans. A 3-2 victory over Liverpool to take them third in the Premier League after 11 matches, leapfrogging their more vaunted opponents in the process.
Generations of West Ham fans have never had it this good, and in keeping this was a result and a performance that simply made it better. They were crisper than Liverpool, who have now conceded five goals in two matches in which they have taken just one point. David Moyes did not quite replicate the manner in which Brighton & Hove Albion were able to come from 2-0 down at Anfield last week to inflict Liverpool’s first defeat of the season. Rather, he stuck to a very clear method that was his West Ham’s: hold firm, defend together and trust the forwards to get the job done. And though none of the front three got on the scoresheet, they were all accessories. The more effective trio on the pitch, which is some going against Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Diogo Jota.
An own goal from Alisson Becker gave West Ham a lead after four minutes before Trent Alexander-Arnold’s free-kick equalised with that much remaining of the first half. But a more up-tempo second period allowed Jarrod Bowen to flourish, setting up Pablo Fornals in open play and then Kurt Zouma from a corner with 16 minutes to go. After Jurgen Klopp’s glowing words on Bowen leading up to this fixture, this was quite the response. Divock Origi’s strike heaped on the tension at the end but West Ham held firm.
It felt something of a rarity to have two form Premier League teams going at it. Liverpool were second coming into this round before Manchester City’s victory over Manchester United. And as irresistible as they have been going forward – this is the first Premier League away match this campaign they have not scored three goals – they were once again too easy to play through.
The key to this win, on all fronts, was efficiency, and you can’t get more efficient than scoring before you have had a shot on goal, never mind on target. Three minutes in, West Ham showed their hand, putting nine of their outfield players behind the ball and leaving Antonio up top to keep Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip company. Just three minutes in, he was around the back of both of them, coming short and spinning around the outside to sprint free down the left before Van Dijk caught up to block his cross into the box to an open Bowen.
From the resulting corner came the opener, though it was such a mess of bodies that both sets of players expected it to be ruled out. In turn, those in the stands did not know how viscerally to cheer given the confusion in the middle as to whether it would stand. But stand it did as replays in the VAR booth merely enhanced Alisson’s blushes. Pablo Fornals’ corner was right in the sweet spot of the six-yard box where Angelo Ogbonna had leapt early. The defender merely distracted rather than diverted as the Brazilian’s left fist sent the ball into his own goal.
VAR then went in West Ham’s favour again in the ninth minute when Aaron Cresswell was subject to a red card review that came and went. The left-back clearly studded the right knee of Jordan Henderson with both feet in the air, though as per the first goal, referee Pawson was not asked to review the footage.
As Klopp grew frustrated on the sidelines, his players within them tried too hard to force the issue. They weren’t helped by so many stoppages – enough to warrant six minutes of first-half added time – whether VAR or the two blows suffered by Ogbonna that ultimately saw him removed on 22 minutes for Craig Dawson. And perhaps West Ham might reflect that they could have done more in the period leading up to Liverpool drawing level.
They certainly could not have stopped the equaliser. An oven-ready set-piece from the training ground to the London Stadium, delivered straight into the top corner. Three stood over the ball, but it was always going to be Alexander-Arnold to take it. What we did not know was that first he would poke to Salah, who trapped dead allowing Alexander-Arnold a straighter angle to wrap his foot around the ball and send it into the near side top corner. Lukasz Fabianski wasn’t simply rooted to his spot but was sent the wrong way, assuming it was to be reversed towards the far side of the goal.
Only then did West Ham decide to be more ambitious and went into the break with two openings that should have been cashed in. Antonio was set through by Said Benrahma but was let down horribly by his touch when he had a free 30-yard run on goal. The Algerian then breezed past Alexander-Arnold with one touch from a crossfield pass and pulled back to Bowen who was immaculately thwarted by Van Dijk.
Most impressive of all was how they kept this up after the break. Liverpool came at them in the second half, that little bit snappier in the pass and intent on camping in the opposition half. But West Ham were more than willing to throw down. And those who played within themselves in the first period were willing to show more of themselves in the second.
That includes Bowen, who spent most of the start of this match covering shadow runs and offering his body to the greater stodge Liverpool could not digest. But on 67 minutes, with the ball at his feet after Dawson had picked Fabinho’s pocket, he turned and charged towards goal: attracting then brushing off four in cream shirts, the last of which was Matip, who engaged enough to allow space for a poke through to Fornals. As with the first goal, Alisson’s hands to the Spaniard’s strike were inadequate.
Back a goal down, Liverpool pressed and, this time, West Ham did not retreat. Fornals had another effort one-on-one with Alisson that was saved this time (and offside) before Antonio had an effort from a similar position blocked for a corner. From it, Bowen went high and dipping to the back post where Zouma had perfectly tracked its path, leaping to head powerfully for 3-1.
Klopp threw forwards on, and was vindicated when Origi’s smart touch with his right and turning shot with his left found the bottom corner with seven minutes of normal time to go. Alas, as the game wore on, it was on Alexander-Arnold to find that elusive third.
Another free-kick on the edge of the box was whipped first-time to the far post where Mane stooped and headed wide. Then, with the last throw of the dice, a deep cross into the box was met by Origi but finished safely into the clutches of Fabianski.
Then came the end and the protracted celebrations on the pitch, in the stands, and out on to the Olympic concourse that had for so long felt like someone else’s home. Sunday’s result, along with the rest so far this season, have now made it unequivocally West Ham’s.