Liverpool 2-1 WBA: A win is a win and any win will do - by Jeff Goulding
"If you go looking for problems lad, you'll always find them." A throwaway line by a Cabby on the way to the game could be an epitaph for the culture of nit-picking that consumes the modern game.
Sure he was actually talking about his vast array of medical problems, they were so bad I almost suggested pulling over and calling an ambulance, but his words were frankly an object lesson for anyone penning their post match analysis or dialling a football phone-in.
Before you say it, I am aware of the irony of someone like me, who spends too much time, according to my wife, pouring over the minutiae of our club, moaning about an over analytical approach to the game. But still, sometimes it's best to just enjoy the win and the accompanying drama, and in the process gloss over the finer details.
In truth most of us expected this game to be a tough one. Our record against teams managed by Tony Pulis makes grim reading, as is our form against any team that packs the defence. Jose's attempts to turn a backs to the wall draw into a moral victory aside, Monday night's game against United seemed like the perfect blue-print for any side looking to stifle the Reds creativity; and on the way to the ground the consensus was that any kind of win would do.
The problem with this Reds team is that we know they are capable of so much more. There has been ample evidence that Klopp's Liverpool is a side that should fear nobody. That twenty minute spell against Arsenal, on the opening day, was the pinnacle, but also the perfect cautionary tale. Just as they did against West Brom the Reds had looked unplayable at times, but ended up clinging on to a win that should really have been unassailable. But, in the end, they were both wins and any win will do.
The impact of the new Main Stand is everywhere. Anfield's pubs might be struggling with the extra traffic, but the atmosphere inside the ground is soaring because of it. Klopp has hailed the atmosphere as showing Anfield at its best. Certainly the prematch 'You'll Never Walk Alone's' are much louder and the noise levels during the game are noticeably better; so much so that you can only barely make out the faint whisper of away fans attempt to mock our "famous atmosphere". If we keep this up their efforts will look increasingly embarrassing.
West Brom's tactics may be similar to those deployed by Manchester United, but they lacked the quality to keep the Reds at bay for long. Liverpool looked assured from the kick-off, with Coutinho and Milner both fashioning early chances that went begging. In recent seasons this would have led to moans and groans from the stands, but not now. If anything the support grew louder and it paid off.
On twenty minutes the Midlanders' resistance was broken with the kind of flowing move we saw routinely in the '70's and '80's. Coutinho's sublime dummy on the left side of midfield completely flummoxed the visitors and Can advanced on goal. The German looked less rusty after his comeback against United on Monday. True he squandered a fair few chances, but at least he had the confidence to get into advanced positions.
Bearing down on a West Brom defence in full retreat, he fed the ball wide to Firmino who was tearing down the wing. The Brazilian has been a revelation and epitomises everything you expect from not only a Klopp player, but a Liverpool player too. He took the ball in his stride and delivered a beautifully weighted ball to the foot of Mane, who dispatched it in one motion past Foster and into the net. The ground erupted, as much in relief as in celebration.
Liverpool had found a way to break down stubborn resistance and now Pulis' men had no choice but to abandon their game plan and come forward. Surely more gaps would open up and they did. Clyne fired a ball across the box and Can just couldn't get to it with the goal at his mercy. Then Lallana, brilliant all day, clipped one over the bar from yards out. The Baggie's were rocking now and they succumbed again on 35 minutes, this time thanks to the magic of Philippe Coutinho.
The little number ten is fast becoming one of our most influential players. We will surely come under pressure next summer from clubs in Spain vying for his services, but for now they can dream on. Liverpool are building one of the most effective attacks in the league around him and once again he delivered the goods.
Foster, a thorn in our side throughout the second half, scuffed a clearance and the ball looped up in the air. Instead of relieving the pressure on the Baggie's defence, possession was immediately reclaimed by the Reds. Can and Mane recovered and released Coutinho. A shot seemed inevitable, instead the little magician once more dummied, taking two defenders out the game and fired in with his right foot.
A rout looked on the cards and all around me there was excited chatter about claiming top spot. Liverpool's position is nothing short of remarkable, especially given the unfavourable start they've had. None of us would have bet on the Reds being anywhere near the summit at this stage of the season, but here we are. However, we've all learned not to count chickens before they hatch.
Someone behind me said "when do we start singing Liverpool, top of the league?" there was laughter, then his mate replied "You're jokin aren't yer. with our defence, when the ref blows final whistle." There were nods of agreement, but it really did feel like we'd soon be out of sight. Another chance from Clyne followed, but West Brom made it to half-time without falling any further behind.
Liverpool were attacking the Kop second half and expectations that we were about to deliver a hammering rose. Chance after chance followed, with Lovren, Firmino and Can all being denied by the Baggies' desperate rear guard action. Foster pulled off a string of saves that drove the Kop mad with frustration, but the longer this went on you just sensed that the opposition would have opportunities.
Chadli and Morrison both went close, before the inevitable heart stopping corner led to West Brom' pulling one back. From where I stood our defence seemed to lack any sort of plan to deal with the set-piece and parted like a red sea, leaving McAuley unmarked to poke the ball past Karius, who seemed rooted to the spot.
It's hard not get angry and I admit I joined in the momentary wailing and gnashing of teeth that followed. "Another bleeding corner," "f*@#ing typical" and "don't they work on defending set-pieces anymore for f*@ks sake?"
Anxious checks on wrist watches revealed there was a full ten minutes to go and fingernails were unlikely to survive. The Kop's response was magnificent though. Instead of descending into a baying mob, they raised their game once more and were fully deserving of the players' and manager's applause at full-time. Equally the team deserves praise, for not capitulating in final stages. You sense that previous incarnations would have crumbled, but not Klopp's Liverpool.
This was a crucial win. It was the Reds, at long last, taking full advantage when their rivals slip and it was three points that drew us level on points with the team at the top of the table. There is nothing for us to whinge about at all. Instead trust in the wisdom of the Scouse Cabby, you will always find problems if you look hard enough.
A win is a win and any win will do.