Injuries overshadow West Ham's glorious FA Cup win over Liverpool
West Ham United have played Liverpool four times this season. The results? One draw and three wins.
It seems like a dream considering the previous 50 years hadn't produced so much as an away win or league double, but the last minute Angelo Ogbonna headed goal that dumped Liverpool out of the FA Cup was no more than West Ham deserved.
Certainly Christian Benteke missed several excellent opportunities for the visitors but the Belgian is in such poor form that good opportunities merely become glimpsed half-chances and the Hammers should have won in regular time had the referee spotted a blatant tug on Enner Valencia in the penalty area.
The home fans were preparing themselves for the agony of a penalty shoot-out at the end of extra time before Dimitri Payet floated over an inch-perfect free kick to allow Ogbonna to bag the winner. It was the cue for a glorious celebration; The Boleyn will miss nights like these.
Earlier, Michail Antonio had continued his excellent debut season with a stunning volley to give West Ham the lead just before the break. However, Philippe Coutinho equalised just two minutes after the restart with a cheeky free kick. The Brazilian's leveller was a stunning example of the psychological aspects of the game.
Earning a foul just outside the area, there was not enough room for the Coutinho to lift the ball over the wall and under the bar to beat the excellent Darren Randolph in the Hammers goal. However, the Liverpool midfielder gambled that the defensive wall would have to react to the kick. This they did; rising as one to deal with a flighted ball that never came. Coutinho turned in excitement as his low shot when under five pairs of boots to nestle in the net.
It was that type of night. Nerves were shredded, posts were struck and hamstrings were stretched in search of glory and, although West Ham will relish the opportunity to join the last 16, the victory could come at a cost.
The Hammers looked elated but exhausted at the end of the game and, although the win will lift tired muscles, the fact remains that the contest saw several worrying injuries.
Winston Reid limped off with what looked like a hamstring injury and his replacement James Collins seemed similarly afflicted soon after. Cheikhou Kouyate and Joey O'Brien look doubtful for the weekend and there were numerous players massaging aching limbs after the game.
Liverpool may be happy to see the back of West Ham this season but Norwich City will surely be rubbing their hands. Norwich frustrated West Ham at the Boleyn back in September and Slaven Bilic takes his men to Carrow Road on Saturday with the Canaries undoubtedly looking at the match and feeling optimistic. Certainly any instruction from City boss Alex Neil that doesn't involve chasing and harrying the Hammers midfield and back-four will be a major surprise.
True, Bilic's improved squad means he has been able to rest several players throughout the season and some who have returned from long term injury shouldn't be too concerned with an exacting mid-week game.
Norwich looked as if they had enough in their squad earlier in the campaign but recent results mean the Norfolk side need to start turning results around soon.
Bilic may deny it but there's a general feeling that the Croatian is aiming his sights on the Cup and while the manager has shown himself to be an excellent tactician, he will need all his guile to keep his team involved on Saturday.
A loss against the Hammers will be a major blow for Norwich though and this could be a critical game for Neil and his men.
Peter Thorne, aka Billy Blagg (@BillyBlaggEsq), is the author of a regular column at WestHamOnline.net and the East London Guardian.