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Dec 9, 2012

Reds take an important step

No Luis Suarez but, ultimately, no problem for Liverpool. Despite the absence of their most influential player and top scorer, Brendan Rodgers' side proved capable of not only scoring more than two goals in a game for only the third game in the league this season but also coming from behind for the first time.

Yet, although that impressive comeback puts them back into the top half and just four points off the Champions League places, it's still hard to say where they actually are as a team. Was this win an illustration of the kind of progress Brendan Rodgers has been preaching about or a mere aberration borne of a series of oddities at Upton Park?

The most obvious, of course, was that two former West Ham United players and one current one ultimately scored all of Liverpool's games. For Sam Allardyce, that summed up a "bizarre game".

"I wouldn't have expected five goals today. Liverpool don't concede many but also, at the other end, they don't score many. And then they've lost Suarez, who has scored more than 50% of their goals. You wouldn't expect us to concede three and you wouldn't expect two old West Ham players to score two goals."

There were a fair few other quirks which skewed affairs, though.

For one, there is the surprising enough stat that this was the first time Liverpool actually scored a league goal after 75 minutes this season. And they didn't just get one but two, completely transforming the match and, more importantly, the end result.

Secondly, there was the identity of that scorer on 75. Even beyond his own West Ham connections, it was noteworthy to see Joe Cole finally having an influence on the game. It sums up the decline of his career but also, he and many Liverpool supporters will hope, a possible rebirth.

That fine strike came thanks to an equally excellent Raheem Sterling pass and the movement of Jonjo Shelvey. Because, finally, there was the manner in which Rodgers dealt with Suarez's absence. By the end, despite a few caveats during the game itself, the Liverpool manager could argue that the 'false nine' experiment worked.

"That was our idea in terms of when you've got that moving No. 9," Rodgers explained. "If any of the centre-halves get drawn it out, it creates problems for the wingers. He was outstanding today. And there was a lot of pressure on him, with people trying to compare him to Luis Suarez."

Shelvey, of course, spent time at West Ham himself as a youth but, while much was made of the Upton Park old boys undoing them, it was a current player that Liverpool have also been interested in who probably had the biggest influence on the game.

According to Sam Allardyce, Mohamed Diame was on the verge of moving to Anfield in the summer, only for the transfer to be scrapped when Kenny Dalglish was sacked. Here, it was his injury that ultimately allowed Liverpool back into the game. Indeed, the timing is telling. Diame pulled up on 71 minutes. Within four, Cole had equalised; prior to his injury, the dynamic midfielder and given West Ham all of their impetus and set the pace of the game.

"Mo going off was a blow to the creative side of our game," Allardyce said. "He was at the front of most of the attacks we built. So that was a low. For us, he's about the start and build-up, the creative side of our game."

In other words, he stamps his personality on teams. And, for all their passing and suggestions of danger, that was what Liverpool lacked without Suarez; that edge; almost that identity.

Although Glen Johnson had given them the lead through an exceptional early goal, West Ham were on top by the time Joe Allen was penalised for handball in the box. Not long after James Noble had equalised, then, West Ham's pressure forced Steven Gerrard into an own goal.

To be fair, though, the turnaround wasn't only down to Diame's injury. Rodgers did make some changes himself to ensure Liverpool capitalised, not least with the reshuffling of his midfield. Finally, too, they illustrated the character that a generally competent team have sometimes lacked this season.

"We showed terrific spirit and a bit of steel today to get the win. This is a real unique club. I've got to say, the mentality and the feel here... being the manager is an incredible pleasure but you have to form that spirit. It doesn't come by accident. And that's what we're doing."

For Rodgers, though, it's obviously not about individual personalities either.

"For us, there was no drama [without Suarez]. My focus here was about the collective. We all share the ball, we all share the workload and we're not asking anyone to do more than anyone else. I had great faith in the players to score goals. I think we've been unfortunate to not rack up more goals.

"We're trying to build our momentum. We had a difficult opening fixture list and trying to couple with that playing a style of football was difficult. We're making steady progress and climbing the league."

That can't be argued. What is more open to debate, though, is the exact speed they're doing so. Nevertheless, to win and score so many goals without Suarez was an important step, no matter how it was achieved.

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