Peter Crouch’s scoring run continued today at Anfield and his second half header was enough to give the Reds a 1-0 win over West Brom. Bryan Robson’s side arrived with one aim in mind – to stop Liverpool scoring and not much more, but they were unable to stop the European Champions from making it ten consecutive league victories. Crouch’s goal came from a Harry Kewell cross, just one of many excellent moments from the Aussie winger who is certainly getting back to his best, slowly but surely, as he gets over his injury nightmares. He could have had a hat-trick but for the work of the Baggies’ goalkeeper.
West Brom have one of Liverpool’s goalkeepers on loan from Anfield, but even if they had wanted to they weren’t allowed to use Chris Kirkland today under Premiership regulations. The ’keeper they did use, Tomasz Kuszczak, was forced into numerous excellent saves as he battled to keep his side in with a chance of a point until Crouch struck. As well as denying Kewell three times and keeping out a brilliant effort from Steven Gerrard, Kuszczak saved another Crouch header and saw a John Arne Riise shot hit the post, but he would only be beaten once. When he was unable to make a save himself his colleague Steve Watson came to his rescue, blocking out danger on numerous occasions.
Chris Kirkland will be wondering what he’s done to the nation of Poland after watching the display from Kuszczak today. After fighting for a first-team place at Anfield with Polish national goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek, he’s now seen Jerzy’s compatriot perform out of his skin for West Brom. Chris will find it hard to get back between the sticks in time to earn himself a place in England’s World Cup squad. Strangely enough, Dudek wasn’t even selected as the substitute goalkeeper for the Reds today.
Rafa Benitez used arguably his strongest central midfield pairing, with Xabi Alonso alongside captain Steven Gerrard, and as expected the pair were highly influential. Xabi’s passing was at its sublime best, Stevie never stopped working and Liverpool never looked in any danger of seeing their winning run cut short. Rafa has said after Liverpool’s last two Christmas fixtures that he’d have been even happier with the wins had they finished the games off sooner. Today they couldn’t have done much more to kill this game off, but West Brom weren’t going to let another one in.
For Baggies manager Bryan Robson the result may have been what he hadn’t wanted, but he wasn’t going to complain about his team’s performance. Speaking after the game he said: "I’m pleased with the way we stuck at – I thought at one stage it was going to be our day and I was pleased with the character of my players. At this stage last season if we had gone a goal down we would have been beaten by three or four. Tomasz Kuszczak has put on a great performance, and I was just hoping to be able to put a couple of strikers on to try to get something from the game late on. Tomasz was outstanding and he kept us in the game, but we never really threatened up front enough. Chris Kirkland has come back from injury but Tomasz has done nothing wrong.”
The Liverpool boss was also full of praise for the Albion ’keeper. “The West Brom goalkeeper was the game’s man of the match. It must have been one of the best games of the keeper’s life, surely. He was outstanding. We did all the things we needed to win the game – passing, crossing, shooting – but the keeper had a great day and it was almost impossible to score,” said Rafa. Liverpool had 27 shots at goal in all, thirteen of which were on target, but as Benitez said, Kuszczak was practically unbeatable: “It was only the goalkeeper that stopped us. I cannot criticise what we were doing because the chances were made and the shots were going in. We knew beforehand that if they played five defenders it would be difficult, but we controlled the game and only failed to score more because the keeper was amazing.”
It’s actually another sign of Liverpool’s improvement that they managed to break down a team that were concentrating on damage limitation, although Rafa admitted it wasn’t easy: “We controlled the game, but they made it very difficult for us as they played deep and with many players in front of the ball.”