Wednesday, 30 January 2008

A Return To Action

Barclays Premier League
West Ham United v Liverpool
Boleyn Ground
Wednesday 30 January
Referee: Alan Wiley
Weather: The forecast is for a chilly evening, with the threat of rain. The temperature is set to peak at around 6C.

Tenth-placed West Ham United return to league action against Liverpool tonight, seven points ahead in sixth, having not played since the 1-1 draw at Manchester City on Sunday 20 January. Curbishley's side are in fine league form, with six wins and five draws from the last 14 fixtures. The only three reverses came against strong opposition in the form of Chelsea, Everton and Arsenal. With ninth-placed Portsmouth going to Manchester United on the same night, the Hammers will know there is the possibility that a victory could move them to within a point of Pompey with a game in hand. Blackburn Rovers are in eighth, five points in front of the Hammers but have played two games more.

Depending on results Liverpool could jump to fourth place in the table with a win. The visitors head to Upton Park still searching for their first league win of 2008. It is a statistic that has seen them draw their last four matches in the topflight and one that Rafael Benitez admits has all-but ended their hopes of landing the Premier League title. Liverpool have played twice since the Hammers were last in action - a 2-2 draw at Aston Villa on 21 January before Saturday's 5-2 FA Cup fourth-round win against non-league Havant and Waterlooville - with Yossi Benayoun scoring a hat-trick in between a stunner from Lucas and a late fifth by Peter Crouch.

It is thought the game will be too soon for Danny Gabbidon and Craig Bellamy, despite a reserve-team run-out. Nolberto Solano, who has not figured since a hamstring injury on 29 December, may also just miss out. Matthew Etherington and Dean Ashton have trained after knee and back problems respectively caused them to miss the City trip. Julien Faubert has a slight calf strain and is doubtful, while Bobby Zamora continues to train fully, on his way back to match fitness. John Pantsil and Henri Camara are still on Africa Cup of Nations duty while, after a serious reserve-team injury last week, James Collins (knee ligaments) has joined Scott Parker (knee), Calum Davenport (neck), Kieron Dyer (leg), Nigel Quashie (foot) on the long-term list - although Parker has returned to Chadwell Heath after a period of rest.

Liverpool are still without Andriy Voronin, Daniel Agger and Alvaro Arbeloa, while Javier Mascherano will be denied the chance of a return to Upton Park because of a one-match suspension caused by his fifth caution of the season against Villa. Mohamed Sissoko has departed to Juventus but Slovakia centre-back Martin Skrtel has arrived from Zenit St Petersburg and he made his first start at the weekend. The Reds are likely to recall Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Pepe Reina and Jamie Carragher for this evening's clash after they were rested for Saturday's 5-2 victory in the FA Cup. Yossi Benayoun will also hope to feature and is guaranteed an 'interesting' reception should he make an appearance.

West Ham United have not played Liverpool this season as the away fixture was originally due to be played in mid-August but was postponed because of the Reds' Champions League commitments. It has now been fixed for 8pm at Anfield on Wednesday 5 March. The teams last met exactly a year ago, on Tuesday 30 January 2007, at the Boleyn Ground. On that date, West Ham United were 18th in the top flight, with just 20 points from their opening 25 games - 13 fewer than they have from 22 games this time around. Dirk Kuyt and Peter Crouch goals early in the second half put Liverpool on course for a 2-1 win, with on-loan Kepa Blanco then scoring with his first touch in a claret and blue shirt. Alan Curbishley remembers that night under the lights as "such a poor performance" - but is not expecting a repeat, despite the fact Liverpool are again pushing for the Champions League places. He said: "We've got another opportunity against a top-four side. I'm sure if we attack it right we'll give ourselves a chance. We're really looking forward to it."

Liverpool have not lost to West Ham United in eleven games since Trevor Sinclair's goal gave the Hammers a 1-0 home win on 27 November 1999 - a game in which both Hyypia and Gerrard played the full 90 minutes, while Carragher was an unused substitute. Anton Ferdinand's older brother Rio was in the Hammers rearguard that day. Curbishley simply sees that as an opportunity to set the record straight. "We'll have to try and change it. We've competed so far this year in all the games we've played against the 'top four'. They've been tight games. We've got to give ourselves a chance and give the fans something to get behind because that makes a big difference."

Head to head (last six meetings, league unless stated)

30 January 2007 - West Ham United 1-2 Liverpool
26 August 2006 - Liverpool 2-1 West Ham United
13 May 2005 - Liverpool 3-3 West Ham United, 3-1 on pens (FA Cup final)
26 April 2006 - West Ham United 1-2 Liverpool
29 October 2005 - Liverpool 2-0 West Ham United
2 February 2003 - West Ham United 0-3 Liverpool

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