BIRKENHEAD, England -- Liverpool move up to ninth in the Women's Super League with their first win of the season since opening day, a 2-0 win over West Ham on a wintery Sunday afternoon on The Wirral.
A miscommunication between West Ham midfielders Kate Longhurst and Honoka Hayashi gifted Liverpool's Ceri Holland an early goal when she picked up the ball after the pair had gotten in each other's way in the box. Under little pressure, Holland let a shot fly into the far side of goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold's goal in the third minute.
Struggling without the ball, the Hammers continued to tangle themselves into knots at the back and were soon chasing a two-goal deficit after Liverpool's Katie Stengel claimed her ninth goal of the season with a low strike in the 20 minute.
Despite second half adjustments that both strengthened their defence and helped their attack get into the game, West Ham failed to get the better of Liverpool goalkeeper Rachael Laws with the ball travelling from one end of the pitch to the other without another goal scored.
The second half marked with multiple stoppages for injuries resulting from chippy fouls, taking all the flow out of the match for both.
1. Liverpool have been building to this win
Since shocking Chelsea on the first day of the season, Liverpool have repeatedly found themselves coming away from matches without anything to show for their 90 minutes of work.
Yet, much like the truncated 2019-20 season that saw them relegated on points per game, the Reds have rarely been completely played off the pitch but rather have failed to convert, leaving them chasing games.
But with two 3-3 draws in their last two league outings against fellow WSL stragglers Reading and Brighton, there was the growing sense that Liverpool were building towards that all important second win. Indeed, in their penultimate league outing of the calendar year, the Reds finally added their second three-point haul.
It was by no means a fluke for the hosts either, but rather a collective effort to keep the ball from Laws' goal whilst getting forward to punish the less-than settled Irons' defence.
2. West Ham defence needs to be ironed out
Without the injured Lucy Parker and opting to start without Hawa Cissoko following her five-match ban, the West Ham defence continued to look weakened for their absences. And for all Liverpool were doing right in attack, there were clear question marks over the strength and understanding of the Irons' backline.
The wider problem for West Ham wasn't just the utilisation of Kate Longhurst at centre-back, where she looked out of her depth over the first half, but the apparent lack of communication across the defence. Having lost former captain and centre-back stalwart Gilly Flaherty to Liverpool over the summer, it was clear that the team were lacking not just her experience but her vocality in the box to marshal the backline and repel attacks through understanding and teamwork.
Indeed, when Cissoko was subbed on at the break, the defence looked far more comfortable in dealing with what Liverpool had to throw at them, which seemed to galvanise the entire team and allow them to get forward with more ease in the second half.
With no specified timeline for Parker's return and the winter transfer window on the horizon, an experienced centre-back would be a sensible investment rather than manager Paul Konchesky trying to convert another midfielder.
3. West Ham look destined for the wrong end of the table; Liverpool can fend it off
The defensive problems for West Ham spoke to the wider issue for the Irons -- the team is looking increasingly like a group of players thrown onto the pitch after names drawn from a hat rather than a team put together with partnerships allowed to bloom. Starting the weekend in fifth place in the league, having won four of their eight games this season, instead of growing as the campaign has gone on, the team have looked less and less assured as the weeks go by.
Usually, a key player in terms of dictating attacks and popping up with a crucial goal or two, captain Dagný Brynjarsdóttir was kept quiet at Prenton Park and not allowed to orchestrate, highlighting how often the team relies on her inspiration.
Unless things change over the winter with the team managing to find more harmony on the pitch rather than relying on moments of individual quality, it's easy to imagine this West Ham team getting sucked down to the wrong end of the table.
For Liverpool, who've stayed the course despite not getting the results, this win should be easy to build on with a clash against Leicester City, still pointless after nine games, and give the Reds a further boost ahead of the new year. However, if Liverpool fall back into the patterns they've displayed this season, they may continue to stay closer to the bottom of the pack than they'd like rather than breaking into the meaty middle of the table.
The good news for both teams that the shortcomings of those around them are far greater than their own and they will both have more six-point games to play in 2023, allowing this to be more a season of growth and development to set them up for the following seasons, if they have the foresight and patience, that is.
Liverpool: Laws 6, Koivisto 7, Hinds 6, Flaherty 6, Matthews 6, Campbell 7, Fahey 7, Stengel 7, van de Sanden 6, Holland 7, Lawley 6
Subs: Kearns 6, Daniëls 6, Roberts 5
West Ham: Arnold 5, Shimizu 5, Fisk 4, Stringer 5, Brynjarsdóttir 5, Evans 5, Asseyi 5, Atkinson 4, Hayashi 5, Longhurst 4, Smith 5
Subs: Cissoko 6, Kyvåg 6
Best and worst performers
BEST: Ceri Holland, Liverpool
The 24-year-old midfielder scored the opening goal and remained involved throughout.
WORST: Kate Longhurst, West Ham
Not usually a centre-back -- she's typically a midfielder or wing-back -- she was a fish out of water in the heart of the West Ham defence.
Highlights and notable moments
It didn't take long for Liverpool to get on the front foot: in just the third minute, Ceri Holland pounced on an unforgivable unforced error to put the Reds ahead over West Ham.
As it turned out, that early goal was an omen for how West Ham's defence would look and how the match would ultimately finish.
All we need is, Ceri Holland 🎶— Liverpool FC Women (@LiverpoolFCW) December 4, 2022
The goal that has us in front in #LIVWHU 🙌⚽
After the match: What the players and managers said
Liverpool manager Matt Beard on whether it was a relief finally getting that second win of the season: "A little bit, three points was important after the results yesterday but we've been performing okay, it's the inconsistency that was our most consistent performance from start to finish, it reminded me a little bit of the first game against Chelsea but just on the flip: we started fast, done really well got in front, saw the first half out, had to make two or three tactical changes to adapt to what they done but I just felt we dealt with everything really well today and it's a big three points and another step in the right direction"
Beard on not conceding: "I think the clean sheet was important and I think psychologically that will be good for us and especially how direct they were in the last 15-20 minutes to deal with everything that was thrown at us, I was really, really pleased."
Liverpool: The Reds get one week off before they again player host on Sunday, this time to Leicester on Dec. 11, at 9 a.m. ET.
West Ham United: The Hammers continued their away stretch and they visit Tottenham on Sunday, Dec. 11 at 9 a.m. ET.