Alonso steps up to relieve pressure on Benitez

Liverpool 2 West Ham Utd 0
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The Independent Football

Yesterday they met a Liverpool of arguable quality, but the 42 years of hurt seemed heavier than ever. West Ham did not have a shot on target and owed the relatively slender margin of the defeat to the even more arguable quality of the home strikers.

They did not score, but Xabi Alonso and Bolo Zenden did much to lift the state of semi-siege that had descended on Liverpool after successive defeats by Fulham and Crystal Palace. It is the first time they have won a Premiership game by more than one goal since February.

"We played well," Rafael Benitez, the Liverpool manager, said. "We were compact, kept a clean sheet and scored two goals. We did all the things people have been asking us to do today."

Nevertheless, the result will have come as a relief. Benitez spent last week dismissing talk of crisis but the Liverpool Echo did poll its readers asking what is wrong at Anfield. The manager's response was to drop Peter Crouch (no goals in 11 appearances) but any thought of breaking out the bunting on the Kop was stifled by his replacement, the equally profligate Fernando Morientes.

The emphasis had to be on the midfield players breaking forward to support Morientes and Djibril Cissé and, to be fair to Benitez's team, with Alonso dictating play and Luis Garcia and Steven Gerrard raiding down the wings there was a greater impetus to the home side.

Cissé fired wide on a breakaway and Garcia had also gone close within the first 10 minutes so only a spectator with West Ham inclinations could dispute the worthiness of Liverpool's opener after 18 minutes. A corner from the left by Garcia was inadequately cleared by Nigel Reo-Coker to Alonso, whose swerving shot might have found the back of the net anyway, but the matter was put beyond dispute when the ball deflected off Tomas Repka's head.

Gerrard fired by a post just after half-time and Liverpool went even closer after 57 minutes when Hyypia contrived an ungainly shot from a corner only for Paul Konchesky to clear off the line. The centre-back was doubly unfortunate because the ball flew up, found the magnet that was Repka's head, and Konchesky had to clear again.

After that it was all Liverpool. Morientes and Garcia were denied by excellent saves from Shaka Hislop and Garcia shaved the bar with a header. But the home pressure was such that another goal was overdue long before Zenden exploited John Arne Riise's 82nd-minute pass by cutting in from the left to slide the ball into the corner.

Benitez can look forward to Tuesday's Champions' League match with Anderlecht knowing his side have found some form, while West Ham are suddenly looking over their shoulders. Next week's match with West Brom has increased significance.

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