Gerrard double keeps Liverpool in contention

West Ham United 0 Liverpool 3: Hammers' Euro hopes damaged as Benitez's team ease to victory and maintain pressure at the top
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The Independent Football

Those in favour of the arguments advanced by the Government minister Andy Burnham for fairer distribution of funds in the Premier League, especially the Champions' League money earned by the top four clubs, found further ammunition here last night.

West Ham, starting the day seventh in the table with realistic ambitions of playing in the Europa Cup next season, were comprehensively outplayed by a Liverpool side who have lost only two games all season in the Premier League but are still unlikely to win it.

An entirely straightforward victory was set up by two goals from Steven Gerrard in the first half, giving him 23 for the season, after which West Ham's expected revival failed to materialise. They even conceded another goal, to the substitute Ryan Babel, which gave Liverpool 21 in their last six games.

The familiar 4-2-3-1 formation did all it was set up for, offering abundant attacking thrust, especially on the break, and secure protection in front of a defence that was rarely troubled by a West Ham side short of offensive power without the injured Carlton Cole.

Without him, set-pieces from the lively Mark Noble were their best hope, but in the end Pepe Reina in Liverpool's goal did not have to make a save of note in order to secure a 19th clean sheet. His team are left hoping for some assistance from Manchester City, Wigan and Arsenal in games against Manchester United this week before they play West Bromwich Albion next Saturday.

Their great regret may be the run of three draws at Anfield before Christmas, one of them against West Ham. That little spell meant they have never enjoyed any leeway since, and have only just kept in contention despite a run of 25 points out of the last 27 available.

Injuries to Gerrard and Fernando Torres have been overcome during that spell and both were able to start here; indeed, they had between them created and scored the opening goal within 76 seconds, then added another before half-time.

For the first one, Alvaro Arbeloa, from right-back, fed the ball into his compatriot Torres and Gerrard timed his run perfectly to take the striker's pass through the middle of a square defence that appealed optimistically for offside. No member of the back four had a hope of catching the Liverpool captain, who eluded Robert Green easily.

The early goal subdued the normally boisterous home crowd, who had produced generous applause for the two former West Ham men in the Liverpool side, Javier Mascherano – badly used when he was at Upton Park – and Yossi Benayoun. Xabi Alonso was the only notable absentee, as a result of the crude foul by Newcastle's Joey Barton last weekend, but he was not missed this time.

In the West Ham midfield, the Czech international loanee Radoslav Kovac and teenager Junior Stanilas found the going hard as the visitors per- sisted in that old Liverpool habit of passing the ball to men in the same coloured shirt – green as it happened. Kovac did manage one header over the crossbar from a free-kick delivered by Noble, who also supplied Diego Tristan for a back-header that Reina held comfortably.

Other than that, there was nothing from the home side until after Liverpool scored their second. It came eight minutes before the interval, when Luis Boa Morte foolishly held Torres's shirt as he moved on to Benayoun's pass. The referee was well-placed to see the infringement and Alan Wiley pointed to the spot. Gerrard had his kick parried by Green but was able to force the rebound over the line.

Wiley got it right again, for all the crowd's salty abuse, when David di Michele raced clear on to Jamie Carragher's miskick just before half-time but lost control of the ball and took a dive over Reina's leg. He was correctly booked.

Benayoun might have finished matters off early in the second half, with a fierce volley that flew past the post from a cross by Dirk Kuyt, who was then denied by Green's save after a typical counter-attack with three men against three.

Rafa Benitez felt secure enough to remove Fabio Aurelio, who had been booked, and Torres, sending on Emiliano Insua and Ryan Babel for the last 20 minutes.

Six minutes from the end Kuyt, industrious as ever, crossed from the right and although Green saved Babel's header he was having no luck with rebounds, the Dutchman knocking the loose ball past him.

Attendance: 34,951

Referee: Alan Wiley

Man of the match: Gerrard

Match rating: 7/10