On a ground where they strolled to victory last season, Liverpool were pushed all the way by an energetic West Ham, who have found goals hard to come by but shared four with them in a thrilling first half.
Fernando Torres scored the first of the evening and had the last word too with a winning header, his vision clearly unimpaired by the three black eyes he has collected in the last few weeks. The home side, matching up with their opponents 4-2-3-1 formation, played their part in a game of great pace and vigour, but found fortune hiding as they lost two more players to injury in the first half-hour. There was therefore some encouragment for Gianfranco Zola, who has just completed his first year as manager with a modest total of 13 wins from his 38 League games.
Liverpool have now scored 16 goals in six League games - five of them from Torres - though what was surprising was the laxity in their defence. Jamie Carragher, who conceded a penalty, and Martin Skrtel looked shaky for such an experienced partnership and offered West Ham some hope until the finish. Carlton Cole still carries too much of the goalscoring burden and Eastenders will hope that Alessandro Diamanti, the flamboyant Italian forward, can weigh in when he reaches full match fitness. The cash-strapped club could only afford to pay Livorno £6m for him because their sponsors brought forward a payment. He scored an equalising goal with a controversial penalty and showed some neat touches, but Upton Park has seen too many tricky foreign forwards who ultimately achieved little and will want to reserve judgment.
The transfer window may have banged shut but scarcely a week goes by without another new face - generally a foreign one - popping up here. On Thursday Guillermo Franco, a Mexican released by Villareal, joined up, too late to be considered for yesterday's game. Last season's unsuccessful pair David di Michele and Diego Tristan are long gone and such is the turnaround in personnel that only five of yesterday's team began the home game with Liverpool as recently as May. On that occasion Steven Gerrard scored after 76 seconds and there was no contest. Here they found the going tougher and ought to have been behind after a similar period of time. In only the second minute, Carragher was caught dwelling on the ball by the 20 year-old Zavon Hines, who was in on goal but from 10 yards struck the post.
Glen Johnson, one of three former West Ham players in a white shirt - all well received by the home crowd - almost headed an own goal from Julien Faubert's cross but Liverpool had their opportunities too, even before taking the lead. They did so in the 20th minute, when Hines was the latest culprit to lose the ball, which Insua fed down the left to Torres. Weaving outside James Tomkins, the Spaniard toe-poked it with his right foot past Robert Green at the goalkeeper's near post.
West Ham would suffer two further blows before equalising, losing first Matthew Upson and then the unlucky Valon Behrami, who was starting for the first time this season after injury. Just before the half-hour, the accident-prone Carragher handed them a goal, shoving Hines as the youngster raced to the byline and conceding a penalty. Diamanti slipped as he took it, Liverpool protesting in vain that he touched the ball twice before it flew past Pepe Reina.
There was more, much more, to come including a headed goal each from a corner before the interval. Gerrard flicked on Yossi Benayoun's kick for Dirk Kuyt to slide in, but Cole then rose above Skrtel for another set-piece goal against Liverpool's zonal marking system.
For a period at the start of the second half there was a dearth of chances, to which Rafa Benitez reacted positively by sending on Ryan Babel for Kuyt, who did not look pleased by the development. Babel immediately ran threateningly at the left-back Ilunga, which was presumably the intention and play continued to race from end to end at breathtaking pace. It was all too quick for Diamanti, lacking match fitness, who made way for Kieron Dyer to an ovation from the home support.
Dyer's first run summed up the second half of the game: a surging run past three defenders, followed by a loose pass from Cole that drifted into touch. But when a first attempt on goal for some time materialised with quarter of an hour left, it brought a goal. Johnson, marauding forward in his favoured fashion, had a shot blocked, the ball running out to the right for Babel to cross and Torres, rising between Faubert and Tomkins, to head in. "He was very cheap," Benitez said of the £22m striker who has scored 55 times in 91 games. At today's prices, who could argue?