Saturday, May 9, 2009

Gerrard's double puts Liverpool Top of the Table

Steven Gerrard scored twice against West Ham as Liverpool cruised to a 3-0 win to move top of the Premier League and keep alive their slim title hopes

With Manchester United playing later in the weekend, Rafael Benitez's men overtook them on goal difference but time has almost run out and they only have two matches left.

United have four games and may not need them all to secure the title, although the efforts of Gerrard has at least stretched them well into May.

The 28-year-old's goals at Upton Park took him to 23 for the season, with Ryan Babel adding a late third to seal the win.

Liverpool's hopes this season have been built on the firepower of Fernando Torres and Gerrard - and the pair combined after 76 seconds for the opener.

Torres, back fit after a hamstring problem ruled him out of the win over Newcastle, received the ball in midfield but was given the time to turn and pick his pass, threading ball through to Gerrard beyond the Hammers defence.

The hosts were claiming offside but James Tomkins had played Gerrard on, with the England midfielder taking the ball around Robert Green and finishing into an empty net.

The early opener stunned the hosts, who kicked off knowing Fulham had won and Tottenham picked up a point earlier in the day in the race for the Europa League next season.

Hammers boss Gianfranco Zola believes four more points will see them secure seventh place - which will get them into Europe if UEFA grant them a club licence - and they had their moments after the setback of Gerrard's opener.

As they attempted to find a way back into the game, Diego Tristan flicked a header at goal from Mark Noble's free-kick that required Jose Reina to save.

They got a little closer just before the half-hour mark when Noble earned a free-kick on the left and swung the set-piece into the danger area. Radoslav Kovac got in front of Reina to meet the ball but his header flew over the crossbar.

Their progress was undone when Luis Boa Morte suffered a nightmare 30 seconds that resulted in conceding a penalty just before the break.

He was furious that no free-kick was given when Javier Mascherano brought him down, then chased back to own penalty area and hauled down Torres when Yossi Benayoun scooped the ball through.

Green saved Gerrard's spot-kick but the rebound fell to the Liverpool captain to tap home. David di Michele should have pulled when back when he seized on a mistake by Jamie Carragher. He raced through and got his feet tangled up as he tried to take the ball around Reina.

It was a shocking miss and referee Alan Wiley rubbed salt in the wound by booking the Italian for diving.

Boa Morte was trying to atone for own his first-half error after the restart but one powerful run was ended by Fabio Aurelio, earning the full-back a caution.

Liverpool threatened to score a third, with Benayoun volleying over from Dirk Kuyt's cross and Torres looping a header just over the crossbar. The Hammers defence looked under pressure but Matthew Upson was exposed in a different way when he received a bloody nose - the centre-back had to strip down to his underwear on the sidelines to change his kit.

Upson was among the players racing back when Liverpool broke on the hour mark, with the hosts saved by Green rushing out to block Kuyt's effort.

Benayoun then exchanged passes with Torres before shaving Green's post with a drive.

There were ironic cheers when Di Michele was taken off for Freddie Sears, as there were when Tristan put the ball in the net after clearly being offside.

The visitors were able to keep out any genuine efforts and added a third through Babel with five minutes remaining. Kuyt crossed for his fellow Dutchman, Green saved the initial header but the rebound was tapped home.

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