West Ham United 1 Liverpool 2

Last updated : 30 January 2007 By Footymad Previewer
Second-half sizzlers from Dirk Kuyt and Peter Crouch launched Liverpool to within just eight points of Premiership pacesetters Manchester United and left West Ham firmly embedded in the bottom three.

The Hammers netted a late consolation through Spanish debutant Kepa Blanco, but with second-placed Chelsea a mere two points ahead of them, it is all too clear that the marauding Merseysiders are determined to stop the title chase from becoming a two-horse race.

On a day when West Ham vehemently denied making an £18million bid for Charlton Athletic striker Darren Bent, at least Alan Curbishley was able to welcome Marlon Harewood back from suspension alongside the previously cup-tied Calum Davenport and fit-again Yossi Benayoun as Shaun Newton, Bobby Zamora and the injured Lucas Neill stood down.

Rafa Benitez, who still remains on the verge of signing West Ham's Argentinean misfit Javier Mascherano on loan, made two changes as Sami Hyypia and Craig Bellamy both returned.

Certainly, the Liverpool boss made no secret of his offensive intentions by fielding an intimidating attacking trident of Crouch, Kuyt and Bellamy.

And worried West Ham were soon struggling to get the ball out of their half during a one-way opening that saw George McCartney foil Crouch in the act of shooting, Jamie Carragher blast high over and the relieved Roy Carroll drop the ball onto Bellamy's toes before being awarded a free-kick in the subsequent scramble.

Midway through the half, the wobbling West Ham keeper had another escape when he scuffed his clearance straight to Kuyt but the dazzled Dutchman could not take advantage.

On the half-hour mark, the Hammers' nemesis of the last May's FA Cup final almost came back to haunt them, but Steven Gerrard's close-range shot was deflected wide and with the ironic East End cheers still subsiding, Nigel Reo-Coker finally uncorked with a speculative low 35-yarder that Pepe Reina easily fielded.

Seconds later though, the Spaniard was scrambling across his goal when Harewood curled a low 25-yard shot just inches wide of the base of his left-hand post.

With West Ham finally finding some belief, Luis Boa Morte then whipped over a touchline free-kick that the Liverpool keeper gratefully diverted over his bar.

Veteran vocalist Bonnie Tyler provided the half-time entertainment but, within just ten seconds of the restart, Kuyt had reduced West Ham to tears when he collected the ball from Crouch and let fly with a 25-yarder that ripped into the net off the underside of the beaten Carroll's crossbar.

And within eight minutes, Liverpool doubled their lead with a goal of equally stunning quality when Gerrard, Bellamy and John Arne Riise carved open the defence before the Norwegian invited Crouch to curl an exquisite 18-yarder around the outstretched left hand of the flat-footed Carroll.

That was all but the end for the East Enders and Bellamy, Gerrard and Kuyt each threatened to inflict yet more damage on the heartbroken Hammers.

But the introduction of Zamora and Seville's on-loan Kepa did at least reduce the arrears when the two substitutes combined on 76 minutes and the former Spain Under-21 international slid home a consolation with his first touch in a claret and blue shirt.

However, it was still not enough to prevent the dark clouds of relegation from gathering over Upton Park.