Liverpool too strong at Anfield

A Fernando Torres hat-trick and another from Steven Gerrard gave Liverpool a 4-0 home victory and left West Ham United still looking for a first win at Anfield since 1963.

The Spain striker struck his first two from Dirk Kuyt crosses before slotting in a late third in a strong finish that saw Gerrard also get in on the act to return the Reds to the top four. Alan Curbishley's tenth-placed side had won 1-0 in the previous meeting back at the Boleyn Ground at the end of January but found Rafael Benitez's men in irresistible form on a chilly evening on Merseyside.

The visitors only change in a 4-5-1 formation saw Nolberto Solano in for the injured Julien Faubert with Carlton Cole as the lone striker supported from the left and right by Luis Boa Morte and Freddie Ljungberg. After six minutes of home pressure, it was Cole who created the first opportunity for the visitors. His flick found Mark Noble but he did not connect cleanly. A minute later Kuyt nodded back a John Arne Riise cross for Torres but his header was off target.

Liverpool had sounded a warning and 60 seconds later were in front. Kuyt's right-wing cross was met by Torres on the penalty spot and he swept the ball beyond the diving Robert Green. Liverpool then poured forward for a second. Javier Mascherano tried his luck from distance only for the goalbound shot to be deflected wide. The Hammers could have been level though in the 12th minute when Hayden Mullins split the Reds defence and Boa Morte burst through. He rounded Pepe Reina in the Liverpool goal but Xabi Alonso got back to clear.

Mascherano had another dig from distance just after the quarter-hour mark, moments after a terrific Matthew Upson block had denied Steven Gerrard. Cole got a half-chance on 20 minutes, after Boa Morte's bright play, but was denied by Jamie Carragher just as he let fly to the left of goal. Up the other end, Gerrard nearly picked out Carragher on 26 minutes but the defender was just unable to reach the captain's free-kick.

As the half-hour approached, Gerrard - this time from a corner- found Martin Skrtel at the near post and his flicked header only just cleared Green's crossbar. Liverpool were still in the ascendancy, with Gerrard everywhere in midfield and he nearly squeezed the ball in on 37 minutes with a stabbed effort towards goal that Green saved.

Cole earned his eighth booking of the season soon afterwards for an aerial challenge on Alonso. Just before the break, only an Upson intervention denied the marauding Riise before Mascherano made it a hat-trick of misses from long-range. Gerrard picked up where he left on in the second half, fizzing a teasing ball across the box.

Mascherano fouled Boa Morte in the 50th minute which allowed Solano to test Reina with a lofted shot. Within seconds, Liverpool launched a counterattack that saw Solano back in a defensive position to cut out a Ryan Babel cross that was destined for Kuyt. Babel was a lively presence and was soon testing Green with a fierce low shot that the goalkeeper did well to smother. On the hour mark, Liverpool made it two when Kuyt again picked out Torres, who headed in from a central position.

Within three minutes of that hammer blow, Matthew Upson had to go off to be replaced by Jonathan Spector - the same time as Yossi Benayoun entered for Kuyt. Torres nearly had a third on 66 minutes, heading against the post from Gerrard's whipped cross. That was the cue for Bobby Zamora and Dean Ashton to enter the fray for the final 20 minutes but it was always going to be an uphill task as Liverpool sent on Jermaine Pennant for Babel.

Ashton teed up Noble for a half chance with ten minutes to play but 20 seconds later Torres was able to complete his hat-trick by slotting the ball under Green. He was immediately substituted to much acclaim, with England striker Peter Crouch coming on in his place. It was 4-0 almost immediately with Gerrard allowed to run to the edge of the penalty area before flashing in a shot beyond Green that completed a miserable night on Merseyside.

Official team sheet Alan Curbishley reaction I League table I