Hammers hit by Gerrard

A Steven Gerrard-inspired Liverpool proved too strong for West Ham United as they hit three without reply at the Boleyn Ground on Saturday.

Liverpool opened the scoring after just 77 seconds through Gerrard, and the Liverpool captain got his second two minutes before half time - tapping in the rebound after Robert Green had superbly saved his penalty. The Hammers fought back and had several good chances of their own, but it was the visitors who were to have the final say when Ryan Babel added a third with minutes to go.

West Ham went into the game knowing a win would take them back into seventh after Fulham's and Tottenham's results earlier in the day had left them ninth. Gianfranco Zola set that task to the same starting XI that had performed so admirably in the win at Stoke City last weekend. In fact, the only change to the eighteen was the inclusion of Savio on the substitutes' bench in place of Zavon Hines.

But nothing the West Ham manager had said in the dressing room could have prepared his side for what happened just two minutes in. The game had hardly had time to settle before Liverpool took the lead with the first attack of the game. Fernando Torres flicked a ball through and the Liverpool captain beat the offside trap before rounding Robert Green and rolling into an empty net.

Moments later, the visitors could have doubled their lead, had Green not raced from his line to smother the ball at the feet of Torres, who had been sent clear by Gerrard.

Despite the early setback the Hammers soon found their rhythm and started to enjoy some good possession in their title-chasing opponent's half. After a couple of threatening moves, they had a great to chance to get back on level terms 20 minutes before half time. After Alvaro Arbeloa had fouled Noble on the left, the West Ham midfielder picked himself up to curl the set-piece in. Radoslav Kovac got up well to beat Jose Reina to the ball but could not quite direct his header under the crossbar.

Central to many of the good things the home side were producing was the homegrown talent of Noble, who harried and hustled his way around every inch of the pitch, but Liverpool's second soon destroyed West Ham's hopes of a leveller before half time.

The penalty was awarded after Luis Boa Morte was adjudged to have tugged back Torres in the box, with the Portuguese being booked for the misdemeanour. Gerrard stepped up and just as he had done many times before, Green guessed the right way, only to see the ball spin along the goal-line into the path of the England midfielder, who rolled it into an empty net.

Kovac then joined Boa Morte in referee Alan Wiley's notebook for remonstrating a little too strongly before Di Michele saw a great chance to restore parity pass him by. The Italian capitalised on Jamie Carragher's mistake to bear down on Reina's goal, but just as he rounded the stranded Spaniard he lost his footing and the chance went begging. Wiley saw it that Di Michele had gone down too easily and booked the forward for simulation.

Torres then nearly put the game out of reach before the interval but his looping header bounced just wide.

Buoyed by some strong support among the 34,951 inside the Boleyn Ground, the Hammers came flying out of the blocks for the second period and Fabio Aurelio was forced into bringing down Boa Morte in full flight, earning himself a booking in the process. It was to be the full-backs last contribution as both teams made a change with Emiliano Insua entering the fray in place of the Brazilian and Jack Collison coming on in place of Junior Stanislas for the hosts.

Green, who had been so desperately unlucky in the first half with the penalty, then had to be at his best as a swift Liverpool counter-attack left the England international with Dirk Kuyt bearing down on him. He stood tall and just managed to get a touch to divert the Dutchman's goalbound shot around the post.

Both managers then made attacking changes for the final 20 minutes. Zola introduced Freddie Sears in place of Di Michele, while Rafa Benitez swapped Torres for Babel.

Former Hammer Javier Mascherano marked his return to the Boleyn with a booking before Zola made his final throw of the dice by bringing on Josh Payne for his home debut in place of Boa Morte, who left the field to rapturous applause. Liverpool's final change saw another former West Ham player, Yossi Benayoun, leave the field for Andrea Dossena.

Liverpool made sure of the win with a third as Kuyt crossed for Babel, whose header was superbly saved by Green, but again luck deserted the West Ham No1 as the rebound fell to the substitute, who made no mistake from three yards.

Despite the result the Hammers will no doubt take heart from the performances of their youngsters, with Academy products Noble and James Tomkins particularly catching the eye. Their quest for UEFA Europa League qualification continues next weekend, with a trip to today's visitors' home city for a match against Everton.