Torres break Hammers hearts

Fernando Torres broke West Ham United hearts to clinch a pulsating 3-2 victory for Liverpool at the Boleyn Ground on Saturday.

The Hammers had twice come from behind, only for the Spain striker to head Ryan Babel's 75th-minute cross past Robert Green, clinching a hard-earned three points for Rafael Benitez's side.

Playing a full part in what was surely the best game of the 2009/10 Barclays Premier League season so far will be of little comfort to Gianfranco Zola and his players, who gave their all on an unseasonably hot and humid day in east London.

Twice, through an Alessandro Diamanti penalty and a towering Carlton Cole header, the home side had recovered from a goal down, only for Torres to settle matters with his 43rd league goal in just 62 appearances for the Reds.

Defeat was undeniably harsh on the hosts, who hit a post through the excellent Zavon Hines after just 112 seconds and could easily have snatched a draw had it not been for Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina.

The Spaniard denied the Hammers further goals twice, first from a wickedly curling Diamanti corner and, moments after Torres had put the visitors 3-2 up, from a Radoslav Kovac header.

The first half was breathless, with both sets of players launching themselves into tackles aplenty and goalscoring chances being created freely at both ends of the pitch.

After Hines had robbed Carragher and hit the woodwork, both Yossi Benayoun and Emiliano Insua went close before Glen Johnson worked Reina with a loose backward header.

Torres finally opened the scoring on 20 minutes, powering past James Tomkins before stabbing past Green from close-range. West Ham's misery was compounded when Matthew Upson and the returning Valon Behrami were both forced off through injury.

The frowns turned to smiles just before the half-hour mark, however, when Hines zipped past Carragher before being barged to the ground by the former England defender.
Diamanti immediately grabbed the ball and, despite losing his footing at the vital moment, directed the resulting penalty past Reina.

Hines was in again seven minutes before the break when he nicked the ball off Martin Skrtel's toe and appeared to be felled by the Slovakian, but referee Andre Marriner waved away the protests.

Liverpool went ahead again four minutes before the break, Gerrard rising highest to head Benayoun's right-wing corner goalwards, with Dirk Kuyt was on hand to get the final touch.

The Hammers would be level by the break, though, as Cole outjumped both Torres and Skrtel to glance Noble's flag-kick into the bottom corner after Diamanti's fierce free-kick had been deflected narrowly wide.

The second 45 minutes was always going to struggle to produce the thrills and spills provided by the first, and so it proved.

The 34,658 inside a packed Boleyn Ground - many of whom had braved widespread public transport disruption to reach the stadium - watched on as both teams searched for a winner.

Diamanti worked Reina with a dipping corner shortly before the hour-mark, forcing the goalkeeper to palm his effort out at full-stretch.

The Italian was replaced by Kieron Dyer with 25 minutes to go, but it was Liverpool substitute Ryan Babel - on for Kuyt - who created the game's final goal.

The Dutchman picked up the loose ball after former Hammer Johnson had seen his shot blocked by Danny Gabbidon, crossed into the danger zone and Torres did the rest, heading powerfully past Green from eight yards.

As they had done twice previously, West Ham responded well, but Reina was again at his best to push aside Kovac's header after Cole had nodded back Dyer's deep cross.

With that, the hosts' final chance of completing a third amazing recovery had gone.

Zola will now re-gather his troops for Tuesday night's Carling Cup third-round tie at Bolton Wanderers.

West Ham United: Green, Faubert, Tomkins, Upson (Gabbidon 25), Ilunga, Noble, Parker, Behrami (Kovac 27), Diamanti (Dyer 65), Hines, Cole
Subs not used: Kurucz, Spector, Payne, Dyer

Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Skrtel, Carragher, Insua, Mascherano, Lucas, Kuyt (Babel 60), Gerrard, Benayoun (Aurelio 85), Torres (Riera 90)
Subs not used: Cavalieri, Degen, Dossena, Kyrgiakos