It was eight months ago that West Ham were a minute from beating Liverpool in the FA Cup final but that memorable match must have felt far more distant to them last night. Defeated by the same opponents, the team remain in the relegation zone and show little sign of finding a way out. They have gone seven Premiership games without a win and must end that run next month - when they face Aston Villa, Watford and Charlton.
Two excellent goals early in the second half, the first from Dirk Kuyt 10 seconds into it, provided a blow from which West Ham failed to recover. Liverpool, who have moved to within two points of Chelsea, could have put the game firmly beyond the Hammers before their tempo and passing dropped and Kepa Blanco pulled a goal back on his debut. They never looked like equalising, however.
The only plus for West Ham was that Wigan, the team immediately above them, also lost. Today the Hammers have a final chance to strengthen their squad and have not given up hope of getting Matthew Upson from Birmingham City. Their defence was regularly shredded early in the second half as Liverpool injected pace and movement. Craig Bellamy, Kuyt and Peter Crouch were sharp.
Three Alan Curbishley signings - Nigel Quashie, Calum Davenport and Luis Boa Morte - were in West Ham's starting XI but the manager seems no nearer to finding the needed recipe. The team passed poorly and threatened too sporadically, with some fans chanting "We want our money back" before Kepa scored.
Apart from 15-minute periods at the end of both halves West Ham carried no threat and their determination could not compensate for a lack of class or fluency. Having started with victory at home to Manchester United, Curbishley has taken three points from 21. Injuries, especially in defence, have not helped, but the issues run deeper. "They gave their best but it wasn't good enough," he said, describing himself as "confident" of staying up but admitting that he had expected better results. He said he does not envisage anyone leaving, though Marlon Harewood has been the subject of an inquiry from Tottenham.
Liverpool now have five successive league wins and will sign Javier Mascherano from West Ham today after Fifa gave the midfielder permission to play for a third club in the space of a year. They are also close to a £2.6m deal for the Deportivo la Coruña defender Alvaro Arbeloa, 24, and his 18-year-old compatriot Francisco Manuel Durán, a midfielder from Malaga.
Their manager, Rafa Benítez, is refusing to get carried away with talk of challenging for the title when his team trail Manchester United by eight points having played a game more. "We are keeping the momentum, that's the key," he said. "We want to stay there to the end."
There had been little to admire in Liverpool's first-half performance. At that point a three-man forward line was not functioning as intended, with Crouch quiet and Kuyt peripheral from the left. "I came in at half-time and felt quite comfortable," Curbishley said, but that soon changed. Within 10 seconds Crouch, given space by Davenport, set up Kuyt to strike an unstoppable shot in via the bar from about 25 yards.
The switching of Kuyt to the right had paid dividends and soon Liverpool had a fine second goal. Gerrard picked out Bellamy, whose lay-off found John Arne Riise on the left and the Norwegian's cutback was swept into the net by Crouch from near the edge of the box. Liverpool were in total control - Bellamy and Kuyt going close - before Kepa scored moments after coming on.
The Anfield board met before the game and while it is yet to receive a formal bid from Dubai International Capital, it is understood to have opted to seek more time as it assesses an approach from the US businessman George Gillett. DIC remains the chairman David Moores' favoured bidder but other shareholders, notably Granada, which owns 9.9%, want to consider a bid which would value shares at nearer £5,000 compared to DIC's £4,500.
Roy Carroll, Christian Dailly, Calum Davenport, George McCartney, Jonathan Spector, Yossi Benayoun, Nigel Quashie, Nigel Reo-Coker, Luis Boa Morte, Carlton Cole (Bobby Zamora), Marlon Harewood (Blanco Gonzalez Kepa)
Jose Manuel Reina, Daniel Agger, Jamie Carragher, Steve Finnan, Sami Hyypia, Xabi Alonso, Steven Gerrard, John Arne Riise, Craig Bellamy (Mark Gonzalez), Peter Crouch (Jermaine Pennant), Dirk Kuyt (Robbie Fowler)
Referee: Atkinson, M
Venue: Upton Park
West Ham 4
West Ham 13
West Ham 6
Copyright - The Guardian