John Barnes grabbed his first goal for eight months as below-par Liverpool kept their feint championship hopes alive. The former England midfielder had not scored since grabbing a glorious brace at Tottenham back in August.
But after Stan Collymore had crashed home his 18th goal of the season to put Roy Evans' under-strength side on their way, 32-year-old Barnes settled what at the time did not seem likely to be a contest with the 38th minute second. Collymore was creator this time, sprinting down the left past Tim Breacker and when he delivered a near-post cross, Barnes got a touch to turn the ball home.
It was no more than Liverpool were worth at that stage, West Ham metaphorically bringing the holiday brochures out a month ahead of time. But the Merseysiders took their foot off the pedal in the second half.
While more could have come, with Robbie Fowler wasteful a day before his 21st birthday, Harry Redknapp's side were the better team after the interval.
But it was too little too late, for if ever Liverpool had a look of insecurity it was today.
Suspensions and injuries meant no Neil Ruddock, Mark Wright, Phil Babb, Steve Harkness or Rob Jones, Evans playing Dominic Matteo, Michael Thomas and Stig Bjornebye in a makeshift back division.
But the Hammers, mindful of the fact they had not won at Anfield since 1963-64, had only Iain Dowie up front and caution undid them from the outset as Liverpool seized the initiative. Collymore was denied by Ludek Miklosko, Fowler headed Bjornebye's cross over and Steve McManaman crashed a shot wide.
So it was no surprise when Collymore pulled another stunner out of the top drawer to put Liverpool ahead in the 22nd minute. There seemed little on when the £8.5 million man picked the ball up 30 yards out with eight defenders in front of him. But Collymore cared little for that, breezing past Danny Williamson and unleashing a thunderbolt which Miklosko could only push into the corner of the net.
It should have altered West Ham's attitude, but it did not as Liverpool continued to surge forward, Keith Rowland's man-marking attempt on McManaman a conspicuous failure.
Jamie Redknapp had a shot saved by Miklosko but it was only delaying the inevitable as Barnes obliged. The question now seemed to be how many, the East Londoners giving David James as easy a half as he had spent all term.
Redknapp fired just too high twice before the interval, but West Ham were a different side afterwards, Robbie Slater going close with a cross-shot then Dowie, found by Rowland, beating James but not Matteo.
Perhaps it had been too easy in the first half, perhaps Liverpool fell asleep, and both Julian Dicks and Dowie tested James as West Ham forced the pace. But the altered approach left gaps at the back which nearly brought a third as Liverpool belatedly started to play, Rowland, desperately stretching out to rob Fowler, a fraction away from poking the ball into his own net.
Dicks went even closer with an unwanted contribution from Collymore's driven cross as the game became a proper contest, although West Ham had paid too heavy a price for their first 45 minutes.
Fowler could have celebrated his birthday with a 36th goal of the season from McManaman's pass and the winger then blazed over. But the points had long been secured.
Fuming West Ham boss Harry Redknapp lashed his players after their 2-0 defeat at Liverpool. First-half goals from Stan Collymore and John Barnes kept the Anfield side's fading championship hopes alive but Redknapp could not hide his anger at his team's shocking display in the first 45 minutes. West Ham's only shot was a weak effort by Keith Rowland but while they more than matched the home side after the break the damage had already been done. "They walked all over us in the first half and we just stood back and let them dominate and pass us to death," raged Redknapp. "It looked like a practice match at times. They played at their own pace and we never got close enough to tackle them."
Redknapp's anger contained a clear warning to his side, as he added: "I let them know in no uncertain terms what I thought. The season's not over - it isn't for me and it shouldn't be for them. I will be buying new players in the summer and they should be fighting for their places if they want to be in my team. We haven't won here for 30-odd years but they got done on Saturday and had lots of injuries and we weren't going to get a better opportunity to come and pick up a result."
For Liverpool boss Roy Evans, refusing to concede the title is beyond his men, three points from the fourth tough game in the space of nine days was a more than acceptable return. "I never thought we were going to get a hat full, even when we went two up," said Evans. "The most important thing was the result. It has been a slog for us and the games are going to catch us up and probably did over the weekend and today. But we won't throw the towel in yet. Manchester United got a good result today but we had five missing and picked up three valuable points in terms of qualifying for Europe, especially with some of the other results going for us."
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