First-half strikes from Yossi Benayoun and David Ngog and a second-half own goal from Robert Green earned Liverpool a 3-0 win Monday over struggling West Ham.
The Reds are still five points off fourth-placed Tottenham, who also have a game in hand, but they extended their unbeaten run at Anfield to 10 matches and this was a simple warm up for Thursday's UEFA Europa League semi-final first leg at Atletico Madrid. Efforts from Benayoun and Ngog gave them a comfortable advantage at the interval and Green's own goal completed a comfortable evening.
"Everything was solid, they were trying to win from the start. After we scored the first goal it was easier," said coach Rafael Benitez about hsi team's performance. He also singled out Ngog, who played in place of the injured Fernando Torres, saying: "To replace Fernando is difficult and everyone is expecting to see the same things, but he is totally different."
West Ham have not won away from home since the opening weekend of the season and remain just three points above the relegation zone with three matches remaining. There was also the worrying sight of Carlton Cole applying ice to his knee after coming off for the visitors.
Liverpool dominated possession from the start and West Ham goalkeeper Robert Green had to turn a Maxi Rodriguez strike around the post with just a couple of minutes gone. Ngog failed to control a long ball from Glen Johnson as the hosts continued to press.
Steven Gerrard's corner looped up off Radoslav Kovac at the near post but Ngog failed to divert his header on target. But in the 19th minute, Liverpool took the lead from a Gerrard free kick on the right. The Liverpool captain whipped the set piece in behind the West Ham defence and the ball crept inside the post off Benayoun's chest. The Israeli, who joined Liverpool from West Ham and was being booed throughout by the visitors' fans, refused to celebrate the breakthrough.
Carlton Cole won the ball in the air against Jamie Carragher and forced a save at the near post from Pepe Reina. Junior Stanislas also looped over with a free kick but Sotirios Kyrgiakos should have given Liverpool an unassailable lead when he thumped a header over from Gerrard's corner.
They did manage to double their advantage when Benayoun knocked wide to Rodriguez. The Argentinian crossed for Ngog, who managed to get in front of Matthew Upson, and hit a shot with enough power to beat Green.
Cole broke from deep as the visitors attempted to keep the game alive but his long-range effort rolled wide of Reina's goal. Gerrard lifted a free kick high and wide as Liverpool looked to put the game beyond the strugglers. Dirk Kuyt also had a drive pushed wide by Green after racing on to a knock-down from Ngog.
Reds push for more
Liverpool did not sit back after the restart and could have made it three when Kuyt found space on the right and crossed, only for Green to pounce, with Lucas poised to shoot. They did manage another goal thanks to more poor defending from the visitors. Gerrard sent over a free kick from the left and Kyrgiakos beat Upson only to see his shot come back off the post and roll in off Green.
Cole looked to salvage some pride for the visitors after latching on to Mark Noble's pass in the area but his shot was easily-blocked by Reina. Daniel Agger lifted a shot over as Liverpool continued to press and Rodriguez was thwarted at the near post by Green. Kuyt also missed the target with an ambitious overhead kick as Liverpool ran out easy winners.