Liverpool ease to win over West Ham
Liverpool striker Luis Suarez may not have stolen the show in quite the way he did earlier in the week but his influence in the 4-1 win at home to West Ham was just as significant.
It was the Uruguay international's shot which produced Guy Demel's own goal just before half-time, he won the free-kick from which Mamadou Sakho scored his first goal for the club and then added a late goal to calm the nerves after Martin Skrtel put past his own goalkeeper.
He might even have laid claim to the fifth goal of the afternoon but the ball had taken a fateful deflection off Joey O'Brien.
Suarez could have had back-to-back hat-tricks after getting four in midweek against Norwich but in taking his tally to 26 in his last 25 league matches, including 10 in his last four home matches, he provided further proof - should it be needed - that he is central to the Reds' bid to regain Champions League status.
The only downside to the day was the sight of Steven Gerrard limping off injured midway through the second half, which prompted a period of uncertainty which was in danger of developing into a terminal decline until Suarez's late intervention.
In the first half, even with playmaker Philippe Coutinho pulling the strings, often dropping very deep from his position behind the main striker, West Ham appeared to have worked out a way to stifle Liverpool's primary threat.
The visitors packed central areas with plenty of bodies and if nothing else that restricted the space in which Suarez had to move.
But even that tactic cannot cut the Uruguay international entirely out of the game and that is why his standing in world football is matching his soaring valuation.
Having seen a left-footed chip drift wide the 26-year-old was a lively presence in and around the penalty area and had a shot from Gerrard's pass deflected wide before getting in the way of Jordan Henderson's effort after he cut in from the left.
That was symptomatic of the opening 40 minutes as Liverpool strained to create chances but none which could really be described as clear-cut.
Raheem Sterling, who got a verbal rocket from Gerrard urging him to up his game and was frequently whistled at by manager Brendan Rodgers like a demented contestant on 'One Man and His Dog', provided plenty going forward but not nearly enough in the finishing department.
His pace on the diagonal run from the right started to open up the Hammers' defence - especially with Coutinho's weight of pass timed to perfection - but he lacked an end product and his scuffed shot having outpaced his opponents failed to trouble Jussi Jaaskelainen.
That task fell to Suarez, of course, whose angled shot just before the break was not held by the Finn and bounced into the path of Demel who diverted the ball back past his own goalkeeper.
It was just the lucky break the home side needed after a first half of toil.
West Ham could feel slightly aggrieved as they had created the best chance when Modibo Maiga's header was brilliantly tipped over by Simon Mignolet.
They also saw Matt Jarvis' cross evade Mignolet and roll through the six-yard area after Johnson had given away possession to George McCartney.
The goal forced the visitors to be more open after the break but only two minutes in they were further behind.
James Tomkins went through the back of Suarez and Gerrard's free-kick picked out Sakho at the far post.
The France defender, making his first start since the November 2 defeat at Arsenal, completely fluffed his shot but did just enough to divert it goalwards and Collins could not keep it from crossing the line.
All done and dusted, you would have thought, but soon after Liverpool lost Gerrard to injury as he raced down the inside-right channel.
West Ham drew confidence from a sharp reflex save by Jaaskelainen to deny Sterling's first-time effort and then were handed a way back into the game when Skrtel scored his second own goal in a week after turning Jarvis' header past Mignolet.
That really cranked up the tension as the home side conceded the initiative and it was only wrested back thanks to Suarez.
Glen Johnson produced the perfect shot for the striker to head home at the far post and then smashed what would have been a second against O'Brien, across goal then home via the crossbar.
In between that Kevin Nolan was sent off for raking his studs down the back of Henderson's calf as the Hammers were reduced to 10 men for the closing stages.
Uncharacteristically Suarez squandered the chance of scoring another late goal after rounding Jaaskelainen with five minutes to go, instead running the ball out of play.
He was obviously having an off-day.
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