liverpool in touch

LONDON - Liverpool kept the pressure on Manchester United and returned to the top of the Premier League table for 24 hours with a comfortable 3-0 win over West Ham on Saturday.

LONDON - Liverpool kept the pressure on Manchester United and returned to the top of the Premier League table for 24 hours with a comfortable 3-0 win over West Ham on Saturday.

Two goals from Steven Gerrard and a late strike by substitute Ryan Babel lifted Rafael Benitez's side into pole position on the strength of their superior goal difference.

But United remain strong favourites to close out a third consecutive domestic triumph.

Sir Alex Ferguson's side, who beat Manchester City 2-0 at Old Trafford late yesterday, could be champions again if they take four points from their remaining three matches.

With games against Wigan and Arsenal on Wednesday and next Saturday, United could have wrapped up their 18th English title by the time Liverpool next play, at West Brom on May 17.

At the other end of the table, West Brom gave their supporters reason to believe another great escape from relegation could be possible after a 3-1 win over Wigan.

The victory, combined with Hull's 2-1 home defeat at the hands of Stoke, lifted West Brom to within three points of safety with two matches - at home to Liverpool and away to Blackburn - left to play, a situation that has echoes of 2005 when Bryan Robson's side beat the drop from an apparently hopeless position.

On-loan striker Marc-Antoine Fortune was West Brom's hero, scoring the Baggies's first and third goals as well as earning a penalty that Chris Brunt converted on the rebound after his first effort was saved by Richard Kingson.

Colombian striker Hugo Rodallega had claimed his first goal in English football to cancel out Fortune's opener but Steve Bruce's men, with nothing left to play for, had a distinct end-of-season look about them after the break.

Hull's calamitous fall continued as a first-half strike from Ricardo Fuller and a stunning long-range effort from Liam Lawrence secured three points which guarantee Stoke, back in the top flight for the first time since 1985, will stay there next season.

Stoke boss Tony Pulis was delighted to see his players confound the pundits who had almost unanimously predicted an immediate return to the Championship.

"It means everything and to prove a lot of people wrong is nice," Pulis said. "It's been a tough season for us but we have kept going and the players have always believed."

Andy Dawson scored a late consolation goal for Hull, who have won just once in 20 matches and could fall into the drop zone depending on the result of today's meeting between Newcastle and Middlesbrough. - Sapa-AFP

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