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Liverpool back on top and hoping for United slip

Steven Gerrard fired Liverpool back to the top of the Premier League and then voiced optimism that rivals Manchester United could yet slip up in the final stages of the season.

sports Updated: May 10, 2009 07:05 IST

Steven Gerrard fired Liverpool back to the top of the Premier League and then voiced optimism that rivals Manchester United could yet slip up in the final stages of the season.

Two first-half goals from Gerrard and a late strike by substitute Ryan Babel gave Rafael Benitez's side a comfortable 3-0 win at West Ham and lifted them above United on the strength of their superior goal difference.

Sir Alex Ferguson's side, who face Manchester City at Old Trafford on Sunday, remain in the driving seat and will be champions again if they take seven points from their remaining four matches.

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

But Gerrard is refusing to give up hope.

"They have got a tough game on Sunday," he said. "Man City have come into a bit of form and derby games are never easy so we wait and hope that Man City can do us a favour."

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' first and third goals as well as earning a penalty which Chris Brunt converted on the rebound from his own spot-kick.

Colombian striker Hugo Rodallega had claimed his first goal for Wigan to cancel out Fortune's opener.

Hull's 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 stoppage-time consolation goal for Hull, who have won just once in 20 matches and could fall into the drop zone depending on the result of Monday's meeting between Newcastle and Middlesbrough.

Blackburn are virtually -- if not quite mathematically -- safe after moving to 40 points with a 2-0 win over Portsmouth that was sealed by a second-half penalty by South Africa striker Benni McCarthy.

Norwegian playmaker Morten Gamst Pedersen had opened the scoring before the interval with what was his first goal since the last day of last season and John Utaka missed a late penalty for Pompey, who cannot completely relax yet but should be safe on 38 points.

Sunderland pulled five points clear of the drop zone after a goalless draw at Bolton but that margin could be cut to two points if either Middlesbrough or Newcastle win Monday's high-stakes encounter at St James' Park.

Fulham inflicted further pain on Aston Villa, who have now won just once in 11 matches after a 3-1 defeat at Craven Cottage.

Ashley Young cancelled out Danny Murphy's early penalty but Fulham were always on top and took the points thanks to Diomansy Kamara's second-half double.

Villa's latest setback meant Everton had a chance to leapfrog them into fifth place but David Moyes's side were unable to overcome Tottenham at Goodison Park in a match overshadowed by news that the remains of Spurs midfielder Wilson Palacios's abducted brother had been found in Honduras.