Benitez refuses to surrender Liverpool title hopes

LONDON: Rafael Benitez has vowed that Liverpool will not give up hope of prising the Premier League trophy out of the grasp of reigning champions Manchester United as the season draws to a close.

The Spaniard watched his side cruise to a comfortable 3-0 win at West Ham on Saturday and he saw enough in the performance to convince himself that Sir Alex Ferguson's men are not beyond reach.

"We are doing our job - we needed to get three points and keep them under pressure," said Benitez.

"We have to keep winning. If we can get three points in every single game then you never know."

Steven Gerrard struck after only 77 seconds at Upton Park and doubled his tally before half-time by tapping home after seeing his penalty saved by Robert Green.

Netherlands winger Ryan Babel rounded off the victory by prodding home from close range after 84 minutes.

Benitez acknowledged the influential role that Gerrard and returning Spain striker Fernando Torres - who were making only their 12th league appearance of the season together - had on the team.

"We have scored goals from all over the pitch which is really positive but if you have Gerrard and Torres in the side it makes a massive difference," said the former Valencia boss.

Benitez admitted that, should Liverpool miss out what would be a first league title in 19 years, it would be hard not to cast some rueful glances back to games that they dominated but failed to win.

The Reds' goalless draw at home to West Ham in early December was an obvious example, particularly as Benitez had just been reviewing footage of the game before Saturday's clash.

"We can talk about some draws but especially this one," said Benitez.

"We were watching some clips and we had a lot of chances -- it's a pity because we didn't take them and this could be the difference."

West Ham manager Gianfranco Zola was sceptical about the Merseysiders' chances of pipping United to the title.

"I don't think Manchester will let the title slip away from them, considering the experience they have," said Zola.

"But this championship has been so unpredictable so don't be surprised if something happens."

The defeat for West Ham leaves them three points off the pace in the race for a coveted seventh place finish and qualification for the Europa League -- the revamped UEFA Cup -- next season.

Even if they do manage to finish that high, the club still must be granted a UEFA licence for next season.

The licence, which is a requirement for clubs playing in European competition, can only be granted when specific financial documents are submitted by the club.

West Ham's financial problems, and the potential for a change of ownership, mean these have not yet been handed over, though the club said they are confident of doing so by May 26, the day of the hearing.

On the pitch, Zola is still hopeful of his side's chances of qualifying for the new tournament.

The Hammers face a testing trip to Everton on Saturday before entertaining Middlesbrough on the final day of the season.

"Our team is alive and above all whenever we have a bad game we always come back very strong," said the 42-year-old.

"The way the team played in the first half today is encouraging. I'm confident that in the next two games my team will give everything. Don't be surprised if they surprise you."