Steven Gerrard twice held his nerve from the penalty spot to keep Liverpool's title bid on course with a battling 2-1 win at West Ham United.
Referee Anthony Taylor penalised James Tomkins for handball late in the first half, allowing Gerrard to notch his first goal two minutes before the break. But West Ham went in level through Guy Demel's first goal for the club, which came after Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet had dropped a corner under pressure from Andy Carroll. The former Liverpool striker headed against the crossbar after the hour before West Ham's Adrian impeded Jon Flanagan for Gerrard's second penalty in the 71st minute. Luis Suarez curled a first-time effort against the frame of the goal late on, but Liverpool had already done enough to maintain their quest for the Barclays Premier League crown.
Brendan Rodgers' side return to the top of the table, two points above Chelsea and four ahead of Manchester City, who have played two matches fewer and head to Anfield in seven days' time for what looks set to be a season-defining encounter.
Napoli loanee Pablo Armero made his full debut for West Ham after left-back George McCartney suffered a hamstring strain in Monday's 2-1 win at Sunderland. A knee injury suffered in training by Daniel Agger meant a change for Liverpool at centre-back, with Mamadou Sakho starting for the first time since they last lost in the league, at Chelsea on December 29.
Suarez had been the central figure in the subsequent 11 wins and two league draws, and the forward glanced the top of the netting with an early free-kick. Largely well shackled by Tomkins during the opening stages, Suarez engineered room to arch a delicate 20th-minute attempt against the far post. Daniel Sturridge then twice blasted over but the contest remained disjointed until an explosive end to the half
In the 43rd minute, Gerrard, whose raking ball was collected by Suarez to draw a handball from Tomkins, coolly converted from the spot. But West Ham found an instant response as Mignolet, under pressure from Carroll, dropped Mark Noble's corner for Demel to prod home. Taylor signalled for the goal following lengthy consultation with his assistant.
Carroll made a nuisance of himself on set-pieces early in the second period as Liverpool, who began the half with Lucas Leiva on in place of playmaker Philippe Coutinho, found clear chances at a premium. There were no question marks when Carroll got the better of Mignolet in the 62nd minute, only to see his powerful header from Mohamed Diame's cross cannon back off the crossbar.
Liverpool won a second penalty as Adrian brought down rampaging full-back Flanagan, who had been played in by Lucas. Gerrard made no mistake from the spot again before Suarez was denied by both the crossbar and Adrian, as Liverpool closed out the kind of gritty win upon which title triumphs are often built.
West Ham manager Sam Allardyce: "If you look back now, Andy [Carroll]'s header hitting the bar was a key moment because I would be stood here with a result if it had gone in. It might not have been a win, but I certainly don't think we would have lost from that point because we were defending so well. If we'd scored a second, Liverpool would have taken more chances and we'd have had more space to exploit them and had something to hang onto if we got 2-1 up.
"That was a bit unlucky because it was a super header and instead of going in, it hit the bar and came out. All in all, everybody tried their very best and gave all they had got, but for one reason or another it was a disappointing end to a game we were all looking forward to and played well in."
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers: “We thoroughly deserved the win and we showed great character today. It was a brilliant win for us and keeps our run going. We were clearly the better team. West Ham had one shot on target, which was the goal. Today was a really tough game for us, now we will recover and reflect on the game.
"It's going to be a great game [v Manchester City on Sunday]. It's nine [win] on the spin now, which is an incredible effort by the players and the staff. It is going to be a magnificent atmosphere at Anfield. The supporters really urged us on today and we want to see if we can get 10 in a row."
|15 Apr 2014||v Arsenal (A)|
|19 Apr 2014||v Crystal Palace (H)|
|26 Apr 2014||v West Brom (A)|
|03 May 2014||v Spurs (H)|
|11 May 2014||v Man City (A)|