LONDON: Liverpool moved a step closer to the Premier League title in controversial fashion as Steven Gerrard´s penalty sealed a 2-1 victory at West Ham and capped a miserable afternoon for referee Anthony Taylor on Sunday.
Gerrard fired Liverpool back to the top of the table after Brendan Rodgers´ side were given a dubious second half spot-kick by Taylor, who had earlier allowed Guy Demel´s equaliser for West Ham despite a clear foul on Reds goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
Liverpool captain Gerrard had given his side the lead in the first half with another penalty which was far less debatable and his second spot-kick took him past Kenny Dalglish on the all-time list of Liverpool goal-scorers.
A far more significant Dalglish-related milestone is now in sight as Gerrard´s double means Liverpool are just five wins away from being crowned English champions for the first time since the Scot led them to the title in 1990.
The Reds are two points clear of second placed Chelsea and four ahead of third placed Manchester City, who have two games in hand but face Rodgers´ team at Anfield next Sunday.
Liverpool are in red-hot form, winning their last nine matches to prove their title credentials, and they held their nerve impressively after West Ham´s contentious equaliser. “There were bad decisions both for and against us but we were clearly the better team,” Rodgers said. “In fairness the referee came out after the game and said he got it wrong for their goal. I thought the second penalty was possibly a penalty.”
While it was the officials who eventually stole the spotlight, all the focus before kick-off was on Liverpool´s in-form forwards.Luis Suarez has been unstoppable in recent weeks and the Uruguayan was quickly into his stride once again.
He curled a free-kick just over the crossbar from 30 yards in the third minute and went even closer 16 minutes later.
West Ham´s defenders switched off at a throw-in and Suarez alertly seized possession before lofting the ball goalwards, only to see his effort rebound to safety off the bar.
Rodgers´ men had only failed to score in two league games this season and they kept their nerve to take the lead in the 44th minute.
Inevitably, Suarez was the catalyst for the breakthrough as he split the defence to reach Gerrard´s brilliant long pass and cleverly flicked the ball back past James Tomkins, who instinctively stuck out an arm to block.
Taylor awarded the penalty and Gerrard stepped up to calmly send Adrian the wrong way from the spot.
Yet Liverpool´s lead lasted just minutes as the hosts drew level in the most bizarre circumstances.
Former Reds striker Andy Carroll jumped for a corner and caught Mignolet on the head, causing the goalkeeper to fumble the ball to Demel, who poked into the unguarded net from close-range.
It was a clear foul and stunned Liverpool appealed for a free-kick, with Suarez shouting at Taylor to look at the big screen behind him which was showing a replay of the incident.
But Taylor infuriated the visitors as he over-ruled linesman Stuart Burt, who had flagged for the offence, and awarded the goal.
Liverpool reacted to the injustice by establishing a firmer grip on Carroll as West Ham´s first corner of the second half resembled a rugby match with three players wrestling with the towering forward. But Carroll threatened to cause more damage when he out-muscled Glen Johnson to reach Mohamed Diame´s cross and power a header against the bar.
Rodgers´ side monopolised possession for much of the half without being able to deliver the knockout blow and they needed significant assistance from another Taylor blunder to take the points in the 71st minute.
Lucas slipped a pass through to Jon Flanagan, but Adrian was quickly off his line and got a hand to the ball before the Liverpool defender tumbled to the turf after clipping the Spaniard´s arm.
Taylor gave the penalty to West Ham´s bewilderment and Gerrard gleefully accepted the gift as he fired home from the spot.