Steven Gerrard scored twice from the penalty spot as Liverpool returned to the top of the Premier League with a hard-fought 2-1 victory against West Ham United on Sunday at Upton Park.
Liverpool were not at their breathtaking best but went ahead in the 44th minute through Gerrard's first penalty. The Hammers equalised moments later via Guy Demel's controversial tap-in, but the Reds won it with a contentious penalty in the 71st minute.
Gerrard now has 173 career goals for Liverpool, passing Kenny Dalglish as Liverpool's sixth-leading goalscorer of all time, per LFCHistory.net.
The victory took Liverpool onto 74 points with five matches remaining, two points above Chelsea, who had briefly taken over top spot with a win over Stoke on Saturday. Third-placed Manchester City are four points behind Liverpool with two matches in hand.
90 - Liverpool are only the fourth team to ever score 90+ goals in a PL season (+ Chelsea 09-10, Man Utd 99-00 & Man City 11-12). Spree.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 6, 2014
Liverpool have now won nine straight league matches, dating back to the 5-1 demolition of Arsenal at Anfield in February. With five more victories in their final five league matches, the Reds would claim their first EPL title since 1990.
The run-in won't be easy, though. Up next for Brendan Rodgers' Reds is a home match against title challengers Manchester City next Sunday. Then, following a trip to Norwich, Liverpool host Chelsea on April 27.
Against West Ham, Liverpool struggled for much of the first half to get their potent attack going. Luis Suarez had an early opportunity, curling a free kick just over the bar in the third minute. On the other end, Martin Skrtel had to be alert to head away a dangerous cross by West Ham's Mohamed Diame.
Suarez came within inches of breaking the deadlock in the 20th minute, cutting inside from the left before curling a shot off the woodwork. Diame had another sight of goal for West Ham in the 23rd minute, but his shot from distance flashed well wide.
West Ham continued to gain a foothold as the first half wore on and had a decent chance in the 33rd minute as Mark Noble blazed a powerful free-kick off target. But the hosts' good work was undone just before halftime, as Liverpool won a penalty.
James Tomkins conceded the spot-kick, handling the ball in the box under pressure from Suarez in the 43rd minute. Gerrard stepped up and slotted in the penalty one minute later to give Liverpool a 1-0 advantage just before half-time.
It didn't last long, however, as West Ham equalised moments later under controversial circumstances.
The controversy arose in the second minute of stoppage time, when Demel tapped into Liverpool's net from close range after Reds goalkeeper Simon Mignolet spilled a corner. The goal pulled West Ham level at 1-1, and Liverpool were incensed, appealing for a foul by Andy Carroll on Mignolet on the play.
Replays showed that Carroll had made contact with Mignolet's head and arm while the former briefly held the ball, but after consulting with his assistant—who had waved his flag for a foul—referee Anthony Taylor awarded the goal.
With the match level at halftime, Rodgers replaced Philippe Coutinho with Lucas Leiva in Liverpool's midfield. But West Ham had the first clear chance of the second half as Carroll powered a header against the crossbar in the 62nd minute.
Liverpool had another sight of goal three minutes later, but Daniel Sturridge shot over the target from the edge of the box.
More controversy arose in the 70th minute as Liverpool won a second penalty. With Liverpool defender Jon Flanagan running onto the ball on the left side of the box, West Ham goalkeeper Adrian raced off his line before making contact with both the ball and Flanagan.
Taylor awarded a penalty despite arguments from Adrian, who was booked. Gerrard took the spot-kick again, this time driving a high shot past Adrian for a 2-1 Liverpool lead.
Back in front, Liverpool set out to seal the points with a third goal and came close to doing just that when Suarez hit the crossbar in the 84th minute. Suarez came close again three minutes later, forcing Adrian to save his low shot from outside the box.
West Ham weren't finished, though, and Stewart Downing lifted a curled shot off target in the 90th minute. At the other end, Raheem Sterling tested Adrian with a fierce, high shot at the near post.
That turned out to be the game's final chance, and after four minutes of stoppage time, Liverpool were back atop of the table with their title dream very much alive.
Liverpool: Have won 9 consecutive PL matches for the first time since May 2006 #LFC— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) April 6, 2014
9 - Liverpool have won nine PL games in a row, the best run in the division since Man Utd recorded 11 in succession in 2008-09. Surge.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 6, 2014
|Lucas Leiva (for Coutinho, 46')||N/A||7|
|Kolo Toure (for Sturridge, 85')||N/A||6|
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers hailed his team's performance as brilliant, per @PremierLeague:
Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers: "We've been put under real pressure today... It was a brilliant all-round performance.” #WHULIV— Premier League (@premierleague) April 6, 2014
According to West Ham manager Sam Allardyce, the match turned when Carroll's header slammed off the bar in the second half. He told the EPL Twitter:
West Ham boss Sam Allardyce: “The turning point for us is when Andy Carroll hit the bar – I think if he'd scored we wouldn't have lost.”— Premier League (@premierleague) April 6, 2014
Finally, Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard looked forward to next weekend's showdown with Manchester City at Anfield:
Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard: "There are some very hard games to go and we've got a tough one next week." #WHULIV— Premier League (@premierleague) April 6, 2014
West Ham play at Arsenal in the Premier League on Tuesday, April 15.
Liverpool host Manchester City next Sunday in the Premier League.