West Ham 1 Demel 45+2'
Liverpool 2 Gerrard (pen) 44', (pen) 71'
That was a bizarre match. The first half was far from an impressive display for Liverpool, allowing West Ham to see too much of the ball and penetrate in to dangerous positions with the ball far too frequently. Fortunately the defensive duo of Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho were more than up for the challenge, dealing with every attack with aplomb, particularly Sakho.
Going forward, Liverpool struggled with bad touches, bad decisions, and occasional bad luck. Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge both had some moments in front of goal, but neither seemed to be wearing their finishing boots and both came away looking more frustrated than anything else. Every decent move Liverpool put together ended up with the ball either scuffed tamely in to the keepers arms or soaring high over the crossbar.
Then Suarez did Suarez things and his attempt to flick past James Tomkins ended with the ball pinging off Tomkins' hand and referee Anthony Taylor pointing to the spot. Steven Gerrard had started the sequence with a gorgeous deep ball right to the feet of Suarez, and he finished it by hammering home his penalty with ease after sending Adrian the wrong way.
That would be far from the last involvement of Taylor in the match. In stoppage time, Guy Demel poked the ball past Simon Mignolet in a scrum in the penalty area, but the side judge waived the goal off for a foul. What the side judge, and everyone watching on TV, saw was Andy Carroll slapping the face of Mignolet while the keeper was grabbing the ball out of the air, then clawing his right arm off the ball, causing the Belgian to drop it at Demel's feet. Either of those infractions was worthy of a foul and even a booking, but Taylor, who was well behind the play at a poor angle to see it, felt that he knew better and over-ruled his assistant, who had an unobstructed straight-on view of the incident, and awarded the goal to the hosts.
That lead to rightful outrage from Liverpool, fans and players alike. Liverpool would come out with fire in their eyes in the second half, though they'd face more difficulty getting things right in front of goal. Brendan Rodgers made a big shift by bringing off Philippe Coutinho in favor or Lucas Leiva, switching from a 4-3-3 to more of the diamond look we've seen at times recently with Lucas doing the lions' work of the defensive duties at the base, freeing up Gerrard to get more forward and support the attack more directly.
It's a move that drew criticism from fans, but it's hard to argue with its effectiveness; Lucas effectively nullified Kevin Nolan and Mark Noble, who had been causing all kinds of issues for Gerrard and Jordan Henderson. With Carroll then stranded up top on his own, it was only a matter of time before Liverpool would take over the match, and that's exactly what they did.
As the second half progressed, it looked more and more likely that Liverpool would nick a goal, though the fashion that they did it in only served to continue the match's controversial nature. Jon Flanagan, who'd been having a rather rough match, was sent free in to the box with only Adrian to beat. The West Ham keeper went to ground and nicked the ball away, then inexplicably grabbed at Flanagan's ankle as he went by. Despite Sam Alardyce's protestations that Flanagan was already going to ground when the contract was made (he wasn't), Taylor awarded Liverpool another penalty. Adrian guessed what direction Gerrard was going this time, but the captain beat him anyways and Liverpool was home free.
This was the kind of match that a potential champion has to win in order to compete: an ugly, chippy affair that maybe should have gone down as a draw on the balance of play. With Chelsea and City both winning on Saturday, Liverpool had to win to keep the title in their hands and despite a less-than-stellar performance, they did just that.
Perhaps the highlight of the weekend, though, is that this result guaranteed that no matter what happens in the last five matches, there is no scenario in which Manchester United can finish higher in the table than Liverpool. Eat your hearts out, Moyes and Ferguson.