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English Premier League: Controversy as Liverpool back on top

By Gary Morley, CNN
April 7, 2014 -- Updated 0727 GMT (1527 HKT)
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard celebrates after scoring the first of his two penalties in the 2-1 win at West Ham, which put his side back at the top of the English Premier League. Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard celebrates after scoring the first of his two penalties in the 2-1 win at West Ham, which put his side back at the top of the English Premier League.
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Gerrard on the spot for Liverpool
Gerrard on the spot for Liverpool
Gerrard on the spot for Liverpool
Gerrard on the spot for Liverpool
Gerrard on the spot for Liverpool
Gerrard on the spot for Liverpool
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sunday's 2-1 win at West Ham puts Liverpool back on top of English Premier League
  • Captain Steven Gerrard scores two penalties in team's ninth successive victory
  • Former Liverpool striker Andy Carroll involved in controversy for West Ham equalizer
  • Arsenal's top-four hopes dented by 3-0 defeat away to Liverpool's city rivals Everton

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(CNN) -- If Liverpool end this season with a first English league title since 1990, then perhaps the club can look back to a hand dealt by fate on April 6, 2014.

Multiple hands, in fact, and some arms -- as Brendan Rodgers' team returned to the top of the Premier League table with a controversial 2-1 win at West Ham.

First the outstretched limb of home defender James Tomkins, seeking to stop the progress of Luis Suarez, allowed Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard to put his team ahead from the penalty spot.

Then the flailing hand of former $50 million Reds flop Andy Carroll clouted the head of Simon Mignolet at a corner. As an encore, he knocked the visiting goalkeeper's arm away from the ball, allowing Guy Demel to equalize in stoppage time.

Referee Anthony Taylor overruled his linesman, who had flagged for a foul by Carroll -- much to the anger of the Liverpool players watching the replay on the big screen at Upton Park.

If Taylor got that wrong, he made up for it in the second half by awarding Liverpool another penalty which Gerrard again converted.

West Ham keeper Adrian had appeared to make contact with the ball with his outstretched hand before the onrushing Jon Flanagan sprawled to the grass.

Rodgers, however, believed the official got that one right.

"The first penalty was clear and I thought the second one was a penalty as well," the Liverpool manager said.

"Jon gets a touch on the ball and touches it past the goalkeeper. The keeper gets a touch on the ball, but also takes him."

West Ham counterpart Sam Allardyce, whose team remained mid-table and seemingly safe from relegation, was less impressed.

"Flanagan is going down before Adrian plays the ball," he said. "(The ref) thinks Adrian hasn't played the ball and he has.

"I feel let down, the lads feel really let down. We took Liverpool right to the wire."

And that is where the title race appears to be headed, with five rounds remaining for most teams.

Liverpool, four points clear of third-placed Manchester City having played two games more, will face a big test of their aspirations when the two teams meet at Anfield next Sunday.

The Reds then go to struggling Norwich before hosting Chelsea, second in the table at the end of this weekend -- two points adrift, also with five to play.

It was Liverpool's ninth successive win, and the club will likely have to beat the record of 12 in a row set back in 1990 to have a chance of denying City a second title in three seasons.

"We'll just keep our focus, keep that concentration. It didn't matter that Manchester City or Chelsea won yesterday -- it can't affect us," Rodgers said.

"We have to control ourselves and our own emotions and get the job done. That was a real tough game today, but we got a great result."

Rodgers said Liverpool have extra incentive to win the title, with this month being the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough stadium disaster which claimed 96 lives during a crush at the FA Cup semifinal against Nottingham Forest.

"There are 96 people in the sky that will always be supporting this team," the Northern Irishman said.

"We want to do it for the great support and the football family of Liverpool. If we're to achieve anything this year, certainly they will always be in our thoughts -- the 96 in the sky and the families that go with them."

Meanwhile, the race for England's fourth place in next season's Champions League turned in Everton's favor on Sunday as Liverpool's city rivals thrashed the incumbents Arsenal 3-0.

Strikers Steven Naismith and Romelu Lukaku scored before former Everton favorite Mikel Arteta netted an own-goal, putting Roberto Martinez's team just a point behind the Londoners with a game in hand.

"The implications today were quite unique. We were hoping for a result but what was needed today was breaking many barriers," said the Spanish manager, who has impressed since taking over after David Moyes left to join Manchester United.

"In 22 games we have played against Arsenal we only scored one goal or less: today we kept a clean sheet and scored three and looked like we could have scored more.

"The performance had an arrogant focus which was very pleasing to see."

Arsene Wenger, whose team had topped the table for large parts of this season, admitted Arsenal's morale was flagging after some heavy away defeats against the leading teams.

"They have taken something of our charisma from the team. Is that belief? Is it fear? Is it confidence?" said the Frenchman, who has guided Arsenal into Europe's top competition for 16 successive years.

"I wouldn't question the spirit of this team. They are focused and want to do well but they have lost something on the confidence front."

Norwich sacked manager Chris Hughton on Sunday after the 1-0 defeat by West Brom left the club one place above the relegation zone, but five points clear of the bottom three teams.

The club's under-18 team coach Neil Adams was appointed to take the place of the former Tottenham player until the end of this season.

Read: Mourinho losing title hope

Read: 'Schwein' - a headline too far?

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