Liverpool dropped more points in their pursuit of the Premier League title as they struggled to a 1-1 draw at West Ham.
Playing to restore their five-point advantage over second-placed Manchester City, the league leaders performed like a team feeling the weight of expectation they failed to build on a controversial opening goal that should have been disallowed.
Sadio Mane’s third goal in three games was allowed to stand despite being created by the offside James Milner, but West Ham swiftly fought back to avoid a fourth successive defeat through Michail Antonio’s equaliser.
At the full-time whistle only three points separated City, who have the superior goal difference, and Liverpool, who have now dropped seven points out of 15 since the turn of the year.
Despite their poor run of form, the hosts first threatened in only the third minute when Javier Hernandez latched on to a pass from Mark Noble before bending a low shot narrowly wide of the right post.
Aaron Cresswell, released by Liverpool as a teenager, went similarly close with an effort from the edge of the area after a poor clearance from Milner before Hernandez tested the diving Alisson Becker with a well-struck shot from midfield.
Liverpool’s only response of note had come when Roberto Firmino forced Lukasz Fabianski into no more than a routine save, but it was the visitors who made the breakthrough in the 22nd minute.
When Adam Lallana collected possession on the right and fed Milner in front of the assistant referee, the midfielder was clearly offside, but play was allowed to continue and he capitalised by sending a low cross to Mane, who from in front of goal turned and finished unchallenged past Fabianski.
Yet if Manuel Pellegrini’s team were frustrated, it ultimately did not show in their play. They required only six minutes to draw level.
Liverpool’s makeshift back four — Joel Matip again started in central defence, with Milner at right-back — switched off as Felipe Anderson played a free-kick to Antonio, who from close range took advantage of both time and space to calmly shoot inside the far left post, beyond Alisson’s reach.
By half-time they should have led. From another free-kick, the classy Anderson curled a brilliant cross behind the visitors’ defence that Declan Rice ran on to before somehow managing to miss the target with a header from directly in front of goal.
That Liverpool, uncharacteristically during their time under Jurgen Klopp, were so sluggish will have concerned their manager, but a feature of this season’s title challenge has been greater strength in depth and Xherdan Shaqiri and Divock Origi were introduced to shake up the Reds.
But it was West Ham, whose experienced manager Pellegrini denied Liverpool the title in 2014 when City manager, who continued to threaten as Robert Snodgrass kept the ball in play and Anderson touched it into the path of Noble, who struck narrowly over from 12 yards.
Liverpool grew increasingly desperate, but they still might have snatched victory right at the death.
Origi appeared offside when the ball fell to him in the area, but play was allowed to go on only for the striker, one on one with Fabianski, to shoot tamely straight at the keeper.
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