LONDON: The last time Liverpool won the league championship was in 1990, before the Premier League era; Steven Gerrard was not quite 10 years old.

Now, 24 years on, Liverpool and Gerrard are top of the table after the captain’s two penalties proved decisive in a 2-1 victory at West Ham which keeps them four points clear of bookies’ favourites Manchester City . . . who go to Anfield next Sunday.

Manager Brendan Rodgers remains cautious.

Before the game he said: “The finish line is a long way off, there is still a lot of work to do. Every every have difficult games between now and the end of the season. I only think of the next game. If we win that, I start thinking about the one afterwards. It is a mistake to look too far ahead.”

“This is why we keep saying the Premier League is the most competitive in the world. Bayern’s domestic season is over with seven games to play and in Italy Juventus are well in front. But in England a team like Palace can peg back a side going for the title.

“Whether you are playing the top team or the bottom team in this country, you always have to go into the game with the right mentality. You have to respect your opponents and then try to bring your own game to bear on the match.”

City’s visit to Anfield next Sunday can be decisive. City had maintained their own march onwards and upward with Saturday’s 4-1 home win over Southampton on goals from Yaya Toure (penalty), Samir Nasri, Edin Dzeko and substitute Stevan Jovetic.

Injury snags

Injury to midfielder Joe Allen in the warm-up saw Rodgers go into the game with an all-out attacking profile of Philippe Coutinho, leading scorers Luis Suarez (29) and Daniel Sturridge (20) plus Raheem Sterling.

In defence, however, Liverpool were weakened by the injury absence of Daniel Agger especially against a West Ham side for whom Andy Carroll had everything to prove after being discarded by Brendan Rodgers at Anfield last year.

A lively first half ended perfectly balanced. Liverpool went ahead when captain Steven Gerrard converting a 42nd-minute penalty after a clear handball by James Tomkins denied Luis Suarez a shooting chance.

Then, one minute into stoppage timem, Guy Demel stabbed an equaliser from close range after Liverpool keeper Simon Mignolet had dropped a right-wing corner under pressure from Carroll. Liverpool protested in vain that Mignolet had been fouled – as the assistant referee had signalled.

In the 68th minute Liverpool were awarded another penalty as keeper Adrian held on to the foot of fast-breaking leftback Jon Flanagan. Gerrard converted the kick again for his 13th goal of the season. His first flew to the keeper’s left, his second to the right.

No wonder Liverpool are preparing to offer Gerrard a new two-year contract this summer worth £130,000-a-week. His current contract expires in June 2015.

Liverpool might have scored more. They even won the ‘battle of the posts.’ Carroll hit the bar once for West Ham but Suarez was denied twice by the bar, once in each half.