West Ham 1 Liverpool 0
Liverpool’s hopes of getting back in the Barclays Premier League title race took another blow after Mark Noble grabbed a stoppage-time winner for West Ham at Upton Park.
With better finishing from Luis Boa Morte, the Hammers would have had their first win over Liverpool since 1999 sealed before Noble struck from the spot.
But Boa Morte wasted two sitters either side of half-time before home fans cruelly cheered him off when he was substituted.
Even a draw would have left Rafael Benitez’s men still well off the pace for the title and they remain without a win in the league since Boxing Day.
It was billed as a match between two teams with contrasting styles of ownership - Alan Curbishley is left to get on with by his Icelandic bosses, while the Americans at Anfield have created a stir since taking over.
On the pitch, only Noble’s penalty was to choose between them.
West Ham knew victory or defeat would not have moved them from 10th, yet their display would have suggested they were trying to prove they could rub shoulders with those chasing Europe.
Their fans had a point to prove as well, jeering Yossi Benayoun following his departure in the summer.
“We were hoping he would sign a long-term contract with us, but that didn’t happen,” wrote Hammers boss Curbishley in his programme notes.
Benayoun, Steve Finnan and Sami Hyypia were the only survivors from the nervous victory over Havant and Waterlooville at the weekend – and it was Benayoun who had the first chance when he almost took advantage of a mishap from Robert Green.
The goalkeeper’s slice was worked to Dirk Kuyt and then Benayoun, but his chip drifted over the crossbar.
From a relatively promising start, with Kuyt seeing the ball playing just off Fernando Torres, it was the hosts who then gathered momentum as the first half unravelled.
Curbishley used Carlton Cole as the focal point of his attack, and the striker almost embarrassed Jose Reina early on when the goalkeeper dwelt on the ball.
Cole helped create West Ham’s first genuine opening, midway through the opening half.
The striker flicked on George McCartney’s long throw, Liverpool were seized by panic as Lee Bowyer tussled but Boa Morte rushed his shot and blazed over when the ball fell to him.
The hosts got even closer in the 26th minute when a free-kick was awarded on the left flank for Jamie Carragher’s foul on Cole. Noble took the set-piece, which was glanced by Finnan and cannoned off the crossbar.
Noble and Steven Gerrard battled in the middle of the park – England central midfielder against his under-21 counterpart – and the senior man was fortunate to escape a booking for one of his challenges. Fabio Aurelio, though, picked up a caution for his foul on Freddie Ljungberg.
Cole had a sight of goal in stoppage-time in the opening period but Benayoun slid in to block and Liverpool went into the break level.
They were marginally brighter in the second half.
Kuyt created the first chance, three minutes in, when he found room on the right flank and drove a cross into the danger area, but Harry Kewell could not wrap his foot around the ball to finish.
Matthew Upson then flashed a backpass right across Green’s goal, which the goalkeeper had to watch drift wide.
Torres also ran at pace into the penalty box but was outnumbered when he looked to find a team-mate.
At the other end, Boa Morte fluffed his finish when Noble’s free-kick was headed into his path. Then came the ironic cheers for Boa Morte’s departure, with Bowyer also coming off for Matthew Etherington and Dean Ashton, both back from injury.
Liverpool midfielder Lucas came on for Kewell and he was just wide with his finish after releasing Torres down the right and getting on the end of the cross.
Lucas also went wide when he got on the end of a driving run from Gerrard.
Torres, who was booked for dissent, was denied by Green at the near post from Ryan Babel’s cross, while Lucas Neill flashed wide for West Ham before the end.
With injury-time just about over, Carragher brought down Ljungberg in the penalty area. Noble converted the spot-kick.