by Mark Thomas of "Press Association"
Liverpool blew their big chance to open up a gap at the top of the Premiership and were lucky in the end to escape with a point against a spirited West Ham at Anfield.
The Merseysiders hit the woodwork three times in the first half but West Ham had chances of their own and in the second half dominated proceedings at times, with David James the busier goalkeeper.
Both sides had to reshuffle during the match, Liverpool losing the services of central defenders Phil Babb and Neil Ruddock while West Ham had to replace Danny Williamson for the second half.
Stan Collymore was given a hero's welcome when he came on for Babb after 36 minutes but he struggled to make any impact on the match.
It all began brightly enough when John Barnes side-footed a Stig Inge Bjornebye corner against the foot of the post after just seven minutes and from the Liverpool skipper's cross moments later Robbie Fowler's header was deflected onto the outside of the post.
Ludek Miklosko blocked well at the feet of Steve McManaman from close range and, in first half injury time, Patrick Berger became the third Liverpool player to strike the woodwork after unleashing a 20-yard drive.
West Ham, having rode an early Liverpool storm, could have gone ahead when Mark Rieper met Williamson's 27th-minute corner with a shot that struck the ground and was looping up into the net until James dived to his left to palm it wide.
Eight minutes later, Steve Jones turned the ball on for Hugo Porfirio, whose early shot almost deceived James. The Liverpool keeper reacted late but managed to get just enough on the ball to deflect it narrowly wide.
Then it was Tim Breacker's turn to see a shot rebound off the post, with James beaten.
James performed heroics early in the second half to tip Rieper's towering header from a Michael Hughes free-kick over his bar.
The keeper had to be alert again 13 minutes from time as he dived to his left to tip Jones' shot wide.
Barnes had a second-half header from a Bjornebye corner that just cleared the bar and there was an optimistic penalty appeal when Steve McManaman hammered a cross against Slaven Bilic's arm from a yard, but keeper Miklosko was a virtual spectator for much of the time.
It was a performance that will have done much for the confidence of Harry Redknapp's side, who have now had just one victory in their last 12 outings but on this showing must be close to turning the corner.
Liverpool boss Roy Evans tonight bemoaned the ill-luck which saw him robbed of three central defenders for today's goalless clash with West Ham at Anfield.
Evans revealed Mark Wright had called in sick this morning, while Phil Babb and Neil Ruddock suffered calf and hamstring injuries respectively within a minute of each other early in the match, with neither able to complete the game.
"If you lose two centre-backs during the match you have to rob Peter to pay Paul, taking people out of midfield," said Evans.
"It is the first time I have lost three centre-backs in a day."
However, he was not amazed by the final result - and of those from around the rest of the country. He added: "It is becoming a tough league and nothing surprises us."
"No-one in the top eight won today. It is there for someone to take by the scruff of the neck, but you have your doubts. You don't know who is capable of doing it and it might go on like that until the end of the season."
West Ham boss Harry Redknapp was pleased with his side's performance and said: "It was a good point for us against the league leaders. We worked very hard and carried on where we left off last week in the cup."
"Liverpool started brightly and bombarded us in the first ten or 15 minutes, but the longer the game went on we looked likely to catch them with Steve Jones' pace and I thought we might just nick it."
"There is no reason why we can't put a run together and start to lift ourselves and climb the table. We've got people fit again and we've got a good squad of players together. One win now can take you up to about 11th in the table."
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