Fulham succumbed to a 1-0 defeat at Anfield on Wednesday night, despite a spirited showing that forced Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina into a string of impressive saves.
Earlier in the day the Club had confirmed the signing of Gael Kakuta on loan from Chelsea until the end of the season, but it was the in-form Andrew Johnson and Clint Dempsey who led the line for the Whites as Mark Hughes kept faith with the same starting XI that had defeated Stoke City the previous Saturday.
The home side were boosted by the return of their inspirational skipper, Steven Gerrard, but there was no place in Liverpool’s matchday squad for former Fulham full-back Paul Konchesky.
The star performers during the first-half were David Stockdale and Reina who were the main reasons that the game remained goalless after 45 minutes. Stockdale, in particular, produced two breathtaking fingertip stops that earned applause from both sets of supporters.
Fulham started the game confidently, zipping the ball around at pace. In fact, Mark Hughes’ side created the first opening of the game after four minutes when Aaron Hughes met Danny Murphy’s set piece from out wide with a glancing header that flew just past the far post.
Fernando Torres slipped the ball past Stockdale into the back of the net a minute later but thankfully the Spanish international was adjudged offside. Dirk Kuyt then fired towards goal from inside the area, but once again the linesman’s flag was raised.
The pressure was building on Fulham as the 10 minute mark approached and Stockdale pulled off a superb fingertip save low to his right to deny Meireles’ glancing header from eight yards. It was a stunning save from the young goalkeeper who once again impressed in Mark Schwarzer’s absence.
Stockdale was on hand again two minutes later to deny Gerrard’s precise strike from the edge of the area. Liverpool’s supply line was coming from the flanks, with Martin Kelly and Glen Johnson overlapping deep into Fulham’s half to create the openings.
Johnson fashioned his own opportunity after 25 minutes that forced Stockdale into another stunning fingertip stop. The England defender let rip from 25 yards down the left flank and the ball was heading into the roof of the net with venom, before Stockdale touched it over the crossbar.
Fulham then almost took the lead twice in the space of a minute as the half hour approached. First Dempsey fired a vicious drive from the left hand side of the area that forced Reina to save at the near post.
And Reina came to Liverpool’s rescue again just seconds later when Andy Johnson crossed from the left flank to Dembele in the centre. Unfortunately the Belgium international’s strike fell straight into the ‘keepers path.
Opportunities were few and far between as half-time approached. Fulham looked more than comfortable soaking up the home side’s pressure and Dempsey and Dembele’s strikes had proved there was space to be exploited during the second period.
There were no changes for either side at the start of the second half when once again Liverpool looked to gain ground down their right flank, through Kuyt, but Fulham remained resolute and well organised. However, the home side’s endeavours earned them a slice of luck after 52 minutes and a 1-0 lead.
The goal was created by Fernando Torres who, after collecting the ball on the edge of Fulham’s area, found space to fire off a low right-footed drive towards goal. A crucial deflection took the ball past Stockdale and onto the near post, and as it skimmed across goal, the ball took an unfortunate deflection off John Pantsil into the back of the net.
Dempsey looked to fire Fulham back into the match with two strikes before the hour mark, the first of which, a fine volley from 16 yards, forced Reina into his third big save of the night.
After 62 minutes Mark Hughes made his first change of the match, introducing Zoltan Gera for Damien Duff on the right of midfield.
Three minutes later Fulham earned a free-kick 25 yards from goal and Danny Murphy’s set-piece was almost inch perfect. His right-footed curling shot missed the far post by a whisker as Reina stood stranded.
After 66 minutes Gerrard and Pantsil stood toe-to-toe following a string of challenges down Fulham’s right-hand touchline. The right-back was booked seconds later as the action moved further up the flank.
Fulham battled hard for a way back into the game as the match entered the final 20 minutes, and they looked ever more likely to earn a share of the points as the minutes ticked away. Their desire and willingness to put bodies on the line certainly raised the atmosphere inside Anfield.
With 18 minutes remaining, Dempsey created the time and space for himself on the edge of Liverpool’s area to let rip with a right-footed drive towards the far post, but unfortunately the ball soared agonisingly over the bar.
Remarkably, Liverpool then managed to deny Brede Hangeland twice in succession from corners taken by Murphy. The defender’s first effort was tipped around the post by Reina before his second was cleared off the line. Fulham deserved to be on level terms as the game entered the final 10 minutes of play and the home crowd were breathing several sighs of relief.
Fulham were all over Liverpool in the final few minutes, camped in the home side’s half, and in the 86th minute Dempsey beat his marker in the area to head Murphy’s free-kick towards goal. However, once again Reina scrambled the ball away to safety.
During the three minutes of added time, Fulham continued to press, but luck was not on their side.
All in all, it was a spirited performance by Hughes’ team who deserved at least a point for their endeavours.