Kevin Keegan beamed with pride after Second Division Fulham pushed Liverpool all the way brave falling to a brave defeat on his return to Anfield in the League Cup tonight.

The Liverpool hero was delighted with the Londoners’ fighting spirit as they reduced the Kop to silence when Paul Peschisolido produced an extraordinary equaliser. The Canadian striker felt his team-mates were unlucky after Liverpool took advantage of a bit of fortune to emerge 3-1 winners with a penalty from Robbie Fowler, who continued his remarkable scoring record against the Whites in this competition, and a third from Paul Ince giving the scoreline a more convincing gloss for the Premiership side.

Both Gerard Houllier and Roy Evans admitted their side were lucky to progress after a tie that had been much more evenly-matched than even the romantics had dared dream. It looked as if Keegan’s charges might fold after stalwart Simon Morgan had put through his own net eight minutes into the second half when trying to block a speculative shot from distance by David Thompson. But the floodgates failed to open and Fulham fought back impressively.

Peschisolido curled home a peach of an equaliser from fully thirty yards out, taking aim from the right wing having spotted Brad Friedel off his line, and curling in a strike that he admitted was easily the best of his career. They had chances to go in front, too, but were eventually killed off after Fowler took responsibility when Rufus Brevett was adjudged to have brought down Michael Owen in the box. Fowler, who scored on his debut against Fulham in 1993 before netting five in the second leg, fired home the penalty in a manner that suggested there was still some lingering resentment at being dropped last weekend.

Liverpool’s passage into the fourth round was assured when Ince glanced a header from Steve Staunton’s free-kick into the far corner thirteen minutes from time – but Keegan felt his men had given his old club a real run for their money.

“My pride didn’t take a bruising, but the worst thing was, before the game some Scouser came up and slapped me on the back. I had staples in my back, but I think they are somewhere in my chest now. Any other day I would have been pleased – but I suppose it’s the thought that counts! We can leave with our heads held up high. We played well for an hour, we came away with the best goal of the night, and our fans outsang theirs. They enjoyed their day out.”

LIVERPOOL (3-5-2): Friedel; Staunton, Bjornbye, Carragher; Thompson, Berger, McAteer, Ince, Murphy (Harkness 73); Fowler, Owen (Dundee 83). Subs (not used): James, Kvarme, Riedle.

BOOKED: Bjornbye, Thompson.

GOALS: Morgan (o.g. 53), Fowler (pen 66), Ince (76).

FULHAM (4-4-2): Taylor; Uhlenbeek, Brevett, Symons, Coleman; Davis (Smith 89), Morgan, Hayward, W. Collins; Lehmann (Betsy 83), Peschisolido (Beardsley 83). Subs (not used): Arendse, Neilson.

BOOKED: Brevett.

GOAL: Peschisolido (60).

REFEREE: Peter Jones (Loughborough).