Liverpool’s Premiership challenge was boosted by a gritty away display at Craven Cottage as goals from Nicolas Anelka and substitute Jari Litmanen secured a vital win over Fulham.

French forward Anelka gave the Reds an early advantage with Anelka, in for the rested Michael Owen, scoring at the second attempt with a left-footed drive after his first effort had been blocked by Rufus Brevett. The hosts put the championship chasers under significant pressure in the second half, with Steve Marlet missing a couple of good chances, but were ruthlessly punished in stoppage time as they chased an equaliser with Litmanen tucking into an empty net after he headed Abel Xavier’s long punt past Edwin van der Sar.

Jean Tigana reflected on a performance full of promise that lacked penetration afterwards. Fulham certainly posed problems for the visitors’ defence but they were much less clinical than Liverpool in the final third. They responded fairly well to jolt of going behind early on with Louis Saha smashing the crossbar with a volley after lovely build-up play involving Steed Malbranque and Steve Marlet. Swiss defender Stephan Henchoz put his body on the line to deny Marlet a sight of goal as the French international looked set to level before the break.

Fulham were furious just after the restart when Alan Wiley booked Luis Boa Morte for diving rather than pointing to the penalty spot after the Portuguese winger was brought down in the box by Xavier. The television replays conclusively showed that the match official had made the wrong decision, but this appeared to be a case where Boa Morte’s previous history when it comes to simulation – he was sent off against Ipswich earlier this season – had worked against him.

Edwin van der Sar then did brilliantly to keep out an audacious drive from all of 25 yards by Danny Murphy, but it was Fulham who were asking the searching questions the longer the contest went on. The Whites seemed to draw confidence from only being a goal down to a side that are still up there with Manchester United, Newcastle United and Arsenal at the top of the table. Jerzy Dudek produced a brilliant save to block Marlet’s header from point blank range but the former Lyon forward really should have levelled rather than drag a shot well wide of goal after wriggling past two defenders in the area. It proved another frustrating day against one of the country’s top sides for a disappointed Tigana.

FULHAM (4-4-2): van der Sar; Finnan, Brevett, Goma, Ouaddoh; Davis (Clark 25; Collins 76), Legwinski, Malbranque, Boa Morte (Hayles 66); Saha, Marlet. Subs (not used): Taylor, Melville.

BOOKED: Legwinski, Brevett, Boa Morte.

LIVERPOOL (4-4-2): Dudek; Xavier, Wright, Henchoz, Hyypia; Hamann, Murphy, Smicer (Barmby 71), Riise; Heskey, Anelka (Litmanen 80). Subs (not used): Kirkland, McAllister, Owen.

BOOKED: Wright, Hyypia.

GOALS: Anelka (13), Litmanen (90+2).

REFEREE: Alan Wiley (Burntwood).