Edwin van der Sar was the hero for Fulham as he saved Steven Gerrard’s penalty and kept a clean sheet at Anfield. The goalless draw was yet another setback in Liverpool’s Champions’ League challenge but it was more recognition of the excellent job that Chris Coleman is doing in his first full season in charge of the Cottagers.
Gerrard does not deserve to be the villain if Liverpool miss out on qualifying for Europe’s premier club competition, but his failure from twelve yards meant justice was done after Bobby Petta was harshly penalised for handball by referee Steve Bennett. The on-loan Celtic winger endured an afternoon to forget as he missed an open goal at the other end, but that miss didn’t prove costly as Liverpool failed to make their late pressure pay with Harry Kewell and Emile Heskey hitting the woodwork.
A quieter that usual Anfield seemed to transmit nerves to Houllier’s side, who took a while to hit their stride. Vladimir Smicer had the perfect chance to mark his return to the first team but shot tamely at van der Sar after being played in by Bruno Cheyrou. Michael Owen steered a shot fractionally wide, but Fulham fashioned the clearest chance of the afternoon when Volz worked a one-two with Luis Boa Morte before his shot looped off Sami Hyypia and skimmed the top of the crossbar.
Boa Morte was becoming increasingly influential and Dudek had to be alert when the Portuguese international took aim from instance – with the Polish goalkeeper tipping the shot over the crossbar. Fulham should have gone in front when Steed Malbranque did well to find Collins John inside the area but the teenage striker shot straight at Dudek.
Liverpool were gifted a lifeline when Bennett gave a penalty after Petta was harshly adjudged to have handled in the area when he got in the way of an attempted clearance from a free-kick. Fulham protested vociferously to no avail but van der Sar brilliantly saved Gerrard’s low spot-kick. The visitors needed all of their composure to withstand wave after wave of Liverpool attacks, with Kewell cracking a drive against the near post and Volz bravely blocking an Owen shot.
Heskey saw an instinctive effort strike both Pearce and the far post before the experienced defender blocked a venomous drive from Milan Baros, but Fulham had the clearest chance to seal a famous win when Malbranque sauntered down the left and cut the ball back for Petta, who ballooned a finish over the bar from six yards.
LIVERPOOL (4-3-3): Dudek; Carragher, Riise, Henchoz, Hyypia; Smicer (Diouf 76), Hamann, Gerrard; Kewell (Heskey 76), Cheyrou (Baros 60), Owen. Subs (not used): Luzi Bernardi, Murphy.
FULHAM (4-3-3): van der Sar; Volz, Bocanegra (Inamoto 77), Goma, Pearce; Djetou, Legwinski, Malbranque; Petta (Rehman 89), Boa Morte, John (McBride 74). Subs (not used): Crossley, Hayles.
BOOKED: Bocanegra, John, Goma.
REFEREE: Steve Bennett (Kent).