Liverpool’s forwards finally found their finishing touch as Rafa Benitez’s side tightened their grip on third place by thrashing Fulham 5-1 at Anfield.
Robbie Fowler scored his first goal since returning to Merseyside when he pounced after being left unattended at the back post – but Collins John quickly shocked the home crowd by grabbing an equaliser with an excellent finish. Any nerves amongst the home fans were quickly banished when Liverpool went back in front courtesy of a Michael Brown own goal and Fernandes Morientes made sure of the points by making it 3-1 with twenty minutes to play. Peter Crouch and Stephen Warnock then put a more convincing gloss on the scoreline by adding two more goals in the last two minutes.
Liverpool left nobody in any doubt as to their intentions by storming out of the blocks and they had a goal chalked off for offside in the third minute. Morientes squandered a great early opening when he shot straight at former Liverpool goalkeeper Tony Warner having been put through by Fowler. The prodigal son himself broke the deadlock on sixteen minutes, heading home his first goal in nine games since sealing a return to Anfield after Luis Garcia had flicked on Harry Kewell’s corner.
Morientes missed another excellent chance provided by Fowler when he screwed a shot into the side netting and Fulham grabbed an unlikely equaliser when Mark Pembridge’s perfectly weighted pass located Collins John, whose clever run took him from the right flank into the area away from Liverpool’s centre halves and the Dutch striker fired through the legs of Pepe Reina.
Parity didn’t last long, however. Zat Knight entirely missed his attempt at a clearance and a swift Liverpool break culminated in Kewell sending in a low cross that Brown turned past the helpless Warner. Fulham tried to rally again with John coming close with a header and Steed Malbranque shooting wide, but there were struggling to deal with Liverpool’s verve and creativity. Luis Garcia curled a terrific effort against the crossbar and there was inevitability about the hosts adding a third. There was also plenty of relief in Morientes’ finish after a melee in the Fulham area as the Spaniard scored his first goal since last December.
The final scoreline was harsh on Fulham, who battled throughout, but conceded further late strikes to substitute Peter Crouch, who diverted in a Steven Gerrard shot, and full back Warnock, who rifled home after another excellent Warner save.
LIVERPOOL (4-4-2): Reina, Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Traore, Luis Garcia, Gerrard, Hamann, Kewell (Warnock 88), Fowler (Cisse 68), Morientes (Crouch 81). Subs (not used): Dudek, Hyypia.
GOALS: Fowler (16), Brown (o.g. 34), Morientes (71), Crouch (89), Warnock (90).
FULHAM (4-4-2): Warner; Rosenior, Bridge, Knight (Christanval 69), Pearce; Brown, Pembridge, Malbranque, Boa Morte; John, Radzinski (McBride 78). Subs (not used): Crossley, N. Jensen, Helguson.
BOOKED: Brown, Bridge.
GOAL: John (25).
REFEREE: Alan Wiley (Staffordshire).