Fulham produced an outstanding performance to pile more pressure on Liverpool’s beleaguered boss Rafa Benitez. If the much-needed win over Manchester United last weekend provided the Spaniard with some respite after a poor run, then the spotlight is very much back on Benitez this evening after a Bobby Zamora-inspired Fulham exposed some gaps holes in Liverpool’s defence.
If the nature of the defeat might not have been as harrowing it appeared by the time a rapant Fulham had killed off Liverpool’s challenge in the closing minutes, the sight of the remnants of a dispirited defence gesticulating to one another shows just how Benitez’s side have drifted from the miserly outfit that had prided themselves on denying the opposition many chances. Their discipline deserted them in the final twenty minutes too – with Philipp Degen sent off for a wild lunge at Clint Dempsey and Jamie Carragher given his marching orders for hauling down Zamora.
Fulham were utterly dominant by the conclusion of the contest, but the first half was a very different story. Liverpool attempted to pick up from the high tempo that had so unsettled Sir Alex Ferguson’s side six days ago at Anfield and wave after wave of menacing attacks flowed towards Mark Schwarzer’s goal. Fernando Torres was the vocal point of Liverpool’s attack, while Andriy Vorinon made a rare league start, and the pair posed plenty of problems for Fulham’s defence. Torres was inches away from reaching a low cross before Benayoun smashed a shot against the Fulham bar.
Liverpool’s defence hadn’t had much to do in the early stages, but that hardly excuses their failure to deal with Fulham’s first real attack. Zamora posed Sotirios Kyrgiakos real problems all afternoon and the manner in which he stole in between the hapless Greek centre back and Emiliano Insua to convert a clever cross from Damien Duff would have alarmed Benitez. Both Kyrgiakos and Carragher struggled to contain Zamora – frequently resorting to crude spoiling tactics.
Liverpool saw plenty of possession in midfield and you got the sense that Roy Hodgson’s side, shorn of Danny Murphy and Andy Johnson, were rather clinging on for the half-time whistle. That they didn’t manage it owed much to Torres, who pounced when Degen’s through ball bounced kindly off Aaron Hughes and drove him what was barely a half chance from the edge of the box. Such potency in front of goal made Benitez’s decision to take off the Spanish striker just after the hour mark mystifying and Fulham saw more of the ball as Liverpool lacked a cutting edge up front.
The home side did well to shrug off the loss of Duff and Diomansy Kamara, who injured himself in attempting to score a stunning second moments after Zamora had given Fulham the lead, at half time. Zamora was posing plenty of problems for the Liverpool backline and twice Carragher looked to have bundled him to the ground in dangerous positions. The Fulham striker simply couldn’t believe he wasn’t awarded a penalty when the former England defender appeared to push him off the ball in the box.
The crowd barracked Lee Mason, who didn’t have the best of games, and sensed that Liverpool were vulnerable. As if to prove the point, the rampaging Paul Konchesky robbed Dirk Kuyt of possession on the Liverpool right as the Dutchman elected to try and keep a loose ball alive in a dangerous area. The full-back skipped past a grounded Kuyt and, although Pepe Reina got a fingertip to a high cross, the danger was far from clear. Zoltan Gera did well to keep his composure and head the ball back across goal, where Erik Nevland cleverly flicked it into the net.
Liverpool were desperate for a way back into the game and Benitez’s substitutions will inevitably be the subject of some severe scrutiny. Having taken Torres off, he elected to withdraw Benayoun, arguably Liverpool’s most creative player, and it was a decision met with derision by the travelling support. His troubles were confounded by two red cards in quick succession, with Degen sent off for a dangerous challenge on Dempsey and a furious Carragher given his marching orders for halting another Zamora burst. Kuyt, another potential threat, was replaced and there was an inevitably about Fulham’s third as the visitors attempted to reorganise.
Dempsey made his first impression on English football when he helped Fulham secure their top flight survival in 2007 with a vital winner against Liverpool and he completed their misery this afternoon. The American dashed towards goal and played in Erik Nevland, who looked likely to shoot after cutting inside. Instead the Norwegian found Dempsey who surged through the space at the heart of the Liverpool defence and confidently slotted the killer goal past Reina.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Baird, Greening (Etuhu 86), Dempsey, Duff (Gera 45); Zamora, Kamara (Nevland 45). Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Kelly, Smalling, Riise.
GOALS: Zamora (24), Nevland (73), Dempsey (87).
LIVERPOOL (4-4-1-1): Reina; Degen, Insua, Carragher, Kyrgiakos; Mascherano, Lucas, Benayoun (Eccleston 78), Kuyt (Ayala 85); Voronin; Torres (Babel 63). Subs (not used): Gulasci, Dossena, Spearing, Plessis.
SENT OFF: Degen (79), Carragher (82).
GOAL: Torres (42).
REFEREE: Lee Mason (Bolton).