Unbelievable as it might seem now, Clint Dempsey had his detractors at the start of his Fulham career. He was too lightweight, tried too many tricks and was even labelled a luxury player. Roy Hodgson, albeit only half-seriously, suggested that the American midfielder’s problem was that he wasn’t as good as he thought he was. But Fulham have learnt to depend on Dempsey. He’s delivered in the big games: his first goal helped secure their Premier League status in 2007 and plenty of priceless strikes have followed.

Tonight, there was no-one else you wanted a rare fumble from Pepe Reina to fall to. The Spaniard spilled a speculative shot from Danny Murphy and Dempsey was there, quick as a flash, to sweep the rebound into the net from three yards. It was his 37th Premier League goal – a record for an American – and was richly deserved after a night of typically boundless adventure. Dempsey had drew a first-class save from Reina in the first half and crashed a drive against the crossbar just prior to scoring the winner. In between, he was booked for going head-to-head with Craig Bellamy in the centre circle.

Fulham played with a verve and endeavour that was severely lacking in Twente in midweek. As early as the sixth minute, Bryan Ruiz released Moussa Dembele and the Belgian’s side-footed shot was smartly saved by Reina. Liverpool were equally bold, fielding Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez alongside Bellamy in attack, and the former Newcastle forward should have shot them in front from their first real attack instead of powering a drive straight at Mark Schwarzer from ten yards.

The Australian could do little about a fine curling effort from the right angle of the box by Jordan Henderson after the young midfielder had cleverly cut inside, but the ball cannoned off the far post and away from danger. Suarez was full of clever running – not to mention the odd eager tumble – but he spurned his best opportunities, shooting wastefully wide after a swift Liverpool break. Fulham, who had earlier tested Reina with speculative shots from Dembele and Dempsey, finished the first period the stronger, with Reina again denying Dempsey.

Liverpool attacked with greater vigour after the break with Schwarzer somehow repelling a venomous 30-yarder from Luis Enrique and Bellamy screwed a shot horribly wide after being found by Glen Johnson. Suarez had a goal ruled out for offside and Fulham survived a shout for a penalty when Senderos, who later escaped a second booking for blocking off Adam, crudely ended a rampaging run from Charlie Adam. Referee Kevin Friend adjudged that the foul was just outside the box, but that wasn’t his most controversial decision of the evening. The official reached quickly for his pocket after Jay Spearing’s reckless lunge at Dembele and to Liverpool’s astonishment produced a red card. Spearing protested that he had won the ball, but Dean decided he had led with his studs.

The visitors could have taken the lead as the game opened up, with Schwarzer managing to turn a terrific effort from substitute Stewart Downing onto the post, but, with five minutes to play, Reina’s mistake settled the game. Murphy, perhaps wary of the fact that his choice to pass had ended a promising counter-attack previously, cut inside Johnson and drove a hopeful shot towards the near post. Reina appeared to have it comfortably covered, but when the ball squirmed loose, Dempsey pounced to seal a massive win for Martin Jol.

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Schwarzer; Kelly, J.A. Riise, Hangeland, Senderos; Etuhu, Murphy (Gecov 90); Dembele, Dempsey, Ruiz; Zamora (A. Johnson 71). Subs (not used): Etheridge, Briggs, Hughes, Kasami, Frei.

BOOKED: Dembele, Dempsey, Senderos.

GOAL: Dempsey (85).

LIVERPOOL (4-3-3): Reina; G. Johnson, Enrique, Skrtel, Agger; Henderson, Adam, Spearing; Carroll (Kuyt 77), Bellamy (Downing 77), Suarez. Subs (not used): Doni, Coates, Carragher, Kelly, Maxi Rodriguez.

BOOKED: Bellamy.

SENT OFF: Spearing.

REFEREE: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire).