After Fulham’s thumping at Everton on Saturday, hands up who expected such a disciplined and yet adventurous display that would secure three surprise points? It can’t have been many of us. Billy McKinlay has already expressed his delight at the team’s response – and well he might – as there was little to quibble about all evening. This was a victory that married the work ethic of a Hodgson side with the commitment to expansive football that Martin Jol brought with him to Craven Cottage in the summer.
Schwarzer – 7: In truth, Schwarzer didn’t have an awful lot of shot-stopping to do last night. Liverpool mustered just five shots on target, all of which the Australian comfortably fielded, and usually his hairiest moment came from a cross which he failed to gather under pressure from Andy Carroll. Hangeland bailed his goalkeeper out on that occasion, but you couldn’t fault Schwarzer’s organisation of his defence. A great improvement after Saturday’s forgettable display at Goodison Park.
Kelly – 8: This has to rank alongside that night in Basel as one of Stephen Kelly’s finest displays in a Fulham shirt. The Irish full-back has had a terrific season, firmly establishing himself as Martin Jol’s first choice at right back. On his return from a troublesome wrist injury, Kelly made a real difference – solidifying the defensive unit on his return and offering some useful forward runs, something we hadn’t seen enough of in previous campaigns. He also kept both Dirk Kuyt, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson particularly quiet.
J.A. Riise – 7: The Norwegian’s significant improvement since signing from AS Roma in the summer continues. He may have had a slow start at Fulham but we are now starting to see the very best of Riise senior both in defence and attack. He shone on an emotional return to Anfield, both with some very committed challenges, and that all-action energy that saw him flying down the left wing throughout. Unlucky not to break his goalscoring duck for the Whites when Doni made a good reaction save at his near post, Riise was both diligent and disciplined in his defensive duties.
Hughes – 8: On his 200th start for Fulham, Hughes was restored to centre back alongside Brede Hangeland and he offered a 90-minute illustration of the reasons why that successful partnership shouldn’t be broken up any time soon. Hughes did well to keep the recalled Andy Carroll away from the six-yard area or positions from which he may threaten, used the ball effectively and read the game superbly. He’s a far better fit at centre back than in a full-back position, a role he occupied whilst Kelly was unavailable, and should finish this campaign alongside Hangeland.
Hangeland – 8: For someone who had a worryingly off-colour day at Everton on Saturday, Hangeland was utterly imperious last night. He contested high balls with Carroll as well as bringing the ball out of defence to great effect. His decision-making in the box has never been questioned but he made a splendid challenge on Maxi Rodriguez just after half-time when it seems certain that the Argentine would get a shot in on goal from close range. Both he and Hughes were absolutely immense.
Murphy – 7: To the surprise of nobody in particular, Fulham look an infinitely better side with their captain in it. Whether Murphy was rested or dropped against Everton with this fixture in mind doesn’t really matter, but Murphy’s dominant display in the middle of the park should underline his continuing importance to the club. Not only was he smart when on the ball, Murphy also dictated how Fulham would defend and break quickly once we had the possession. Whether his legs will carry him through for the duration of another full season at Craven Cottage remains to be seen, but Murphy’s integral to our side at the moment.
Dembele – 7: The Belgian continues to catch the eye from his new-found position as a central midfielder. I’ve had some concerns about whether he is most effective in that role or the ‘hole’ behind a lone striker – as he often manages to beat the opposition midfielders only for space to only fleetingly open up before the defence appears in front of him. But Dembele was disciplined enough to cut out the mazy dribbles for this difficult trip to Anfield and yet still showcase his ability to run at defenders, drawing free-kicks, and with his swift changes of both direction and pace, he’s a nightmare to try and nullify.
Duff – 7: Duff’s defensive tracking back makes him an integral part of this Fulham side even if his age might seem to count against him if we were crudely assessing Martin Jol’s attempt to build for the future. He didn’t get too much of an opportunity to run at the Liverpool full-backs last night, but used the ball intelligently and spread the play well. He also provided effective cover for his compatriot Kelly when the right back ventured forward and doubled up successfully on the Liverpool wide men.
Kacaniklic – 7: What a whirlwind few months for the young Swede. He’s gone from an impressive spell in the reserves, to a great start to his senior career whilst on loan at Reading and rivalling Kerim Frei for the title of Fulham’s most exciting youngster in an instant. It’s a real shame that his first goal for the club will likely be snatched away and marked down as Martin Skrtel own goal by the Dubious Goals Panel. Kacaniklic, who was obviously fired up to perform against the team for whom he made his name as an outstanding youth prospect, did brilliantly to get into the box and find space at the near post to convert Riise’s cross – and he wasn’t finished there. He was full of running, regularly taking on Liverpool defenders and arguably Fulham’s most lively outlet in the first half.
Dempsey – 7: Your usual all-action performance from the American. So dangerous with the ball at his feet he exploited the natural uncertainty in a Liverpool defence that hadn’t played together before. Nobody should underestimate the importance of him carrying the ball towards the centre backs before slipping in Riise down the left for the goal. He played a terrific pass in shortly afterwards that either Pogrebnyak or Kacaniklic and looked a real threat all night. Might have sealed the victory a little earlier when Kerim Frei played him through in the second half, but Doni anticipated excellently as he did when Dempsey latched onto a poor backheader in the closing minutes of the game.
Pogrebnyak – 6: The Russian had his second thankless task in four days – lining up as a lone striker on Merseyside again when Fulham weren’t expected to have too much of the ball. He didn’t have too many sights of goal, instead having to shield the ball from two tall centre halves with his back to goal for most of the evening. He did that well and might have got his reward after a quarter of an hour but for a splendid reaction save from Doni. Another whole-hearted performance as he worked hard to bring his team-mates into play throughout.
Frei – 7: This was a superb substitution from McKinlay. With the game opening up and Kacaniklic fading slightly after his terrific first half, Frei’s pace and confidence was just what Fulham needed to carry an attacking threat. He wasted little time in laying down his marker, cutting inside and thundering a shot against the outside of the post from 20 yards. He’s willing to work back into defensive areas now – and chased back to make tackles effectively – as well as being an excellent out ball when the defence is stretched in the closing stages. Jol and company are using him intelligently, giving him brief tastes of the Premier League, to aid his already outstanding development.
Etuhu – 6: Little time to alter the complexion of the game as an 81st minute replacement for the tiring Pogrebnyak, but then his role was simply to solidify midfield and help Fulham see out a famous victory.
Baird – 6: Much more limited game time than at Goodison but sat in central midfield after Dembele limped off to provide a shield for the Fulham defence.