Liverpool twice fight back from a goal behind to earn a dramatic three points against relegation-threatened Fulham at Craven Cottage on Wednesday night…
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the 5-1 win over Arsenal at the weekend, manager Brendan Rodgers named the same team for a fourth consecutive fixture.
Despite his side being famed for their fast starts this season, it was Fulham who came out of the blocks quickest.
Kop keeper Simon Mignolet was required to be at full stretch to keep out a Ryan Tunnicliffe strike within the opening two minutes.
Kolo Toure also had to be alert moments later to deal with a dangerous Kieran Richardson cross as Darren Bent lurked for a potential tap-in.
The Reds seemed to be growing into the game as the opening 10 minutes passed but then suddenly fell behind as a consequence of a glaring error.
Toure, who made another costly mistake against West Bromwich Albion recently, was the man at fault; haplessly slicing a Richardson cut-back into his own net.
The mishap was so bad it was comical. Many a Liverpool supporter will probably have been reminded of an own goal previous Reds defender Djimi Traore scored back in 2005 such was its unfathomable nature.
Luis Suarez went close to gaining parity soon afterwards but Maarten Stekelenburg reacted well to keep out the Uruguayan’s deflected effort at his near post.
The Premier League’s leading scorer had a couple of other efforts inside the opening 20 minutes but one went straight at the Dutch international and the other was blazed over.
Fulham retreated deeper as the half progressed, much as they had done in the draw with Manchester United at the weekend, but Liverpool failed to create anything of note.
Indeed the hosts had a couple of headed chances to extend their lead but neither Bent nor Steve Sidwell could find the target.
Liverpool’s usually clinical attack finally clicked into gear in the 41st minute when a fantastic pass forward by Steven Gerrard, using the outside of his boot, picked out Sturridge.
The former Chelsea man opened his body and finished expertly into the far corner to notch for an eighth consecutive game.
Both Sturridge and Gerrard had further strikes from distance as the interval approached but neither could find the target.
The first meaningful attempt of the second half came via a Suarez free-kick but his curling effort ended up fractionally the wrong side of Stekelenburg’s left-hand post.
At the other end, Sidwell almost caught Mignolet off his line with an audacious lob from the halfway line but the Belgium shot stopper managed to backtrack just in time.
The effort had come completely against the run of play as Liverpool continually pressed the Cottagers onto the back foot.
A flurry of activity as the hour mark approached saw Suarez marginally off target, Gerrard appealing for a penalty and Philippe Coutinho striking straight at Stekelenburg.
Suarez was becoming increasingly influential as the contest progressed and Fulham were soon thanking the woodwork for helping to keep him at bay.
Suddenly, and unexpectedly, the Londoners found themselves back in front after a hopeful cross into the box deflected off a poorly positioned Martin Skrtel and into the path of Richardson to tuck home unopposed.
Another incredibly poor goal defensively from a Liverpool point of view but it was of little concern to the majority of a crowd who had braved blustery conditions alongside the River Thames.
The visitors responded well from their latest setback however and were back on level terms within seven minutes courtesy of Coutinho.
The Brazilian expertly finding the far corner with a low strike from the edge of the area after cutting in from the right.
A nasty collision between Suarez and a brave Stekelenburg brought a halt to the game with 15 minutes to go and resulted in the keeper needing to be substituted.
Rodgers made an interesting alteration of his own a few minutes later, withdrawing Raheem Sterling and handing a debut to Portuguese midfielder Joao Carlos Teixeira.
Shortly afterwards, Coutinho should have tested replacement Fulham goalie David Stockdale but the Brazilian fired wide following a mistake by former Anfield full-back John Arne Riise.
Just as it looked like the game was edging towards a draw, home defender Sascha Riether needlessly dived in on Sturridge and conceded a 90th minute penalty.
Kop captain Gerrard duly held his nerve to dispatch the spot kick beyond Stockdale and into the corner of the net.
Due to the earlier injury to Stekelenburg there were five additional minutes to play but the Reds managed to see them out without much fuss for what could prove an invaluable three points.
This could be a defining result in our season. We’ve proved we can beat anyone at home but have generally struggled away from L4. It wasn’t pretty but we found a way, as top teams invariably do, to get the required result in difficult conditions. Not only does the win maintain our three point advantage over Tottenham Hotspur in the race for fourth, but it also closes the gap to to the current leaders to just four points. There are still 12 games remaining so anything is possible but we desperately need to stop undermining ourselves with sloppy defensive errors.
Steven Gerrard – Kept his composure with the decisive late penalty and was generally a driving force behind much of Liverpool’s work all night. The spot kick was his 23rd success from 12 yards in the Premier League – a figure only surpassed by three others (Alan Shearer, Frank Lampard and Matt Le Tissier). The pass for Sturridge’s goal was also very special and will surely go down as one of the assists of the season.
Mignolet, Flanagan, Skrtel, Toure, Cissokho, Gerrard, Henderson, Coutinho (Agger 92′), Sterling (Teixeira 82′), Suarez, Sturridge.
Unused subs: Jones, Kelly, Allen, Moses, Aspas.
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