Dalglish in the ascendant as Pantsil slip sinks Fulham

Liverpool 1 Fulham 0
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The Independent Football

In the the years when Kenny Dalglish last managed Liverpool, when "first was first and second was nowhere", being seventh as February dawns would have been considered a disastrous state of affairs. This morning it will be used to justify the second coming, although the man himself was considerably more cautious.

Victories over Wolverhampton Wanderers and now Fulham, a club that has never won at Anfield in its history and who lost to an own-goal last night, are frankly the minimum requirements for recovery. "We are better than that," Dalglish remarked afterwards.

He was commenting on Liverpool's position in the Premier League but he might have been talking about a game in which they rode their luck, something they have seldom done this season. "We are not going to get carried away." Seventh, after all, is where Rafael Benitez left them.

It was a goalless draw against Fulham in soft April sunshine that condemned Benitez's regime by ensuring it could not requalify for the Champions League and had a trio of late chances, the best of which fell to Mousa Dembele been converted, they would have inflicted further embarrassment on the red half of Merseyside.

Although it was Mark Hughes who stood on the touchline and kicked out in frustration when Raul Meireles hacked away Brede Hangeland's header, Fulham are still a credit to the man who created this team, one Roy Hodgson.

John Pantsil was last to leave the stage and walked off with his shirt pulled over his head. The Ghanaian defender had never scored an authentic Premier League goal and it was his final touch in a goalmouth scramble once Fernando Torres's shot had struck first the sprawling figure of Hangeland and then the foot of the post that proved decisive.

In the wake of his first win at Anfield, Dalglish reflected that: "Fulham will feel hard done by," which Hughes, his opposite number, thought was "some understatement". "We were by far the dominant team but we did not make that dominance count," the Welshman added.

It has seemed weeks, such has been the ebbs and undercurrents of the story but it was when Liverpool last took the field, four days before, that Andy Gray and Richard Keys made their observations about a female official that built a bonfire of their careers.

At Molineux, Sian Massey had unwittingly answered their jeers by correctly judging a razor-thin offside decision that led to Torres' opening goal. As early as the fifth minute here, there was another marginal call as Meireles sent through Torres to score and this time the male linesman flagged, incorrectly as it turned out, for offside. It is, however, unlikely that a photograph of a scantily-clad Mick McDonough, taken in a nightclub, will be adorning the front page of The Sun under the headline "Get 'Em Off".

The fact that Australia have qualified to meet Japan in the Asian Cup final meant that Mark Schwarzer was in Qatar rather than enduring the sight of Torres driving through the Fulham back-four like a racehorse coming through the mist. However, David Stockdale's reflexes ensured he was not missed.

Whatever the limitations of his squad, Dalglish has introduced the kind of width that has been lacking since Gérard Houllier, the first modern manager to have no connection to Bill Shankly's Boot Room, began his reconstruction of Liverpool.

Glen Johnson, transformed into a left back because Dalglish has no real faith in Paul Konchesky, ran at the Fulham back four to deliver a venomous shot that Stockdale tipped over but, compared to his earlier save from Meireles' diving header, it was nothing. That was the product of a fine, low cross from Martin Kelly, the young right-back, who already looks the best bet in the long term for both Liverpool and England.

Fulham, however, recovered their balance sufficiently to force a couple of smart saves of their own from Pepe Reina before the interval and for their fans to begin chanting Hodgson's name, something that never happened during his brief, chaotic reign at Anfield. "Roy, Roy, Roy, Roy, Roy" they sang to the tune of the 1970s children's television show, "The Banana Splits". The Kop silenced them with a single chorus of "Dalglish".

Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Reina; Kelly, Skrtel, Agger, Johnson; Gerrard, Poulsen (Aurelio, 80); Kuyt (Shelvey, 66), Meireles, Rodriguez; Torres. Substitutes not used Gulacsi (g), Fabio, Cole, Pacheco, Wilson, Ngog.

Fulham (4-4-2): Stockdale; Pantsil, Hughes, Hangeland, Baird; Duff (Gera, 63), Sidwell, Murphy, Dempsey; Dembele, Johnson. Substitutes not used Etheridge (g), Kelly, Salcido, Kamara, Greening, Davies.

Referee L Probert (Gloucestershire).

Attendance 40,466.