Dempsey strikes after Spearing red

Fulham 1 Liverpool 0

Craven Cottage

It was the tackle that changed the course of the game and Jay Spearing will have travelled all the way back to Liverpool last night nursing a sense of injustice that it earned him a straight red card.

For his Liverpool team-mates the consequences were defining: diminished to ten men with 18 minutes to play and with their momentum gone they allowed Fulham back into a game which, at times, the home side were barely clinging onto in the second half. When Clint Dempsey scored the winner with five minutes left it was confirmation that this was not to be Liverpool's night.

It came from a mistake from Pepe Reina, spilling Danny Murphy's shot at the feet of Dempsey, that did for Liverpool and the home side, obdurate to the end took their chance. That was not the case for Kenny Dalglish's team who twice struck the frame of Mark Schwarzer's goal and had one of those nights when they were on the wrong end of a series of marginal decisions.

First, that sending off for Spearing which Gary Neville described on Sky Sports as worthy of an "orange card" by which he meant somewhere between red and yellow. You could see his point but, unfortunately for Kevin Friend, the referee, that judgement was not at his disposal. Yes, the studs were up from Spearing but if that is now an automatic red card then the game really is on the brink of outlawing tackling.

The young Englishman snapped into the challenge on Moussa Dembele with his right foot and won the ball cleanly but it was the momentum that carried him studs-up into the Fulham man that did for him. In Dalglish's time as a player it would barely have merited a raised eyebrow; now the raised boot makes referees reach for the red.

"I think, you need to ask the referee what their interpretation is," Dalglish said. "It is frustrating because no one ever tells us what the level of acceptance is. Jay never had another thought in his mind but to win the ball, and he did win it."

Was it a red card? "I am not a referee. Sometimes they have been given, sometimes they haven't. As long as they are consistent, it's not a problem. But I don't think we were going to get anything tonight, were we? The goal that Luis [Suarez] scored could have been either way. Charlie [Adam] could have got a penalty when he gets pulled down. It wasn't as well as we have been playing but it was enough to win the game."

Martin Jol saw it a different way. "I have watched it [the foul] from three different angles," he said. "It was a red card. He [Spearing] could have broken his ankle."

There were a legitimate number of complaints from Liverpool even if Dalglish was not prepared to go into them in detail last night. He was also asked about Suarez giving the finger to Fulham fans as he left the pitch but handled that one in fairly robust style. "If you show me the picture and I'm convinced that what you're saying is true, then I've got a decision to make," he said. "But until you've proved it true to me, I'm not going to comment."

Barracked as a cheat by the home support all night, primarily for a penalty decision that was closer than the Fulham support realised, Suarez snapped and could well face another Football Association charge. Dalglish responded to the suggestion that his striker was a cheat as "scandalous". "I think it's about time," he said, "he got a bit of protection from some people."

As for the rest of those close calls, they began with a goal scored by Suarez on 66 minutes from Jose Enrique's pass ruled out for offside. Replays later showed Suarez was onside. There was also clear second booking for Philippe Senderos who put an arm across Andy Carroll on 76 minutes that was missed by referee Friend.

Senderos' booking, for a foul on Adam, was also a key point in the game. The Liverpool midfielder had embarked on a long, driving run that took him to the edge of the Fulham area where he was brought down by Senderos. If Gary Cahill's challenge on Scott Parker on Saturday was a denial of an obvious goalscoring opportunity then this was too. There was also a case for Suarez being awarded a penalty when Brede Hangeland stepped across his path before the break

But then Liverpool missed chances too and no-one more than the ineffective Andy Carroll who wasted two put on a plate for him by Suarez in the first half. Jordan Henderson chipped a shot against the post and substitute Stewart Downing had one pushed onto woodwork by Schwarzer.

Spearing's red card transformed Fulham. Dempsey hit the bar before finally Reina dropped the ball at his feet. The Fulham striker had previously thrust his face into that of Craig Bellamy and can count himself quite fortunate that Friend took a generous view of that. That said, Dembele had been excellent for Fulham who move up to 13th and can look back on a night when they took their chance.

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