Fulham 2 Liverpool 3 match report: Steven Gerrard scores late penalty to save Liverpool after Kolo Toure slice of comedy
Captain's penalty in added time salvages all three points after Ivorian defender had opened the scoring with an own goal early on
Thursday 13 February 2014
If Liverpool's defence tells you one thing - that this team is not yet ready to win the league - the way they attack, with spirit and nerve, suggests they are very close to doing something special.
This 3-2 win at Craven Cottage, secured in added time, summed up their whole thrilling season. With two dismal pieces of negligent defending - one each from Kolo Toure and Martin Skrtel - they gifted Fulham the lead twice. Going into the final minute, they were stuck at 2-2 and just two points clear of Tottenham Hotspur.
But this Liverpool side is so compelling because they never hold back. Daniel Sturridge surged into the box, and was tripped by Sascha Reither. Steven Gerrard, obviously, stepped up to take the penalty and drove it into the top corner.
Liverpool had not played especially well and yet with Sturridge and Gerrard in the team - to say nothing of Philippe Coutinho, Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez - they always carry varied threats. Scoring goals and winning games while playing well is one thing, but Liverpool showed here in the bitter wind that they can do it on an off-night too.
“We had to show different qualities tonight,” Brendan Rodgers explained afterwards. “Character. And togetherness of the group. We are very pleased. You are always pushing and looking to get something. It is never over until the whistle goes.”
But Liverpool attacked with enough spirit and verve - and moments of quality - to win the game and keep hold of fourth place. They are now just four points behind leaders Chelsea and have more momentum than anyone else in the country.
Fulham, despite the pre-match display of a video montage from their admittedly impressive 2-2 draw at Old Trafford last Sunday, cannot put anything like a run together. Only once this season have they gone two consecutive league games unbeaten and, not for the first time, an admirable performance was rewarded with nothing. They are still bottom, and 17th place is now four points away.
“Definitely I think we deserved a point,” sighed Rene Meulensteen afterwards, with good reason. “We actually played quite well, we were well organised. You can see there is improvement, the new players are making a difference, but it wasn't to be.”
Fulham, unlike Liverpool, began as if inspired by their weekend exploits. Meulensteen made just one change - Darren Bent for Muamer Tankovic - and his team were proactive and assertive from the start. They won every loose ball in midfield, and with the scurrying smarts of Lewis Holtby just behind Bent, they were imaginative going forward.
Kolo Toure opened the scoring, with an own goal (Getty)
The sharpness of Holtby, and the clumsiness of Kolo Toure, combined to give Fulham the lead after eight minutes. Holtby drifted into space on the left, span, and played in Kieran Richardson down the left. Richardson crossed low and Toure, with enough space to take his time, swung his right leg at the ball and sliced it back over his shoulder and into the net.
It was a bad mistake, and not Toure's first this season. 10 days ago he cost Liverpool two points, gifting Victor Anichebe the ball for an equaliser at the Hawthorns. Rodgers' defence of Toure was not ferocious. It started: “Listen, Kolo's a great guy.”
Kieran Richardson gave Fulham the lead for the second time (Getty)
Rodgers was rather more effusive talking about Steven Gerrard, and understandably so. Liverpool had done almost nothing for the first 41 minutes before Gerrard made glaringly clear just what it means to be a special footballer. The Liverpool captain approached a loose ball in the centre-circle and barely looked up before curling a first-time pass with the outside of his right foot.
The pass flew in between Johnny Heitinga and Dan Burn before swerving away behind Riise and into the path of Danny Sturridge, onside and through on goal. Sturridge, on his favoured left side, opened up and struck it into the far corner, his eighth consecutive scoring appearance.
“Steven is peerless in many aspects of football,” said Rodgers, and it was praise worthy of the pass. “The pass for the first goal here, and the penetration he has shown all his life.”
Philippe Coutinho's strike levelled the score at 2-2 (Getty)
But Liverpool could not build on that goal and gifted another for Fulham early in the second half. Sascha Reither swung in a hopeful cross towards Bent at the far post. Skrtel, desperately stretching to hook it away, could only swipe the ball back across goal. There are the far post was Richardson, gleefully taking advantage. He celebrated like a man who had scored from 30 yards, rather than three, and was booked by Phil Dowd.
It felt like it would be another careless score-draw for Liverpool, the sort that is the difference between them and the top three. But soon after Coutinho equalised again. He darted in from the right, surrounded by bodies and shot with his left foot. The ball deflected off Heitinga and past David Stockdale. The Fulham goalkeeper was forced off soon after as Suarez, stretching for a loose ball, collided with his face.
Fulham keeper Maarten Stekelenburg had to be substituted after a collision with Luis Suarez (Getty)
Coutinho nearly won it with a cleaner strike from the edge of the box, and nearly slid in Sturridge one minute later. When Joao Carlos Teixeira, the 21-year-old debutant, curled one over the bar that looked like that but Sturridge, in the last minute of normal time, burst into the box, was tripped by Reither and Gerrard converted from the spot.
“His composure at the end,” Rodgers said, delighted that yet again their captain had studied the goalkeeper, which way he dives, so that professionalism is there. There's no better person to take a penalty right at the end to win the game.”
Man of the match Gerrard.
Match rating 8/10.
Referee P Dowd (Staffordshire).
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