Liverpool 5 Fulham 1: Fowler breaks duck as Reds go on rampage

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The Independent Football

Liverpool marked the news that Rafael Benitez had agreed a new four-year contract, worth £10m and keeping the European Cup-winning manager at Anfield until 2010, with an emphatic defeat of Fulham sparked by Robbie Fowler's first goal for the club in five years.

Fowler's early flourish - the first by a Liverpool striker since New Year's Eve - was soon nullified by Collins John. But an own goal from Michael Brown, and a Fernando Morientes strike deflated Fulham before Peter Crouch, with a close-range tap-in, and Stephen Warnock, with his first goal for Liverpool, belatedly gave the scoreline a flattering sheen.

As Liverpool look to catch Manchester United, Chris Coleman's side are looking anxiously over their shoulders after four successive defeats. They have still not won away this season and on Sunday face Chelsea at Craven Cottage.

Fowler's return, in a partnership with Morientes that delivered more than the other permutations Benitez has tried, was calculated to strike fear into Fulham's hearts. It was against the London club, as a teenager, that he scored all the goals in a 5-0 win on his full debut.

Anfield's prodigal son had already shown up well in an otherwise scrappy start, setting up Morientes for a low shot that was saved by the sprawling former Liverpool goalkeeper Tony Warner. However, the goal his adoring public craved was delayed only until the 16th minute.

From a corner kick, swung in to the six-yard area by Harry Kewell, Fulham's frailty was exposed as the scarcely towering Luis Garcia rose to flick the ball on. Fowler had created space at the far post and converted a downward header before embarking on a celebratory run at the Anfield Road end.

The euphoria, and Liverpool's lead, lasted only nine minutes. Luis Boa Morte was allowed too much time in midfield to pick out John's run between Daniel Agger and Djimi Traoré, the Dutchman beating the offside trap before his angled drive did likewise to Jose Reina.

Fowler was involved again as Liverpool regained the initiative after 34 minutes. Although Luis Garcia's pass found him in a shooting position, he selflessly rolled it on to the overlapping Kewell. The Australian's ground-level cross was turned into his own goal by Brown.

Despite their team being in front, the crowd were unusually becalmed, as if the hangover of last week's Champions' League exit against Benfica still lingered.

It did not help the Anfield atmosphere that Fulham brought barely 150 followers with them, or that Liverpool were not firing on all cylinders.

A two-goal advantage would have restored confidence, and Garcia almost provided it five minutes after the interval. Taking a pass from his fellow Spaniard, Morientes, the former Barcelona player curled the ball beyond Warner from the edge of the penalty area, only to see the ball clip the angle of post and bar and then rebound back into the field of play.

The occasion needed another Fowler goal, preferably in front of the Kop, to reignite it, but he is still not sharp enough to last the course and gave way to Djibril Cissé.

As Liverpool laboured for another goal, Fulham were close to a second themselves when Zat Knight soared to meet a free-kick from Wayne Bridge. Reina dived to keep the ball out by the foot of the post and Anfield breathed easily again.

Relief turned to rapture with 20 minutes remaining. Gerrard nut-megged Brown before crossing to Cissé, whose header was parried by Warner. In the ensuing scramble, Morientes found the composure to lash the ball high into the net.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Traoré; Luis Garcia, Gerrard, Hamann, Kewell (Warnock, 89); Fowler (Cissé, 69), Morientes (Crouch, 81). Substitutes not used: Dudek (gk), Hyypia.

Fulham (4-4-2): Warner; Rosenior, Knight (Christanval, 69), Pearce, Bridge; Malbranque, Brown, Pembridge, Boa Morte; John, Radzinski (McBride, 78). Substitutes not used: Crossley (gk), Helguson, N Jensen.

Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).