Liverpool's luck turns to buy Benitez some time

Fulham 2 - Liverpool 4
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The Independent Football

All last season Gérard Houllier chanted the mantra that no Premiership team had more shots on target than Liverpool. It was true and it was his way of countering criticism that his side did not attack enough. His argument was that they were just plain unlucky.

All last season Gérard Houllier chanted the mantra that no Premiership team had more shots on target than Liverpool. It was true and it was his way of countering criticism that his side did not attack enough. His argument was that they were just plain unlucky.

On Saturday Liverpool had three shots on target and scored four goals. Statistically, that would constitute payback time (with interest), but it was Rafael Benitez who benefited from the outrageous fortune and not his managerial predecessor, who is now commentating on events for French television. It is to be hoped that the air was not turned sacre bleu.

It wasn't by Fulham's Chris Coleman either. He admitted to having "ranted and raved" at times this season but with his side sliding to 16th, it was a case of "making the players believe in themselves". It is getting serious and he recognised the fact. "Last year we had a fantastic start," Coleman said. "This year has been different - not just in our play but we've have had men sent off, controversy, injuries."

Coleman is a shrewd operator and is well aware of what he terms "second seasonitis" - suffering a slump after a successful debut as a Premiership manager. Everton's David Moyes was afflicted by it, only to recover, but the symptoms are traceable in Coleman - who has changed personnel and formation - and he needs to find a remedy quickly. "Christmas is only 10 weeks away," he said. "If we are in that bottom six then, that is usually where you are for the rest of the season."

It is all the more heart-rending for Fulham because it is happening now that they have moved back to Craven Cottage. Fans can expect teeth to be gritted. Fulham, Coleman said, will have to grind out results. It will not be pretty, but he hopes it will be pretty effective.

Liverpool are even more of a work-in-progress with Benitez admitting that he feels "about 60 per cent" of the team is his. Defeat here and they would have been 15 points behind Arsenal - with less than a quarter of the season gone that would have been halfway to the deficit that cost Houllier his job.

But win they did. Somehow. Indeed the victory, in their 4,000th League match, was the first time they had overturned a half-time deficit away from home in 13 years - and that was back when Liverpool were still winning championships. And, in that, there is hope. Benitez may have some way to go but at least there was steel injected during his half-time team-talk after probably one of the worst 45 minutes Liverpool have produced in living memory. Remarkably, the manager claimed they were "in control". Of what, is the obvious response.

Benitez called for more aggression and, along with a flurry of yellow cards, there was a red one, deservedly, for the right-back Josemi, his first signing. It was another one of his players, however, who turned the game. Xabi Alonso, a £10.5m buy from Real Sociedad, mistakenly started on the bench, but came on and seized the midfield from Steed Malbranque to launch Liverpool's response.

Before that Fulham had twice carved their way through. Malbranque's incisiveness set up Brian McBride, who crossed for Luis Boa Morte to turn in the first. And then the Frenchman released Boa Morte who, against shocking defending, thundered his shot through the legs of Chris Kirkland.

Any revival from such a deficit needed luck and Liverpool got it when Milan Baros's woeful shot cannoned off Zat Knight, over Edwin van der Sar, and into the net. Knight, incidentally, revealed beforehand that he is ready to give up his ambitions to play for England and declare for the Republic of Ireland, for whom he qualifies through his grandmother.

Baros then poked in after Alonso's clever cross had been headed on by Luis Garcia and Van der Sar had parried. Alonso then curled in a free-kick, which took a crucial deflection off Papa Bouba Diop and, finally, amazingly, in injury-time substitute Igor Biscan side-footed in from the edge of the area for his first Premiership goal to seal Liverpool's first away win.

¿ Steven Gerrard is ahead of schedule in his recovery from a broken bone in his foot and hopes to play in the Champions' League game at Deportivo la Coruña on 3 November.

Goals: Boa Morte (24) 1-0; Boa Morte (30) 2-0; Knight (50 og) 2-1; Baros (71) 2-2; Alonso (79) 2-3; Biscan (89) 2-4.

Fulham (4-4-2): Van der Sar; Volz, Knight, Bocanegra, Green; Malbranque, Pembridge, Diop, Boa Morte; McBride, Radzinski (John, 75). Substitutes not used: Crossley (gk), Jensen, Rehman, McKinlay.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Kirkland; Josemi, Carragher, Hyypia, Traoré; Luis Garcia (Warnock, 88), Diao (Alonso, h-t), Hamann, Riise; Baros (Biscan, 89), Cissé. Substitutes not used: Dudek (gk), Sinama-Pongolle.

Referee: S Bennett (Kent).

Booked: Fulham: Green. Liverpool: Josemi, Luis Garcia, Traoré. Sent off: Josemi (second booking, 77).

Man of the match: Alonso.

Attendance: 21,884.

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