It would have been a brave young Scally who went trick or treating at Rafael Benitez's homestead last night. After this barely credible Halloween nightmare the Liverpool manager was in no mood to indulge anyone.
Benitez watched his team suffer two red cards, including the captain Jamie Carragher, as they crashed to their sixth defeat in seven matches.
Next up, Lyon away, in a match Liverpool need at least to draw, and probably win, if they are to progress in the Champions' League. Domestically their challenge is all but over after five defeats in 11 Premier League games. Liverpool may still be fifth, but they are nine points adrift of Chelsea, and only one more separates them from the relegation zone.
"It is always hard to take defeat,
especially when we were in such control," said Benitez. "We now have to keep calm and think about the next game, but we have many injuries."
Chief among them is Fernando Torres, who played an hour here, scoring his 10th goal of the season, before being withdrawn with a view to Lyon. "He has four days to recover but he is still not 100 per cent fit so we have to protect him," said Benitez, who added that Steven Gerrard, absent here, was also touch and go for midweek.
Even without Gerrard, and several other senior players, Liverpool had looked in good form utterly dominating the first period even if Torres's goal had only equalised a strike by Bobby Zamora against the run of play. But when Torres was withdrawn Liverpool began to unravel.
Erik Nevland scored to put Fulham ahead with 17 minutes left, then Benitez, to boos from the large away support, replaced Yossi Benayoun with Nathan Eccleston. Before the youngster could settle in Liverpool were reduced to nine men. Philipp Degen was first to go, for a studs-up tackle on Clint Dempsey, after 79 minutes. He did not make contact but that, said Roy Hodgson, was because Dempsey had "done well to get out of the way".
Liverpool, said Benitez, would appeal against both dismissals. "It was stupid but he was not looking for the player, it was a yellow card," he said of Degen. Of Carragher he said: "It was clear 'Carra' got the ball, and Zamora said so."
Carragher was fortunate still to be on the pitch having seemingly brought down Zamora, as the striker bore down on Pepe Reina, soon after the hour mark. When Zamora again outstripped him in the chase for a long pass two minutes after Degen's exit, Carragher wrestled him to the ground. He went reluctantly, protesting there was a covering defender, but video evidence supported Lee Mason's verdict.
Fulham took full advantage of their numerical superiority with Nevland setting up Dempsey for a decisive third with a few minutes left. "It was a great win," said Hodgson. "We are getting better as a team but the results have not shown that."
With the absence of Danny Murphy as debilitating for his team as Gerrard's loss was for Liverpool, the first hour largely belonged to the visitors who went close to taking a deserved lead when Benayoun thumped a majestic volley against the bar.
To the surprise and delight of an increasingly disgruntled home crowd the opening goal, however, came from Zamora after 24 minutes. On a rare foray into Liverpool's half Diomansy Kamara fed Damien Duff on the left and his low cross was stabbed in by Zamora, gliding untracked between Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Emiliano Insua. It was the striker's fifth goal of the season, and his ninth in 54 Fulham appearances.
Liverpool simply resumed their siege and were rewarded three minutes from the break. Carragher lofted a ball forward, Andriy Voronin's header struck Aaron Hughes and Torres lashed in the loose ball. It seemed the prelude to a comfortable Liverpool win; then the afternoon turned crazy.
Referee: Lee Mason
Man of the match: Nevland
Match rating: 8/10
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