Gerrard thumps home late penalty winner for Liverpool
Rodgers’ men survive disastrous own-goal start to finally put dogged Fulham away
Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge (right) scores against Fulham despite the efforts of goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg during their Premier League match at Craven Cottage. Photograph: Eddie Keogh/Reuters
This was winning ugly after their exhilarating success at the weekend, but Liverpool will hardly care. Just as they had started to make out the rumbling presence of Tottenham Hotspur in fifth place at their back, Brendan Rodgers’ team plucked victory here from a mishmash of a display.
Steven Gerrard’s penalty was thumped home emphatically and the momentum is with those on Merseyside in pursuit of the Premier League leaders.
This was brutal for Fulham, whose display had merited real reward only for panic to grip with 17 seconds remaining on the clock.
Sascha Riether felled Daniel Sturridge in the area with the offence clear, and Gerrard’s conversion dispatched with glee.
This time there was to be no stoppage-time salvation to bolster their struggle against the drop. Their toils are maintained.
A trip to the side currently propping up the division had felt like an opportunity for Liverpool, fresh from that swashbuckling dismissal of Arsenal and with their credentials as title challengers increasingly persuasive. Yet that 5-1 thrashing had been administered at Anfield, a near impenetrable fortress for Rodgers’ charges this term.
Away from home this team have veered from the sublime to the ridiculous: arriving here their record on the road was the worst of the top eight, even if the two wins achieved in their previous nine matches on enemy territory had seen them rattle up five-goal tallies. That shows what can be achieved when they click. When they labour, however, they are distinctly vulnerable.
The Fulham owner Shahid Khan, fresh from three days of meetings with the chief executive Alistair Mackintosh back at Motspur Park, must have been hugely encouraged, and he soon had a lead to celebrate.
Kolo Toure had done well to hook away one early Kieran Richardson centre when, eight minutes in, the winger delivered again and the Ivorian’s composure drained as the ball bobbled along the six-yard box. The veteran swung his right boot at the cross only to slice it beyond a startled Mignolet.
This was Fulham doing to Liverpool what Rodgers’ side have tended to impose on all-comers in recent weeks. The hosts swarmed all over dithering opponents, the feverish pressing instigated from Holtby down the entire spine.
Starved of time, the visitors were flustered with passes overhit or allowed to dribble out of play, and chances conceded. One shot spat at the near-post by Luis Suarez aside, an effort turned away by Maarten Stekelenburg, Liverpool had been limp in reply.
Yet their quality would rear just before the break. With Tunnicliffe grounded and possession lost, Gerrard conjured a first-time pass with the outside of his right foot from inside the centre-circle, which zipped between Burn and Johnny Heitinga for Sturridge to collect at pace. His finish was crisp and accurate, flying in off the far post, and Liverpool, almost inconceivably, had hauled themselves level.
It was the eighth game in succession in which Sturridge had registered, equalling a club record, a haul to warm the watching England number two, Ray Lewington, despite his Fulham connections.
The visitors needed it to spark a more authoritative display thereafter, with urgency injected into their approach from the restart and Gerrard an increasingly powerful presence at the base of their midfield.
Suarez, too, was finding his range as he glided with menace from flank to flank. The Uruguayan had been enduring a relatively barren spell of late and was exasperated to see one battered attempt thump against the far post.
Rare foray forward
Sascha Riether’s cross from the right represented a rare foray forward but still should have been dealt with, only for Martin Skrtel to stretch out a leg and succeed only in laying the ball off perfectly for an unmarked Richardson inside the six-yard box. With Mignolet wrong-footed, the winger thumped in from close-range.
That proved a false dawn, Philippe Coutinho permitted to drift across the penalty area with his shot flicking from William Kwist to sear beyond Stekelenburg and into the corner.
The goalkeeper was retired soon afterwards having been caught inadvertently by Suarez, a bruise already swelling up under his right eye, though the replacement could do nothing to prevent Gerrard’s penalty at the death. This was cruel for Fulham. Liverpool, in contrast, could not believe their luck.