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Fulham 2-3 Liverpool Prem 26 1314 Daily Telegraph

last updated Thursday 13th February 2014, 8:58 PM
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Jonathan Liew at Daily Telegraph

Fulham (1) 2 Liverpool (1) 3

Steven Gerrard reeled towards the corner flag, ripping off his bright red shirt to reveal the bright red vest underneath. The sensation generated by a winning goal in injury time is a release of endorphins that most of us can only hope to approximate. These are the moments footballers live for.

How did Liverpool do that? No, seriously. Having been lacklustre for large parts, Gerrard's 91st-minute penalty dramatically won it. Challenged to come from behind twice, Liverpool's blue-chip players delivered. As the England captain replaced his shirt and accepted his booking, perhaps he was also reflecting that these are the moments that win titles.

The truth is that rarely in Gerrard's long career have Liverpool looked so certain, so confident, so suffused with the simple joys of football. This was one of their worst defensive displays of the season, and there are a few to choose from. Yet they prevailed. You score two? No problem, we'll score three, and whenever we want.

"I'm certain, in the first four or five months I was here, we'd have lost that game," said manager Brendan Rodgers. "That's something I've been trying to build since I've been here: now we know we can go to any ground and get goals. The goals got us the three points tonight, rather than our defending."

And yet it is to Liverpool's defending that we must now turn, and to one man in particular. It is fair to say that this is not a season Kolo Toure will remember with any great nostalgia. This may have been his worst showing, and again there are a few to choose from. His own-goal gave Fulham the lead, but it was worse than that: so lacking in confidence was he that his colleagues began to lose faith in him too.

At times, Liverpool might have been playing a three-man defence. "Kolo's a great guy," said Rodgers. Scarcely has praise been more damning.

So impressive at Old Trafford on Sunday, Rene Meulensteen's new model Fulham almost came away with another creditable score draw. Only the weary stray leg of Sascha Riether, bringing down Daniel Sturridge, denied them.

But if they play like this, safety awaits. Fulham were much the better team in the first half. Toure's own-goal was a stroke of fortune; West Brom had benefited from his largesse two games ago, when he rolled the ball directly into the path of Victor Anichebe. Not satisfied with an assist, Toure took the more direct route to goal this time round.

It began with Lewis Holtby's sublime pass to Kieran Richardson, whose cross from the left scuttled across the box, whereupon Toure waddled across to whack the ball clear. At the critical moment, he stumbled.

The ball sliced off the outside of his right boot and looped past Simon Mignolet. On BBC radio, Mark Lawrenson suggested that Toure "could not do that again if he tried", although experience suggests he would give it a ruddy good go.

To watch Toure for the rest of the half was strangely bathetic. For the most part, he was a quiet but grimly menacing presence, like an overflowing kitchen bin that everyone knows needs to be emptied sooner or later.

While Toure was fighting his own private battle with his demons, Fulham were winning the more relevant battle in midfield. They had chances, too. Holtby rapped a first-time shot off his left metatarsals. Bent headed over.

And then, just like that, Liverpool scored. It came without warning, and was all the more beautiful for that. Gerrard recovered a loose ball in the centre circle and squeezed a ridiculous pass with the outside of his right foot into the path of Sturridge, who curled the ball past Maarten Stekelenburg, via the post.

It felt like the pivotal moment, for surely Liverpool could not be as passive in the second half. But just as they had scored almost on a whim, so too now did Fulham. From a throw on the right, Riether swung in a hopeful cross.

Clearly not trusting Toure to deal with it, a sprawling Martin Skrtel almost tried to kung-fu kick the ball clear, but succeeded only in scraping it across goal, where Richardson gleefully powered home from two yards.

Coutinho equalised nine minutes later, skipping away from John Arne Riise and burying the ball left-footed into the bottom corner. Cue a frantic finale. Fulham were roared forward, but as they retreated to defend against a scampering Sturridge, a tired Riether threw out a leg. It was a clear penalty.

Gerrard stepped up and smashed it. "He's studied which way the goalkeeper dives, so that professionalism is there," said Rodgers. "There's no better person to take a penalty right at the end."

And so to the biggest question of all. Liverpool... could they? "I don't do all that horse stuff," Rodgers said. "Jose [Mourinho] is very good at all that. We may be the chihuahuas that run in between the horses' legs. But we're just about improving with each match."

In this many-splintered title race, that may well be enough.

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