Premier League - Liverpool win to leap up table
Liverpool moved up to seventh in the Premier League table with a fortuitous 1-0 win over Fulham at Anfield.
A comical own goal from John Pantsil soon after the break was enough to send Liverpool into the top seven for the first time in their stuttering campaign.
It says much for the congested nature of the top flight this season that had Fulham won this match they would have gone above Liverpool into 11th place on goal difference. As it is, they remain 15th, four points above the relegation zone.
Steven Gerrard was back from his three-match suspension but it was Raul Meireles who was the most influential man in the Liverpool midfield. The Portuguese had a hand in what should have been the opening goal early on.
Meireles slipped a through ball into the path of Fernando Torres, who swept it past David Stockdale, but the referee's assistant had erroneously raised his flag for offside against the Spaniard. How Liverpool fans must have wished it was Sian Massey running the line.
Stockdale, still deputising in the Fulham goal as Australia's Mark Schwarzer prepares for Saturday's Asian Cup final in Qatar, had not been on the losing side in any of his seven previous appearances for Fulham this season, and he was called upon to make two top-quality saves.
Right-back Martin Kelly's cross was met by a Meireles glancing header, but Stockdale managed to turn it round the post at full stretch, before Glen Johnson cut in from the other flank and fired in a solid 20-yard strike that the keeper tipped over the bar.
Fulham, despite their woeful record of no victories at Anfield in 23 league visits, looked more at ease in possession, happy to gradually play their way forward against their more direct hosts.
Clint Dempsey forced Pepe Reina into a regulation stop at the near-post after latching on to Moussa Dembele's backheel on the half-hour mark, before moments later Dembele should have scored when he guided Andy Johnson's ball from the byline right at the Spanish keeper.
Fate atoned for Liverpool being denied a perfectly good opener six minutes into the first half by gifting them one six minutes after the restart. How else to explain the sequence of events which saw Torres's shot hit the post, Meireles fail to connect properly with his rebound effort, Pantsil to miscue his attempted clearance, Stockdale - still down from the initial Torres strike - to juggle in the air before finally Pantsil sliced it out of his keeper's hands and into the net?
After that Liverpool finally began to control the tempo of the match as Pantsil lost his temper. The Ghanaian defender had an angry exchange with Gerrard after the pair tussled for the ball with matching aggression, and immediately after referee Lee Probert let the pair off with a flea in their ear Pantsil again took issue with a canny shove off the ball from the Liverpool captain and got himself a booking.
Fulham boss Mark Hughes had earlier delighted the crowd and his opposite number with his ball skills in the technical area, and the introduction of Zoltan Gera seemed to lift his side's spirits.
In a nervy final quarter of an hour for Liverpool, Dempsey jinked through two defenders before striking high and wide, Aaron Hughes headed wide from one corner before Meireles hacked Brede Hangeland's header off the line with his shin and, with two minutes left on the clock, Dembele spurned another golden opportunity to level when his effort from inside the six-yard box was hit right at Reina.
Liverpool managed to hold on to take their place in the final Europa League spot, while Fulham faced a long journey home reflecting upon an atrocious record of just one win in their last 30 league outings on the road.