These dark nights by the Thames aren’t half special, eh? A lively 0-0 turned into a scintillating 1-0 win, Clint Dempsey’s late goal nicking the points with five minutes left. We more or less deserved them, riding our luck to a degree but mainly doing enough, then taking advantage when Liverpool lost a man after Spearing’s red card.
That was key. Before that we couldn’t find space anywhere, so the dismissal solved that issue and all of a sudden a win seemed not just possible but likely. The team’s buildups got that bit sharper, shots started pinging Reina’s way, and it felt like something had to give, if only we could break through before time ran out. We did: Senderos reversed a lovely ball wide to Murphy, Murphy scuffed in a shot that Reina couldn’t hold, Dempsey pounced from a yard out, his lime green boots whirling through the air to send the ball crashing into the net. YES!
Before that Dempsey’s shots had mainly been from distance, his speculative efforts often coming close and serving to maintain some semblence of pressure (we couldn’t get into the area so had to shoot from outside it). Dembele was marauding again, Dickson Etuhu had as good a 45 minutes as he’ll ever have in the first half, and the teams left the field after 45 engrossing minutes with no goals but plenty to think about. Fulham had to work out how to find space, but also how to deny it to Liverpool: it felt like we were living on the edge, slightly, particularly down the right flank where Kelly perhaps wasn’t getting the protection he’d have liked and was often isolated.
The second half was just as fun. True, Fulham’s buildup was frustratingly slow, but Liverpool’s defence was excellent. At the other end Mark Schwarzer made some fine saves, notably palming the ball onto the post following a Downing drive. Johnson came on, not for Ruiz (showing flashes of brilliance while giving the ball away too often), but for the again disappointing Zamora. What would this mean? But we maintained forward progress and Johnson’s running offered something we didn’t have before: he made the most of his time on the pitch.
Liverpool kept up their pressure but it didn’t feel like they’d have enough to get through. Charlie Adam was pulling strings, but doing so rather like a puppeteer who’s got a bit drunk and thinks he’s better than he really is. He looks the part but not all of his passing is what it could be, and Danny Murphy taught him a nice lesson in when to expand and when to play safe. Pantomime villain Saurez tumbled hither and thither, Bellamy buzzed around annoyingly, too, but nobody in the side looked really dangerous. And for that we must thank our defence, who stood up tremendously well under pressure.
A great win then, earned against a good team playing quite well. It’s been a while since we took down one of the biggies, so Martin Jol will be delighted.