Liverpool leave it late to keep title race alive

Fulham 0 Liverpool 1

Fulham 0 Liverpool 1

Four minutes into injury time Rafael Benitez looked like becoming the latest Big Four manager to experience the curse of the Cottage.

Then up popped substitute Yossi Benayoun to smash a right-foot shot past Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer to send Liverpool the top of the Premier League.

Two points clear of Manchester United, at least for 24 hours.

"Now you're going to believe us, we're going to win the league," chanted the Liverpool faithful. And who could disagree with them?

What a finale. What drama. Arsenal and Manchester United had lost this season at this footballing idyll by the Thames. Chelsea had drawn.

It looked as if Liverpool would also leave with less than they wanted. And if they had, only the man upstairs would have known how.

Four times Liverpool hit the woodwork. Through Fernando Torres and Xabi Alonso. And Andrea Dossena twice. They played some magical football, too, but try as they might they struggled to breach the iron curtain Fulham manager Roy Hodgson has draped around Craven Cottage this season.

Much is made of the importance of confidence in football and Liverpool have been stacking that commodity like beans in Tesco this past month.

They had scored 11 goals and conceded just one in their last three league games, a period which had also seen them dispatch Real Madrid from the Champions League.

Another huge Champions League encounter, a quarter-final against Chelsea, loomed on Wednesday and on other days Benitez might have had one eye on that match.

Not this day. Benitez fielded arguably one of his strongest sides, with the possible exception of midfielder Javier Mascherano who was left on the substitutes' bench.

And in that first 45 minutes, in particular, they looked world beaters.

Rarely can a side have dominated a football match quite so dramatically and gone in at half-time goalless.

Benitez's men began as if they were under orders to get the business end of the match over as quickly as possible so as to give their star performers a breather. In truth, Fulham should have been buried.

First, Andrea Dossena strode into space in the penalty area and his left-foot shot was tipped over the bar by Schwarzer.

From Gerrard's resulting corner Martin Skrtel thundered in another left-foot shot which flicked the head of Dossena before clipping the Fulham crossbar and bouncing to safety.

It was the first of four times Schwarzer's woodwork was to rattle in those first 45 minutes.

And that is not counting the good work of Schwarzer, whose superb left-handed block denied Torres when the red tide was threatening to overwhelm Fulham.

Alonso, outside the area, unleashed a thunderous right-foot volley which crashed against the Fulham crossbar.

Then it was Torres' turn after wonderful interplay with Gerrard had sliced open the Fulham defence, only demonstrating the threat of arguably the best striking partnership in world football right now.

Unfortunately, the Spain striker's angled shot come back off the post.

Incredibly, two minutes later the woodwork was trembling again. Gerrard again was the provider, swinging in a right-wing cross which Dossena threw himself at only to see his header come back off Schwarzer's bar.

Liverpool could have been excused for wondering if this was not to be their day in the week Benitez picked up the manager-of-the-month award.

Perhaps it was the organisation and imagination of manager Roy Hodgson, who has done wonders at Craven Cottage this past 18 months.

But in the 65th minute Benitez, seeing the possibility of crucial points being squandered, threw on Ryan Babel in place of Dossena.

And then Benayoun entered the fray for Kuyt.

What a decision. What a goal. And maybe we should start believing those chanting Liverpool supporters.

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