If ever there was an ideal fixture to mark the appointment of Roy Hodgson as England manager then this was it.
The club that hired him and fired him last season, and regards him as a failure, was beaten by the club that still reminisces about the remarkable few months that saw seemingly-inevitable relegation avoided and a European final reached.
Of course, Kenny Dalglish, Hodgson’s Anfield successor, will be able to shrug off this setback without much trouble as it was always going to be the fixture that had to be fulfilled before Saturday’s FA Cup final.
Liverpool’s starting line-up looked nothing like the one that had demolished Norwich at the weekend, with Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard and Pepe Reina the most notable absentees, and will therefore look nothing like the one that will take on Chelsea at Wembley.
And that, claimed Dalglish, was a major factor as the Liverpool manager criticised his players as vehemently as at any stage of this disastrous league campaign. “The attitude and approach was where we went wrong,” he said.
“If you go into a game with a bad attitude you get a bad performance and that’s what we got.
“I’m culpable as well. I changed players, maybe tried to give them an opportunity to get into the frame for Saturday and maybe by doing that, it was a contributory factor. There were positives, but too many negatives.”
Fulham had been beaten on Merseyside on Saturday, subsiding 4-0 at Everton, but within five minutes of the kick-off had forced the unfamiliar-looking home defence into conceding an own-goal opener.
Clint Dempsey’s run had the home defence hesitating and his ball to John Arne Riise on the left resulted in a low cross that was deflected past Doni, Reina’s understudy, by Alex Kacaniklic, the former Liverpool youngster, via an off-balance Martin Skrtel.
The next chance was Fulham’s too and saw Dempsey dink the ball over the top of the Liverpool back line for Pavel Pogrebnyak to volley. This time Doni was able to make the save.
Dirk Kuyt came close to an equaliser with a volley that went wide after Andy Carroll saw a shot blocked by Mousa Dembele but Fulham’s lead was intact when the half-time whistle was blown, despite another effort from Carroll — a header this time — that goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer parried.
Liverpool replaced Jordan Henderson, one of the Carrow Road survivors, for the second half but it was Fulham who came closest to scoring again when Dempsey set up Kerim Frei, on for Kacaniklic, for a curling effort that smacked off a post.
Doni was required to make two saves late on to deny Dempsey, with the second the result of a botched attempt by Skrtel to head back to his keeper, but a rare Fulham away win — only their fourth of the season — brought them level on points with their hosts, who remain in eighth place because of a superior goal difference.
The win — their first on Merseyside in 42 attempts — will also act as a welcome tonic for Martin Jol, the Fulham manager, as the Dutchman was again forced to miss a match because of illness, with coach Billy McKinley pulling the strings from the sidelines.
Liverpool have now failed 13 times to win at home this season and as a result they could add a lowest league finish since 1954 as well as the FA Cup to the Carling Cup they have already won.
LIVERPOOL: Doni 7; Kelly 5, Coates 5, Skrtel 6, Aurelio 6 (Enrique 65, 6); Henderson 5 (Downing 46, 6), Spearing 7; Kuyt 7 (Sterling 75, 6), Shelvey 7, Maxi 7; Carroll 8.
FULHAM: Schwarzer 6; Kelly 7, Hangeland 7, Hughes 7, Riise 8; Duff 7, Murphy 6, Dembele 6 (Baird 86), Kacaniklic 6 (Frei 58, 7); Dempsey 9, Pogrebnyak 6 (Etuhu 80, 6).
Referee: L Probert (Wiltshire).
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