A game that took time to come to life ended with Liverpool fuming and Fulham celebrating. For a half, this Premier League match meandered like the Thames before controversy ensued. When Jay Spearing was dismissed for what Kevin Friend deemed a reckless challenge on Mousa Dembélé, Fulham seized the initiative and the points through Clint Dempsey.
It was hardly deserved as Liverpool had dominated for long periods yet Andy Carroll again failed to impose himself. Luis Suárez attempted to insinuate his way behind Fulham’s defence. Yet the game revolved around Spearing’s tackle on Dembélé. He was clearly going for the ball but his studs followed through and caught the Fulham man; under current edicts, Friend promptly reached for the red card.
Martin Jol’s side poured forward, settling the game when Pepe Reina should have done better with a Danny Murphy shot, allowing it to fall to Dempsey. Adding to Liverpool’s sense of iniquity was the feeling that Dempsey should have been dismissed earlier for an incident with Craig Bellamy.
Liverpool enjoyed plenty of possession as the game unfolded but still could not breach the thick white line protecting Mark Schwarzer’s goal. When Liverpool did break through, Jordan Henderson cutting in from the left, Fulham were rescued by the post. Henderson was pushing on from midfield, which was missing the tireless anchoring services of the sadly injured Lucas. Jay Spearing assumed the defensive-midfield responsibilities while Charlie Adam sought to join Henderson in finding a way through.
Liverpool’s three-man attack was a blend of broadsword and rapier.
Andy Carroll tried to muscle his way through the middle, attempting to exploit the threaded passes of the quicksilver pair of Suárez and Bellamy, but Fulham stood firm.
The England striker, whose £35 million fee drew occasional ridicule from the terrace wags, still managed to conjure up moments of hope before the break, including a shot that Schwarzer dealt with well. Adam also tested the Australian’s reflexes.
As so often with Liverpool this year, much of their most threatening work flowed from the quick feet and mind of Suárez. If he fell to the floor too often for local tastes, the Uruguayan still took the frozen breath away with some of his passing. Fulham managed some moments to warm their fans on a cold night.
Mousa Dembélé, playing just off Bobby Zamora and occasionally drifting wide, was catching the eye with some of his runs, and bringing a good save from Reina. The Spaniard also had to deal with a couple of efforts from Dempsey.
Dempsey lost his temper with Bellamy early in the second half, reacting angrily to the Welshman’s challenge. It was hardly the most aggressive of tackles, yet Dempsey pushed his face alarmingly close to Bellamy’s, never the safest of actions. Kevin Friend, who had attempted to let the game flow, brought the pair together for peace talks. Friend booked both foes.
Like the on-field temperature, the tempo was rising too. Adam swung in a corner that Schwarzer punched out. The ball fell to José Enrique, who met it with that trusty left foot, demanding a strong reaction save from Schwarzer. The noise grew, soon dissolving into chants of “cheat, cheat” from the Fulham fans when Suárez took the long way round Hangeland, and fell as John Arne Riise arrived. The striker looked bemused as he sat on the Thameside tundra, beseeching the linesman for a penalty. No joy.
A good game was breaking out, Fulham contributing in full measure, attacking the Hammersmith End with gusto. Riise was lively down the left against his old team.
Zamora fashioned an opening, but was denied by a superb block from Daniel Agger.
Back came Liverpool, storming down the Putney End, Adam leading the charge. Patently brought down in cynical style by Philippe Senderos, Adam fell inside the area but Friend ruled the offence just outside.
It looked on the 18-yard line and Liverpool had reason to feel aggrieved at not winning a penalty. Their frustration deepened when Bellamy’s free-kick crashed into the wall.
Controversy then ensued. Spearing went in on Dembélé, winning the ball but following through and catching the striker. Friend deemed the challenge reckless and had no hesitation in brandishing the red card. Liverpool were incensed, Bellamy leading the protests. Yet the game should soon have been 10 versus 10.
Senderos, already cautioned for bringing down Adam, then clearly pulled back Carroll. Friend failed to spot the offence. Fulham were attempting to make their numerical advantage count.
Stewart Downing gave Liverpool brief hope, bending a strike on to the Fulham post, before the hosts eventually took the lead. Murphy gave his old team real problems down the left, cutting inside Glen Johnson and letting fly. Reina failed to hold the ball and there was Dempsey playing the poacher form close range.
Liverpool refused to go quietly. Adam again raced forward, attempting to drag Liverpool level but Fulham’s backline would not yield. They almost stole a second with a late counter but Andrew Johnson fired wide. Still Liverpool refused to surrender and Schwarzer needed to resist a late bombardment before the final whistle drew a huge roar from the Fulham fans. Jol held his arms aloft.
Asked for his thoughts of the 'cheat' taunts directed at Suarez, Dalglish said: "Scandalous. I would like to see you write that in the paper because you would be in a bit of trouble as well. You write what you want to write.
"At the end of the day, we will look after Luis the best we can and I think it is about time he got a wee bit of protection from some people.