Steven Gerrard, for all that he played a glorious, transcendent, otherworldly pass to Daniel Sturridge, and for all that his poise when converting a stoppage time penalty was the stuff of legends, couldn't be bothered with his responsibilities as a holding midfielder for long stretches in the second half. The resulting void in the centre of the pitch was a disaster waiting to happen, even if a Fulham side largely focused on hanging on was unable to capitalise.
Philippe Coutinho's passing was often off the mark. Raheem Sterling looked largely ineffective when faced with an opponent sitting deep, the winger too often circling indecisively with the ball at his feet, unsure of where to go when the option of going forward was taken away. Both before and after his goal, Daniel Sturridge had wrapped himself in a cloak of invisibility. Jon Flanagan was less Scouse Cafu and more the Jon Flanagan of past seasons.
It was, in many ways, exactly the kind of performance one would expect to see if told Liverpool played ninety minutes against the worst side in the Premier League and managed to find themselves on level terms. It was, to reach for a terribly overused cliche, the sort of match Liverpool wouldn't have won in the past. It's the sort of match they didn't win against West Brom and Aston Villa. And it's the sort of match a side with even the most unlikely title aspirations simply has to win.
"I don't think we defended well enough but we showed plenty of guts and we never gave up," said Gerrard following the match. "Coming away on a Wednesday night, windy, on a difficult pitch, away to Fulham is a big test for the team. We've passed it but we still have to learn from our mistakes and defend better on the road if we're to finish in the top four places. We're in the mix. It's still early days, there's a lot of football to be played, and we're not going to get carried away, but we are in good form."
Unlike against West Brom and Aston Villa, and unlike in so many matches in recent years, this time Liverpool passed the test. This time, for the first time since perhaps 2008-09's title challenge, there seemed a real belief that despite what for long stretches was a very poor performance—the sort of performance that at times seemed destined to leave fans, players, and the manager all ruing lost points and an opportunity missed—a winning goal was coming. That a winning goal had to come.
That this time it did, and that this time the belief that it would seemed there in abundance, doesn't wipe away the problems. It doesn't absolve the poor performances or make the empty spaces that were there for the opposition to exploit any less concerning. Trying to fix those problems following three points gained rather than two points lost, though, makes a world of difference. And the growing confidence of this Liverpool side could, over the coming months, make a world of difference.
"It's a great result for us," said Jordan Henderson, as the midfielder sought to focus on many of the same points as his captain. "To go behind twice and come back and get the three points was massive for us. We really showed our character to fight back like that. Even when we were 2-1 down, we still thought we could win the game. We always kept believing that we could win it. We knew there was still time. We kept pressing and thankfully got the goal."
With ten days to go before their next league match and a relatively easy run of fixtures heading into a date with Tottenham at the end of March, this time around Brendan Rodgers and his squad get to build on a match that saw three points gained despite problems and poor performances rather than having to find a way to rebound from two points lost. It's not perfect, but it's still a rather nice position to be in—especially given how rarely Liverpool have been in it over the past few years.