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Fulham 2, Liverpool 3: Ugly, But We'll Take It

Liverpool left it for the dying moments of the match, but they leave London with another three points in the bag.

Oh captain, my captain.
Oh captain, my captain.
Mike Hewitt

A flat first half and a wildly stressful second half gave way to a late Gerrard penalty winner, and Liverpool leave London with three crucial points. The performance wasn't exactly pretty, but they got the job done and at the end of the season, that's all that's going to matter.

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Fulham 2 Toure (og) 8', Richardson 63'
Liverpool 3 Sturridge 41', Coutinho 72', Gerrard (pen) 90+1'

As well as Liverpool have started in recent games is about as poorly as they started today. Fulham applied the bulk of the early pressure, with a series of set pieces and free runners causing horribly nervy moments in front of goal. In the 8th minute, disaster struck as Kolo Toure lost his balance while trying to clear a ball away, and shanked his clearance straight past a stunned Simon Mignolet and in to the back of the net for an own goal.

It was a truly unfortunate moment for Toure, but it was a harbinger of things to come from Liverpool. They played largely uninspiring football and looked completely unlikely to break down Fulham's defense. Liverpool had more possession, but Fulham looked dangerous almost every time they went forward on the counter. They also earned themselves several corners, which are terrifying enough for Liverpool to defend, and made much worse by the 6'7" Dan Burn being on the pitch.

There was a moment of controversy when Steve Sidwell clattered Luis Suarez with a high and late tackle that appeared to be worthy of a red card. Phil Dowd thought otherwise, however, and didn't even whistle it as a foul despite looking right at it. That's the second such incident against Suarez that he's let slide this season, after Kevin Mirallas left cleat marks near Suarez's knee in the first tilt of the Merseyside Derby a few months ago.

Liverpool would get the last laugh of the half, however. Steven Gerrard uncorked one of his classic deep balls over the top that Daniel Sturridge was able to latch on to. Sturridge had largely been quiet and ineffective in the match, but finally presented with a good chance, he decided to make the most of it. A little shimmy saw him free and clear, and a simple finish was all he needed to send the ball past a flailing Maarten Stekelenburg to equalize in the 41st minute.

The second half quickly became the Luis Suarez Show, as the Uruguayan took the match by the scruff of the neck and didn't let go. Liverpool finally ramped up the pressure on Fulham, and everything went through Suarez, who was all over the place and generally made Fulham's defenders look rather foolish. He was insanely lucky not to have at least two goals to his name by the 60th minute, or at least a couple of assists. His efforts included a post-snapping shot for the second match in a row. Stupid voodoo trickery.

The momentum was firmly curb-stomped shortly afterwards, however, as another bout of calamitous defending struck Liverpool's central defenders. Martin Skrtel was to blame this time, practically handing Kieran Richardson the ball close to goal for the finish. Some felt that Mignolet should have done more to come off his line and collect the ball, but he also has to have faith in his defender in that kind of position. Unfortunately, like with the opener, his defender let him down in horrifying fashion.

Fortunately, Liverpool wouldn't have to wait long for another equalizer. Philippe Coutinho was fed by Sturridge near the top of the box on the right side of goal, dribbled along the edge of the box, and unleashed a shot that had Stekelenburg reacting late to give the Brazilian his third goal of the season.

The mood would go quite somber soon after. While trying to slide on to a through ball near the goal, Suarez collided with a diving Stekelenburg, hitting the goalkeeper in the face with his knee and foot. There was no intent at all; Suarez was watching the ball and didn't see the Dutchman until it was too late, and showed a lot of obvious concern right away. Stekelenburg would have to come off, sporting a black eye and a dazed look that clearly suggested a possible concussion.

The next twenty moments were frenetic, but frustratingly unproductive for Liverpool. Joao Teixeira was handed his debut, coming on for Raheem Sterling late on. Coutinho had another shot whizz just wide of the post. Sturridge arrived in the box a moment too late for one chance, and a terrible foul decision by Dowd denied him another opportunity. Then, just before the 90th minute, Sturridge was felled in the box and a penalty was awarded, allowing Gerrard to step up and hammer home the winner.

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A win is a win is a win, and full credit to Brendan Rodgers and company for fighting back twice to grab all three points. But given the nature of Fulham's goals and the flat first half performance, it's hard not to be left a little frustrated at today's match. Even though it was an away match, you'd want to see a better all-around performance against against the 20th placed side in the table.

By the same token, though, this is the kind of match that title contenders have to win. Being able to go down, twice, on the road, and still fight back to take the three points is a huge statement, especially in a week that saw literally every other contender drop points. Liverpool are still fourth, but are now just four points off Chelsea for first place. There's still a lot of season left to go, but... man. Wouldn't it be nice?

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