Liverpool cruised past Fulham courtesy of goals from Jermaine Pennant and Peter Crouch, almost confirming Champions League football next season and sending them into Tuesday’s Champions League semi final in a buoyant mood.
Rafa Benitez opted, as expected, to rest most of his first team squad with Crouch partnering Andriy Voronin up front, with Lucas, Riise, Finnan, Pennant and Benayoun coming into the team.
BBC Sport Report
Jermaine Pennant and Peter Crouch got the goals that saw Liverpool put a major dent in Fulham’s survival hopes.
Pennant gave Liverpool the lead against the run of play when he was put through by Leiva Lucas and he took Kasey Keller by surprise with a powerful early shot.
He then turned provider to set up Crouch to score with a low drive.
Fulham were restricted to mostly half chances, with midfielder Danny Murphy going closest with a shot denied by Pepe Reina’s legs.
Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez caused a storm a year ago by naming a weakened side that lost at Craven Cottage and went a long way to keeping Fulham in the top flight. With a Champions League semi-final again occupying he named eight changes to his side.
And after 10 minutes he looked like he might be headed for the wrath of more relegation strugglers as his new-look side were second best.
But Fulham were unable to carve out a goalscoring chance and their mini-spell of dominance was pegged back by Pennant’s growing influence.
He produced an inch-perfect cross for Peter Crouch to stoop and head just off target before he broke the deadlock with a goal created by Andriy Voronin and Lucas.
Lucas played the final ball through to Pennant, who shot powerfully from the edge of the area and Keller could only watch it fly into the net.
Fulham had chances before half-time to level but Brede Hangeland headed past the post and Brian McBride fluffed his volley from a punt forward by Keller.
At the other end Liverpool could and should have added to their advantage as their new-look side started to find each other’s feet with some crisp passing moves.
The lively Pennant was frequently involved and he crossed for John Arne Riise only to see his effort cleared by Paul Stalteri with Keller stranded.
There were further chances for Voronin and Yossi Benayoun and it was looking only a matter of time before Liverpool had the points sewn up.
Clint Dempsey, who got the winner in the controversial fixture last season, almost upset the apple cart when he twice went close with headers but he lacked direction on both occasions.
Liverpool earned some breathing space with a second goal with 20 minutes remaining.
Fittingly it was created by Pennant, who slipped the ball in for Crouch to run onto.
The big striker was given time and space to fire in a low shot, but even then Keller should have perhaps done better than deflect the ball in off his legs and into the net.
Danny Murphy could have caused his old club some difficult moments but his shot was kept out by a smart block by Reina.
Fulham kept plugging away until the bitter end with Dempsey seeing an effort deflected just past the post in injury-time.
But Liverpool’s biggest worries were keeping their players fit for the game against Chelsea, with Sami Hyppia withdrawn at half-time with a head injury and Javier Mascherano hobbling off.
Fulham: Keller, Stalteri, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky, Davies, Bullard, Murphy, Dempsey, Healy, McBride. Subs: Warner, Bocanegra, Kamara, Nevland, Andreasen.
Liverpool: Reina, Finnan, Skrtel, Hyypia, Riise, Pennant, Lucas, Mascherano, Benayoun, Voronin, Crouch. Subs: Itandje, Torres, Aurelio, Alonso, Carragher.
Referee: Martin Atkinson (W Yorkshire)