There was no shortage of footballing ability in the Anfield dug-outs on Wednesday evening. Kenny Dalglish and Mark Hughes – both supremely gifted and talented players in their day, who have since gone on to make a name for themselves in management (with varying levels of success ) – would no doubt have elegantly graced this match in a bygone era.
Hughes even proved that he has not lost his touch despite the passing years. The Fulham boss demonstrating his skills when the ball came to him in the technical area, midway through the second half. Much to the delight of his opposite number and amusement of the home crowd.
The skill and ability present in the dug-outs was rarely matched on the pitch, though, on an often scrappy, trudged evening at Anfield.
This was arguably Liverpool’s poorest all-round performance to date under Dalglish’s second stint in charge of the club. However, it may also arguably turn out to be a very significant one.
A second half own-goal from – pantomime villain for the evening – John Pantsil was enough to secure a narrow 1-0 win for the hosts. More significantly, the Reds have now claimed 6 points from 6 available, back-to-back victories for only the second time this season, and successive clean sheets for the first time since early September.
There was certainly a degree of good fortune about this victory. Even Dalglish acknowledged that the visitors from West London will probably have felt somewhat hard done by at full-time.
Perhaps a change of fortune is a good sign, though. So often this season luck has seemed against Liverpool. Grinding out a win despite a less than satisfactory performance should, no doubt, be viewed in a positive light.
Liverpool began the game brightly, taking initiative to a Fulham side languishing just above the relegation places. The Reds – with captain Steven Gerrard returning alongside Christian Poulsen in midlfield – kept the ball well and played some pleasing football in the opening 20 minutes. Before fading noticeably thereafter and ultimately forced to cling on to slender advantage late on, with the Cottagers sensing an equaliser.
Liverpool almost got off to the perfect start. Raul Meireles sliding a well-timed through-ball to Fernando Torres. Torres got beyond the Fulham defence, controlled and finished beyond David Stockdale.
However, after the frenzied media focus of recent days, there should have been little surprise that it was an assistant referee’s flag at the centre of attention again. Mike McDonough flagged for offside. Although replies proved that Torres was marginally onside and the opening goal should have stood.
If on that occasion the Reds were unlucky; lady luck was to fair more in Liverpool’s favour as the game progressed. At this point the Reds were undoubtedly the dominant presence in
the match. The imprint of Dalglish’s preferred style of play has been increasingly visible over recent games – if inconsistently. And that passing fluid style was evident in the opening quarter. As Liverpool moved the ball around well and created a few openings.
Certain plays have clearly benefited from the arrival of Dalglish and this adaptation in style. Torres in one – although he was not at his best here. Meireles has flourished recently; and, again operating behind Torres, he was instrumental in much that was good from Liverpool.
Danish duo Christian Poulsen and Daniel Agger have also clearly improved under the new manager. And Martin Kelly is another to have undoubtedly profited from the return of Dalglish. The young right-back is impressing during a sustained run in the team.
Another of his marauding runs down the flank resulted in an excellent cross to Meireles. And the Portuguese international’s header seemed destined to find the corner, only for a superb save from Stockdale.
Gerrard and Glen Johnson both forced Stockdale into decent saves soon after. Yet, the home side failed to make their early promise count. And gradually their influence waned. The Reds lacked an intensity to their play and too often defended too deep. Torres lacking sufficient supply and support more often than not. And the Reds became increasingly disjointed.
Fulham were afforded too much possession and time on the ball for large portions of the game. Although, Hughes side rarely looked to have the cutting edge to threaten the home defence.
The Reds did have one scare in the first half, however. A rare error from Kelly gifted the ball to Clint Dempsey. But the American’s shot was parried by Pepe Reina. Andrew Johnson then pulled the ball back to Moussa Dembele but the forward could only shoot straight at the ‘keeper when excellently placed to open the scoring.
The second half was played out in much the same muted, scrappy fashion. However, Liverpool got what ultimately proved to be the winning goal on 52 minutes.
Torres’s driven shot from the right was deflected onto the post by Brede Hangeland. But, from the goal line scrambe which ensued, Pantsil eventually sliced the ball into his own goal under pressure from Meireles.
With Liverpool far from their best, their play became increasingly nervous and they defended deeper as the match drew to an end. Seeking to see out the game rather than press for a second.
Fulham were kept at bay for the most part. However there were a few nervy moments for an anxious home crowd. Dempsey’s flicked volley from Pantsil’s cross had to be saved by Reina. Whilst Meireles was forced to clear Hangeland’s late header off the line, with the Spaniard beaten. And Dembele’s effort from Dempsey’s header was also well saved by Reina. But Liverpool just about hung on for victory.
Certainly a far greater sense of relief than satisfaction in the stands at the final whistle. And, I am sure, likewise on the pitch. But back-to-back victories secured nonetheless, as the Reds continue their steady upward progress under Dalglish’s tenure.
The focus now turns to the transfer market. With only a matter of days remaining before the window closes, Liverpool will be hoping that there will be at least one new face available to the manager come the next match, against Stoke City next Wednesday. And in the process provide the fans with a further boost and a further show of intent to all.
Man of the Match
Has grown into an increasingly influential presence over recent games. Appears to have adapted better to the English game and had another decent game here.