Jay Spearing replaced Lucas Leiva in Liverpool's line-up and his second-half red card turned the game in Fulham's favour
Those who got here earlier than I did were rewarded with this excerpt from Andy Hunter's match preview. You can still enjoy it too, if you'd like.
Liverpool produced arguably their best away performance since Dalglish 's return at Craven Cottage last season, a 5-2 win that included a hat-trick for Maxi Rodríguez. The Argentina international also scored in the recent Premier League and Carling Cup wins at Chelsea but has frequently been overlooked for a starting role this season.
"I'm tempted to play Maxi in every game. He has a fantastic recent goalscoring record," Dalglish said. "He is an intelligent footballer and he must have been some player five years ago when he was in his prime. He might be getting a bit towards my age now [Rodríguez is 30] but he is still a clever, intelligent footballer. He knows how to play and he knows how to finish. He's just an intelligent footballer who understands the game on and off the pitch. The same as everybody should do. The squad is more important than the individual."
Preamble: Sure, Liverpool won 5-2 here last season but the Reds have lost three of their last six matches at Craven Cottage. Sure, they've won 11 of their 20 Premier League games against Fulham and lost only four, but they've also just seen Lucas Leiva ruled out for the season, so they're feeling a little bit glum. Sure, Liverpool have won 83% of their last six Monday night games, but – other than nine Premier League places – is there really such a big difference between them and their rivals for the three points tonight? Fulham, after all, have scored almost as many goals as their opponents (15 v 17, so less than 12% fewer) and conceded not a ridiculous amount more (16 v 12, a difference of 33%). Their ability to score and to avoid conceding is, on average, 22.5% worse than the Reds – yet they have accumulated a whopping 48% fewer points (12 v 23). Man, statistics are so unfair.
Anyway, replacing Lucas tonight is Jay Spearing, who played a stormer in that 5-2 win last season. And I've got the Liverpool team already and it looks like this: Reina, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique, Henderson, Spearing, Adam, Bellamy, Carroll, Suárez. Subs: Doni, Maxi, Coates, Kuyt, Downing, Carragher, Kelly.
I haven't got the Fulham team yet. Sorry.
Fulham's team in full: Schwarzer, Kelly, Hangeland, Senderos, Riise, Dempsey, Murphy, Etuhu, Ruiz, Dembele, Zamora. Subs: Etheridge, Johnson, Kasami, Gecov, Hughes, Frei, Briggs.
Sky are yet to turn their attention to tonight's game, and in the mean time Gary Neville is analysing the weekend Premier League games at some length. I have to say, I'm quite enjoying it.
this (courtesy of The Independent's Sam Wallace) is a clanger, isn't it? (For those reading this on slow phones or who don't like links, the Fulham programme has headlined an interview with their former Liverpool full-back "RIISE'S REUNINON".)Spelling mistake of the day: this may be a bit rich, coming as it does from the website of a newspaper whose constant misprints earned it the nickname "The Grauniad", but
The teams are out! Action imminent here.
"Jay Spearing has been on the losing side in each of the last three Premier League matches he has played for Liverpool," reports @InfostradaLive on Twitter, as the Fulham crowd enthusiastically embrace the concept of a minute's applause in memory of Gary Speed.
1 min: Peeeep! They're off!
1 min: "It's a cold night but I'm sure we've got enough talent on show to really warm us up this evening," expertanalyses Ray Wilkins on Sky. He also tells us that Liverpool are, as most people expected, 4-3-3 with Bellamy (left) and Suárez playing off Carroll.
4 mins: As Holly McGuire helpfully reminds me, when Kenny Dalglish (as he did in previewing this match) says that Maxi Rodriguez "must have been some player five years ago when he was in his prime", he forgets this incontrovertible evidence that he was, indeed, some player.
6 mins: Liverpool have so far played two balls ahead of Andy Carroll (which might have worked if Bellamy was the target), and one high ball that flew over Suárez's head (which might have worked if Carroll was the target).
6 mins: CHANCE! A fine run from Dembele and a smart pass from Ruíz finds the former haring clean through, bang central. A great chance, but Reina is out quickly to block the first-time shot. Me might, as Wilkins points out, have been better off trying to go round the keeper. Liverpool run up the other end, where Adam's volley from Bellamy's cross is deflected over the bar.
8 mins: CHANCE! Lovely move from the visitors, Adam playing a pass inside the full-back to find Suárez in space, and Carroll meeting his pull-back with a blockbuster shot which flew straight at the keeper. Anywhere else and he wouldn't have had time to move, but to be fair the cross was too far in front of Carroll.
10 mins: "Surely that should be "RIISE'S REUNIION" in deference to the superfluously-vowelled, diving-header-tastic, leg-breaking ginger Norwegian?" offers Ben Stanley. In Riise's world you can play fast and loose with the vowels, but don't mess with those consonants.
13 mins: A long spell of Liverpool pressure ends with Charlie Adam's deflected 20-yard shot being collected by Schwarzer at the near post.
14 mins: Luis Suárez produces one of his less enlightened clever finishes, an outside-of-the-right-boot volley from perhaps 10 yards which just sends the ball looping up into the air. "Is this match tough to watch for other American Liverpool fans?" asks Shea Owens. "There's something about hoping Clint Dempsey doesn't produce that just feels unpatriotic." I don't know, there are loads of English players who I'm perfectly happy to dislike.
16 mins: Then Suárez ignores a decently-placed Carroll, lurking inside the penalty area, to instead shoot ludicrously high and hideously wide from 25 yards.
17 mins: Reina is in action again and it's the same Fulham player who's responsible, Dembele shooting low and hard from 20 yards, out on the left side of the penalty area. A decent shot, but a routine save.
18 mins: It did look like Dembele controlled the ball with his arm before that effort. This game's rattling on at a ludicrous pace. A couple of half-chances for Fulham in the last minute, one set up by Charlie Adam's ill-advised back-header, the other a pretty decent snap volley by Dempsey. On both occasions Reina had to be alert.
22 mins: Suárez makes Kelly fall over and look a bit silly, before spraying a 50-yard pass into the penalty area which misses Bellamy's boot by inches.
25 mins: Fulham are pressuring Liverpool pretty well, forcing them to pass backwards and sideways or, when they finally lose patience with that kind of nonsense, lose the ball. We've had a calmer couple of minutes as a result.
27 mins: "As an American LFC supporter, I hope Dempsey's feet fall off during the interval," replies Robert Smith in response to Shea Owens (14mins). "With it being so old, I have oft imagined the Cottage's boot room to be riddled with lurking gangrenous agents. Fingers crossed, I suppose. Plus Shea: he's playing for the other insert-expletive-ending-in-ing team."
28 mins: Liverpool hit the post! And it's Henderson, who's looked quite good thus far, who prods the ball goalwards from the edge of the area. Schwarzer's never getting near it, but the ball looks to be heading wide, then it curls ever so slightly goalwards, hits the post, looks like it's going to roll in but then goes across the goal and out to safety.
30 mins: "Liverpool have now hit the woodwork 11 times in the Premier League this season; more than any other side," reports @OptaJoe on Twitter.
32 mins: Suárez has spent the last couple of minutes concentrating on trying to win free-kicks, with no success. As a result of this, Fulham's fans are now booing his every touch.
33 mins: They may have a lot of booing to do. Suárez gets into the penalty area, roars to the byline, and his pull-back is mis-kicked by Carroll, who even if he had sent the ball goalwards would only have hit a flying Hangeland anyway.
36 mins: Hostage to fortune dept: Packed as it is with misjudged midfield prods and pokes, it is inconceivable that this match will finish goalless.
38 mins: Dempsey shoots from 22 yards, the ball taking a very slight deflection before making a sudden late move towards the centre of the goal. Reina can only shovel the ball away. Then Suárez is given a warning by the referee, presumably for excessive "simulation".
40 mins: Brian Cox reminds me that Liverpool are not only this season's top woodwork-hitters, but they also held that title at the end of the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons. That's a whole lot of bad luck.
42 mins: "I agree with Shea Owens," offers Suzy McAnanama. "There aren't a lot of Americans playing in European leagues, especially not in the Premier League. Dempsey is our token non-goalkeeper (as McBride was before him, and Reyna before him), which just makes it seem so dirty not to support him when Liverpool are playing Fulham." But still, you're happy to force yourself.
44 mins: That early Dembele chance aside, I can't remember Fulham having the ball inside Liverpool's penalty area. They have had quite a few shots from distance, mind, courtesy of Dembele – who's just been booked for kicking the ball away after fouling Suárez – and Dempsey.
45+1 mins: Dempsey sends yet another shot goalwards, this time an opportunistic looping 40-yarder that floats harmlessly wide, and with that and a lengthy peeeeeeep from the referee, the half is over.
Half-time thoughts: A decent game, but could be better. Liverpool have allowed Fulham too much time and space between 30 and 20 yards from their goal, in central positions. I guess that's the area that Lucas normally patrols. Liverpool might profit from getting Suárez into more central positions, but Fulham have defended pretty well. Either side could win this.
46 mins: Peeeep! We're off! Again!
46 mins: And yes, I know that hitting the post is a sign of poor marksmanship as much as poor fortune. But still, to be top post-hitters in (at least) 2.5 out of 3.5 seasons, that's gotta hurt. "What the LFC hitting the bar statistics really points out," says JP in Toronto, "is a lot of long-range shooting and not enough fox-in-the-box goals or tap-ins. Years of only one Red shirt in the box is what has hurt us goal-wise."
48 mins: A bit of a pause now as Dempsey and Bellamy are told off for snarling at each other a bit. Both are booked. I can't see what the Welshman did to deserve that, and Bellamy could well have gone down as Dempsey pushed his forehead angrily against his own and earned the American a red card. Which would have disturbed/delighted some of our US-based readers.
52 mins: A Liverpool corner, which Carroll heads at Skrtel, who controls the ball and then rolls it, well, nowhere near anyone. A more precise pass would have given Carroll a great chance. "Could Brian Cox (40 mins) please stop using the CERN supercomputers to look up obscure woodwork hitting stats and get back to solving the secrets of the universe?" pleads Phil Sawyer. "Those Higgs Bosons aren't going to discover themselves."
53 mins: A third corner in quick succession is punched clear by Schwarzer and volleyed back at goal by Enriqué, forcing a decent save.
55 mins: Suárez goes down in the penalty area, handles the ball, realises he won't get a penalty, kicks it goalwards, and is deafened by a shower of boos from furious Fulham fans narked at his dramatic ways. The referee gives a free-kick for the handball.
59 mins: Dembele gets to the byline and pulls the ball back, Zamora's shot is charged down. Liverpool's defence briefly opened up there.
59 mins: Liverpool break, and have four against three for a while. Charlie Adam tries to run into the area, and Senderos takes him down. It's a free-kick, just. Six inches away from a penalty.
60 mins: Bellamy takes the free-kick. An excellent chance, if he could have got it over the wall and down the other side, Schwarzer would have had little chance. Instead he tries to blast it at Schwarzer's side of the goal, and hits the wall anyway. A disappointment.
62 mins: Down the other end, Kevin Friend gives Fulham a free-kick for little obvious reason. Murphy and Ruíz try something off the training ground. It doesn't work.
63 mins: Lovely ball from Johnson finds Bellamy in the penalty area. He's to the right of goal, and doesn't feel he's got time to check where the goal is before taking his shot, so he guesses. Badly.
65 mins: Back down the other end, and Kelly's excellent cross is headed off Ruíz's forehead by Skrtel. This is all very well, all this running about from one end to the other, but the game needs a goal now.
66 mins: Goal disallowed! Enriqué's chipped pass finds Suárez in the penalty area, an excellent run and a great pass. It's a very close call. Suárez lifts the ball over the onrushing Schwarzer and volleys into the net, but it's all for nought.
69 mins: They've hit the post, they've had a decent penalty shout, and now they've had a goal disallowed after a marginal offside decision went against them. Could this be another one of those days for Liverpool?
72 mins: RED CARD! Jay Spearing has been sent off!
72 mins: It looked like a pretty good blood-and-thunder challenge. Spearing got the ball, very emphatically, but then followed through with both feet, carried by momentum rather than maliciousness. A hard challenge, to be sure, but a red card? Really?
74 mins: But then, I particularly like those challenges, the absolutely fair but undeniably painful sort.
75 mins: Just before Spearing's red card, Fulham had replaced Bobby Zamora with Andrew Johnson.
77 mins: Liverpool substitutions: Andy Carroll and Craig Bellamy come off, Stewart Downing and Dirk Kuyt come on.
80 mins: Liverpool leading 10-1 on corners. The latest is no more productive than the other nine.
81 mins: Fulham hit the bar! A lovely backheel from Dembele to Ruíz, who passes to Dempsey. He jinks inside his marker and curls a shot that beats Reina but rebounds back into play.
81 mins: Great chance for Fulham! Riise crosses low from the left, Dembele has time to compose himself but shoots straight at Reina. Anywhere else and the keeper would have had no chance. Very much like Carroll's early effort (8mins).
83 mins: "'Andy Carroll comes off?' One match in ten, he will," quips Gary Naylor.
84 mins: Ooooooh! Dembele, who really is a very promising young footballer, checks inside Adam on the halfway line, carries the ball to the edge of the penalty area and then shoots left-footed, just past the post.
85 mins: Liverpool hit the post! Downing this time with a shot from 20 yards which looks to be heading into the top corner before Schwarzer flicks out a glove and fingertips the ball onto the post.
85 mins: GOAL! Fulham 1 Liverpool 0! (Dempsey, 85 mins)
85 mins: Danny Murphy brings the ball inside Johnson and shoots low from the edge of the penalty area. Reina can't hold it, but doesn't do anything else with it either and when the ball drops two yards from goal, Dempsey reacts first to turn the ball into the empty net. Johnson and Reina should both be a bit embarrassed about that.
87 mins: How things might have been different if Bellamy had done a bit of play-acting when Dempsey confronted him at the start of this half and got the American sent off. While he should be applauded for not doing so, I think the majority of Premier League players would have taken that opportunity.
88 mins: Oooooh! Downing slides the ball across the edge of the penalty area and Adam arrives to thunder the ball maybe a yard wide.
90 mins: Various Americans feeling happy/angry/conflicted currently. "And now I'll agree with the other American LFC fan," writes Shea Owens, who started this all off, "I wish Dempsey's feet had fallen off in the boot room."
90 mins: We'll have three minutes of stoppage time. Liverpool pressing.
92 mins: Liverpool haven't done any pressing since I last said they were pressing.
92 mins: But then Suárez wins a free-kick at the edge of the penalty area, 40 seconds to play.
90+3 mins: Danny Murphy is being helped off the pitch, limping heavily. Not sure what happened to him, to be honest. Marcel Gecov replaces him.
90+5 mins: Suárez takes the free-kick into the wall, and Fulham eventually clear. Johnson runs the ball down the other end and then shoots wildly. Surely that's it.
90+5 mins: Downing crosses from the right, Schwarzer comes but doesn't get anywhere near the ball and, with the goal gaping ... Fulham win the header.
90+6 mins: And now it actually is all over.
Final thoughts: Liverpool will be mighty grumpy about that. I don't think that the referee made any terrible decisions, but he did make several that could have gone the other way. He might have sent off Dempsey at the start of the second half, for pushing his forehead into Bellamy's in a pretty aggressive manner. Suárez's "goal" might have been allowed to stand. He might have decided that Senderos's foul on Adam took place just inside the penalty area. Senderos could have been sent off, had he got a second yellow card for pulling back Carroll, as Gary Neville insists he should. Spearing could have been allowed to play on. Liverpool would have won 4-0, and everything in Dalglishland would have been extremely rosy.
That, clearly, is not how it happened. Nor would it have been what Fulham deserved. It was a very close game, and the home side had a few players, particularly Dembele, who played excellently throughout. but as ever it's a disappointment when the one participant whose performance ultimately proves decisive is a referee.