History was made at Anfield and it was a slice that drew fierce condemnation of Liverpool from Kenny Dalglish as Fulham recorded their first ever league win on Merseyside at the 49th attempt. This was no way to prepare for an FA Cup final. The only consolation for Liverpool is that this team will not be appearing in it.
Dalglish invited several fringe players to push their claims to face Chelsea at Wembley on Saturday. They declined en masse, producing the lowlight of an already dismal home campaign and allowing Fulham, with the manager Martin Jol absent because of a chest infection and the assistant Billy McKinlay in temporary charge, to take three points for the first time on Merseyside soil. Their return from 48 previous trips to Anfield and Goodison Park read 37 defeats and 11 draws. The end of that dismal sequence should have been much more emphatic.
"The attitude wasn't right," the Liverpool manager said. "If you're going to go into games with a bad attitude, you will get nothing from the game – and that's what we got. A bad attitude leads to a bad performance. I am culpable too, because I gave people an opportunity to put themselves in the frame for Saturday. I suppose that was a contributory factor." Dalglish delivered a similar rebuke after the league defeat at Bolton that preceded wins in the Carling Cup and FA Cup against Manchester City and United.
In terms of selection, performance and atmosphere, Liverpool could not have appeared more in Cup final mode had Dalglish selected Craig Johnston to perform the "Anfield Rap" in the centre circle. Only Jonjo Shelvey and Jordan Henderson remained from the side that defeated Norwich City on Saturday as the Liverpool manager's protection policy ahead of the FA Cup final extended as far as the goalkeeper José Reina. The Spaniard's replacement, Doni, was the Liverpool sponsor's man of the match. At the opposite end Mark Schwarzer was rarely troubled.
Fulham were smarting from a comprehensive 4-0 defeat at Everton four days previously but, with Clint Dempsey dominant from the start, they evidently knew this was their chance to redress their Merseyside form. They prospered from their first meaningful attack when Dempsey broke through Liverpool's weak central midfield and found John Arne Riise lurking in his old position down the flank at Anfield. His low cross found Alex Kacaniklic unmarked in front of goal and, though a slice followed from the former Liverpool trainee, – exchanged as part of the deal that brought Paul Konchesky to Anfield under Roy Hodgson – the ball struck Martin Skrtel and deflected beyond the wrong-footed Doni.
There was hardly a sound inside Anfield as Fulham celebrated but groans ultimately filled the stadium in recognition of an anaemic Liverpool display littered with misplaced passes. A response belatedly arrived when the supply improved to Andy Carroll but Schwarzer was equal to one powerful header from the centre-forward and got a touch to a Shelvey shot, thus enabling Brede Hangeland to clear off the line.
Fulham remained vibrant on the counterattack and Doni prevented Pavel Pogrebnyak, Damien Duff, Riise and Dempsey twice from doubling their advantage. A superb covering tackle by Hangeland denied Maxi Rodríguez an equaliser once he broke clear of Aaron Hughes but that was a rare moment of promise from a subdued Liverpool side. Only the introduction of the 17-year-old Raheem Sterling offered Anfield cause for optimism but overall this was a display to forget. Dalglish said: "This will not affect Saturday in any way but that doesn't mean it's right to go about your work in that way."