Thrashing the league leaders back at Anfield is one thing, but prevailing on occasions such as this injects proper conviction into Liverpool's increasingly persuasive title challenge. This was a splutter of a performance in so many ways, the visitors twice gifting a lead to opponents with more troubling priorities, yet it still yielded dramatic victory. The summit is now only four points away, the momentum with those from Merseyside.
There were times when Brendan Rodgers, sheltering from the ferocious wind under the lipped roof of the dugout, might have accepted a point for his team's endeavours. They had trailed twice, undermined by the slapdash efforts of their centre-halves, only to rally and force parity. Then, with 17 seconds to play and Tottenham Hotspur breathing down their necks after a saunter on distant Tyneside, Sascha Riether felled Daniel Sturridge in the area and Liverpool had their opportunity. Steven Gerrard, his own display of strength rarely eclipsed at any point, was never going to fluff his lines at the penalty.
The finish was dispatched emphatically, a dagger plunged brutally into Fulham just as they had spied a second successive draw against heavyweight opposition. The sense of local deflation was palpable at the final whistle while those at the Putney end bellowed in triumph. Liverpool have struggled at times away from home this term, their record the worst of any of the top eight clubs in the division prior to this match with a solitary clean sheet in enemy territory in 12 games, and yet they are a team bursting with attacking intent.
"We know we can go to any ground and get goals," said Rodgers. "That got us the three points tonight rather than our defending … We'd have lost that game in my first four or five months here, but we've built spirit and camaraderie that saw us fight to the very end."
In the giddy context of the finale it should be noted that their first goal, squeezed out four minutes from the interval, had actually been pilfered from a lethargic first-half showing, though, even so, the ruthless quality on show was breathtaking. Ryan Tunnicliffe slipped to the turf and the ball squirted free in the centre-circle, Gerrard conjuring a first-time pass with the outside of his right foot,which zipped between Dan Burn and Johnny Heitinga for Sturridge to collect at pace. His finish was crisp and accurate, flying in off the far post. This was the eighth game in succession in which the England forward had registered, equalling a club record.
They should have swept the hosts aside thereafter, Luis Suárez belting against a post from distance, only to find themselves playing catch-up once more. This time they roused themselves instantly, Philippe Coutinho permitted to drift across the penalty area with his shot flicking from William Kwist to sear beyond Maarten Stekelenburg and into the corner. The goalkeeper was retired soon afterwards having been caught inadvertently by Suárez, a bruise already swelling up under his right eye, though the replacement, David Stockdale, could do little to prevent Gerrard's penalty at the death.
René Meulensteen must remind his players how well they performed here before succumbing at the last. For long periods in the first half they subjected the visitors to everything Liverpool usually impose upon rivals, swarming over dithering opponents and denying them space and time in which to revel. Their feverish pressing was instigated by the excellent Lewis Holtby and down the entire spine, forcing the visitors into over-hitting passes or allowing the ball to dribble infuriatingly out of play. The Fulham owner, Shahid Khan, was fresh out of three days of meetings with the chief executive Alistair Mackintosh in which the prospects for next season must have been discussed, and must have been hugely encouraged.
They might have led through Tunnicliffe after 43 seconds, but did when Kieran Richardson fizzed a centre along the six-yard box and Kolo Touré's composure deserted him. The veteran swung his right boot at the cross only to slice it beyond a startled Simon Mignolet, the centre-half's display rather panicked from that moment on.
Martin Skrtel was culpable for the second, stretching out a limb to deal with Riether's cross and succeeding only in laying it off perfectly for Richardson to thump home from close range.
The home side created other opportunities, with Daniel Agger flung on in stoppage time to head clear three times. Had Kostas Mitroglou been fit and available – the £11m striker had scored for the development squad against Aston Villa earlier in the day – then they might have had the bite to puncture Liverpool's optimism.
"At least you can see the improvement," added Meulensteen. "We deserved a point, we played well and were well-organised. But, in the end, it wasn't to be."
The same did not apply to Liverpool.