Sunday, November 11, 2007

Liverpool 2-0 Fulham

Fernando Torres came on to inspire Liverpool to victory as Rafa Benitez's men scored twice in the last nine minutes to finally overcome Fulham.
The £25m Spanish striker emerged from the bench with 20 minutes remaining, with Liverpool once again struggling to turn their dominance into goals.
It took Torres just 11 minutes to strike a wonderful opener, collecting keeper Jose Reina's punt and embarking on a powerful run which saw him twist inside Aaron Hughes before beating inspired keeper Antti Niemi with a low shot.
Steven Gerrard sealed victory five minutes from time from the penalty spot after Peter Crouch had been tripped by Carlos Bocanegra - although television replays proved the offence took place marginally outside the box.
Liverpool may have demolished Besiktas by a record Champions League score in midweek, but there was still an element of disbelief around Anfield when it was announced that Benitez had named an unchanged line-up.
It was the first time in 59 games that the Spaniard had decided against tinkering with his team.
That meant Torres once again had to be content with a place on the bench, with Peter Crouch handed his second Premier League start of the season - and his first since September.
Benitez knew that a victory was vital if his team were to regain momentum in the title race after two successive draws.
Despite being unbeaten in the league, the Merseysiders began the evening six points adrift of leaders Arsenal due to the fact that four of their previous five home games this term had ended in stalemate.
Fulham, like their hosts, have built up a reputation as draw specialists, with half of their 12 games ending level.
Last week's win over Reading was only the Londoners' second victory of the campaign.
The game represented an Anfield return for Danny Murphy, the former England midfielder who had arrived at Fulham via Spurs after a medal-laden time with the club of his boyhood dreams.
Murphy was on target with the first shot of the game after just 11 seconds - his drive from 20 yards bringing a comfortable save from Pepe Reina.
Liverpool's response was a drive from Sami Hyypia, which was redirected past his lefthand post by Niemi.
Then, after the contest had become more subdued, Gerrard was angry with himself when he found time and space on the edge of the box only to fire well over.
Murphy seemed to be on a mission to prove to Benitez that selling him was a mistake and he gave Reina an even bigger test when he met Clint Dempsey's knock-down with a volley from 18 yards which the Liverpool keeper was again equal to.
Liverpool's growing frustration was cranked up another notch when Gerrard found Crouch smuggling himself around the back of Hughes, but the Irish defender reacted well to clear the danger as the Reds' striker shaped to shoot.
Then Euro hat-trick hero Yossi Benayoun directed Alvaro Arbeola's cross away from the incoming Gerrard as another chance went begging.
Liverpool continued to fail to make their increasing dominance tell - and they weren't helped when Andriy Voronin's charge on goal from Gerrard's pass was halted by a dubious offside call.
Niemi almost handed the home side a gift when Benayoun's header was deflected high into the air and the Fulham keeper spilled a routine catch before snatching the loose ball off the toes of Crouch. Then Crouch cursed his luck in first-half injury-time when he finally found a way past Niemi with a looping header from Fabio Aurelio's free-kick, but his effort came bouncing back off the crossbar.
Voronin opened the second half by forcing Niemi into a smart save, meeting Crouch's downward header with a volley that brought a smart stop from the Finn.
That was the cue for Liverpool to really crank up the pressure - and the second period was a constant succession of home attacks.
Gerrard did his best to galvanise his men and after robbing Steven Davis in the centre circle he powered forward towards goal only to be halted by Murphy's cynical tackle.
Murphy was booked and Aurelio thought he had exacted more retribution with a curling free-kick that Niemi seemed to misjudge before realigning himself to save.
Voronin was first to the rebound but, under pressure from Dejan Stefanovic and Hughes, he could only direct his shot over from point-blank range.
Niemi saved well again when Voronin linked up well with Crouch and generated a shot with great power but not enough direction to beat the keeper.
Then Voronin missed his kick completely from Gerrard's cross after Stefanovic's desperation to prevent a corner had presented the Liverpool skipper with possession.
Lawrie Sanchez took off striker Healey and replaced him with midfielder Hameur Bouazza, while Benitez decided that Riise would make way for Ryan Babel.
Within seconds Babel had teed up Benayoun to clip a glorious shot towards the top corner, but Niemi excelled again with a stunning finger-tip save.
Twenty minutes from time came the call for Torres, with Voronin the man to make way (SEE PHOTO) - and that turned out to be the decision which finally allowed Liverpool to make their superiority count.

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