Fulham serve up a treat for returning fans - and come so close to defeating champions Liverpool
Fulham 1 Liverpool 1
Fulham came within a whisker of defeating the champions – undone by a late penalty – but turned in their best performance of the season to give their confidence a massive shot in the arm.
Maybe it just needed the presence of their fans for the first time since February to help generate the right ambience and intensity.
Maybe it was the lightning-quick jump out of the blocks by the Whites which set the tone the moment the players had risen to their feet after taking the pre-match knee.
Whatever it was, it was the sort of performance which guarantees a rise in stock for both the team and the head coach. Aside from the Wembley play-off final, this felt like Scott Parker’s best day in management.
Bobby Decordova-Reid put Fulham in dreamland with a 25th minute goal which was thoroughly merited. Equally impressive was the way the Whites defended as a unit to hold the lead until the 78th minute.
And how was it that a previously hopeless defence should rise to the challenge of so very nearly becoming the first team to keep a clean sheet against Liverpool in the Premier League this season?
The protection from holding midfielders Mario Lemina and Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa gave the Whites such a compact look, but to a man the players ran themselves into the ground.
There will surely be greater belief now that they have the set-up to defy the early-season relegation prognosis. The fans back at the Putney and Hammersmith ends were served up a treat.
Alisson returned for the champions and had to make three big saves in the opening 20 minutes during a ferocious overture from the Whites.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek – again looking a player of international caliber – set Ivan Cavaleiro free in the opening moments and a it needed strong arms from the keeper to deflect a powerful rising shot over.
Then, a neat pass from an on-fire Ademola Lookman gave the Portuguese striker another chance –Antonee Robinson also prominent in the move - which he failed to take after not quite opening up his body enough to curl past Alisson from inside the area.
Lookman darted in from the left to arrow a great low shot towards the far corner that was expertly tipped aside, but from the flag-kick that followed, Liverpool did not clear their lines and Lookman steered the ball into space on the right edge of the area for Decordova-Reid to lash in his fourth league goal of the campaign.
Such a breathless start. And amongst it all, there was even almost a penalty for Parker’s men after a VAR check for a possible foul by Fabinho on Cavaleiro.
By contrast, there were only two half-chances towards the end of the half for Jurgen Klopp’s men, with Sadio Mane heading over and Mo Salah shooting wide on the turn.
In the drizzle, Fulham caused a moment of panic in the Reds’ defence soon after the restart, but it was inevitable that the visitors would see more of the ball and ask more questions than they did in the first 45 minutes.
Alphonse Areola made a superb save to deny Jordan Henderson after the midfielder had ghosted through a thicket of players to find Bobby Firmino’s clever through ball.
But 12 minutes from time, just as it was beginning to look like Fulham’s day, a Gini Wijnaldum free-kick was handled by Abou Kamara, leaping in the wall with a raised elbow. Salah put the spot-kick away.
Areola saved from Curtis Jones during a late Reds onslaught, but a goal then would have been a real travesty for the Whites, who definitely deserved something for their endeavours.
This performance was also a fitting tribute to the memory of their former warrior Papa Bouba Diop, who recently passed away at a ridiculously young age. You could imagine him in the middle of a battle like this one, which he would have relished.
Fulham: Areola – Aina, Andersen, Adarabioyo – Reid, Anguissa, Lemina (Reed 80), Robinson – Loftus-Cheek (Kamara 74) – Lookman (Bryan 88), Cavaleiro. Subs not used: Kebano, Cairney, Rodak, Ream