Only time will tell how crucial Steven Gerrard’s last-minute penalty proves to be, the Liverpool captain scoring at the death to give his side a come-from-behind 3-2 victory over Fulham on Wednesday evening.
On a night that saw Tottenham hammer Newcastle to continue their push for fourth place, Gerrard’s nerveless spot-kick ensured Brendan Rodgers’ side remain three points clear in the all-important pursuit of Champions League qualification.
With Manchester United drawing against Arsenal, the Reds are now 11 points clear of their historical rivals, as goals from Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho and Gerrard helped overcome an own goal from Kolo Toure and a second-half strike from Kieran Richardson.
It was Sturridge who won the penalty for Gerrard’s dramatic intervention when he was brought down by Sascha Riether in the game’s decisive moment.
Afterwards, Rodgers told the BBC:
Steven Gerrard is peerless in situations like that. He showed brilliant composure. It was a great result. We've had to show character to come form behind twice. A brilliant victory.
In the first half we were not quite on it in terms of intensity, and a mistake has put us 1-0 down. We then got a good goal, thanks to Gerrard's marvellous pass.
We raised the intensity and aggression at half-time. We're disappointed with the second goal we gave away. This team has shown great characteristics mentally.
Perhaps it was inevitable that Liverpool would suffer a slight drop-off in performance after the evisceration of Arsenal at the weekend and that Fulham would find their confidence renewed after managing to come away from Old Trafford with a point.
But as well as Fulham started the game, Liverpool went behind through a mistake of their own making—Kolo Toure managing to slice into his own net from an unthreatening cross in slapstick fashion.
Off balance and swinging his right leg at the ball carelessly, the Ivorian could only look on despair as the ball skewed wildly past Simon Mignolet and into the net.
Toure’s evening did not get much better—soon after his own goal, he whipped out referee Phil Dowd in an odd collision—and Liverpool too continued to struggle, with Fulham much in the ascendancy.
Lewis Holtby impressed behind Darren Bent in an attacking role, with Steve Sidwell going close with one opportunity from a corner.
On the stroke of half-time, however, Liverpool found themselves on terms. It was a moment of outstanding quality that did it, one out of step with the previous 45 minutes. And it was Gerrard, one of the poorest performers of the half, who provided it—the skipper delivering one of the passes of the season for Sturridge to break in behind the home defence.
The England man made no mistake, side-footing his effort around Maarten Stekelenburg to pull the Reds level.
If that moment boosted Liverpool heading into the second half, then it certainly did not prevent their defence from making another howling error.
On the hour mark, they were behind again, this time Martin Skrtel failing to clear Riether’s cross properly, allowing Richardson to step into the box and bury his shot past Mignolet.
With Spurs already comfortably ahead at St. James’ Park, as things stood Liverpool were suddenly only fourth in the table on goal difference. In previous seasons, they may have crumbled, but this time they regrouped and pushed forward, overcoming a few further scares before Coutinho levelled the scores with 20 minutes remaining after hitting the target from 20 yards out.
Then, in the final moments of the game, Liverpool got the winner they craved. Sturridge went down under pressure from Riether and Gerrard took responsibility, beating David Stockdale—who had replaced the injured Stekelenburg 15 minutes earlier—to secure a hugely valuable three points.
For Fulham, however, it was a painful defeat—they remain bottom of the table, four points from safety with 12 games remaining.
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Liverpool face Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in the FA Cup on Sunday, hoping to repeat the 5-1 victory at Anfield last weekend that seemed to reignite their Premier League title challenge.
Fulham, meanwhile, have 11 days to prepare for a potentially pivotal away trip to West Brom.