Dempsey winner is salt in wound for 10-man Liverpool
Fulham 1 Liverpool 0: When finally the killer blow came from Clint Dempsey five minutes from the end last night, Liverpool were down to 10 men, out of luck and nursing a sense of injustice that will have gnawed at them all the way home.
It was too late for Kenny Dalglish's side to do anything about it and by then his team were diminished in numbers after Jay Spearing had been dismissed for a robust tackle that would barely have raised an eyebrow when the Liverpool manager was playing. But these are different times and this is still a fragile Liverpool team, for all the progress they may have made of late.
The referee Kevin Friend's decision to send off Spearing was pivotal: he was hardly the away team's most influential player but his dismissal changed the momentum of the game. Until then Liverpool had looked the team most likely to win but Fulham, to their credit, seized the moment, and pounced on a dreadful mistake from Pepe Reina.
The Liverpool goalkeeper spilled the shot hit straight at him by Danny Murphy to give Dempsey a relatively easy task. It was a night when Liverpool struck post and bar, when Luis Suarez had a goal ruled out for offside that looked legitimate and Charlie Adam might have had a penalty. But they still controlled enough of the match to win it.
By the end of the first half, Fulham were playing a flat 4-4-2 formation and looked much the better for it. They had struggled at times to contain Suarez, who was at his brilliant best only very occasionally. As for Andy Carroll it had been another one of those occasions when he looked like his own worst enemy.
The England international should have scored in the eighth minute when Suarez got away from Stephen Kelly and cut the ball back. With a very respectable sight of goal Carroll hit his shot straight at Mark Schwarzer. After the half-hour he was presented with a similar chance and did not even get a clean connection on the ball.
The best effort from Liverpool in the first half was Jordan Henderson's and he did well to cut between Clint Dempsey and Danny Murphy to clip a shot off the inside of Schwarzer's left post. It was a neatly improvised effort.
It was Liverpool who had significantly the best of it after the break and they should really have scored in that period. It was then that Friend had to judge whether Philippe Senderos's foul on Adam, that came at the end of a long, driving run from the midfielder, was inside or outside the area. The referee adjudged that it was outside and it had to be said that the various replays from different angles did not prove it categorically one way or another. Naturally, Liverpool felt aggrieved especially when Craig Bellamy wasted his free-kick by driving it into the wall.
Liverpool kept racking up the chances. Bellamy struck the ball across goal from Glen Johnson's pass. On 66 minutes, Suarez was unlucky to be ruled offside when he ran onto Enrique's pass and scored. Replays showed he was level.
Spearing's red card came with 18 minutes to play. Yes, he snapped into the tackle, won it with his right before the studs of his left boot caught Moussa Dembele. But if that was a red card then young Spearing may as well retire because the rules have outlawed tackling and his breed of player.
Dalglish re-organised with Dirk Kuyt on for the ineffective Carroll and Stewart Downing for Bellamy. But Liverpool were stretched. Dempsey clipped a shot against the bar and Dembele; had two subsequent efforts that were close.
Then came Reina's mistake to allow Dempsey to score. Just before then Downing's shot had been brilliantly pushed onto a post by Schwarzer and Fulham, despite a bad injury to Murphy at the end, survived the late onslaught.