Liverpool's FA Cup hopefuls handed harsh lesson by Fulham
Liverpool 0 Fulham 1: Kenny Dalglish had billed this game as an opportunity for his fringe players at Liverpool to stake a claim for a place in the FA Cup final. On this evidence most of this lot will be wearing suits come kick-off at Wembley.
Kenny Dalglish had billed this game as an opportunity for his fringe players at Liverpool to stake a claim for a place in the FA Cup final. On this evidence most of this lot will wearing suits come kick-off at Wembley.
Even by the standards of a season that has seen Liverpool win five times at Anfield, two fewer than when they were relegated in 1954, this was a nadir. Fulham had never won here in their history and the blank facts are that they should have done so by a rather greater margin than a single goal.
With Dalglish having made nine changes from the side that at Norwich last Saturday produced one of the most complete performances of Liverpool's season, this was a team of understudies. Their impact was so limited that it was hard to imagine Dalglish not turning back to his leading men at Wembley.
"I am culpable because I wanted to give everyone an opportunity to push their case forward," said the Liverpool manager. "But the performance and attitude were very poor. It was nothing like us. There were one or two positives but too many negatives.
"My message to this team was take some pride in yourselves. We got what we deserved which was absolutely nothing. We didn't approach the game properly and, if they needed a lesson, then there's a lesson."
The match before an FA Cup final is, admittedly, no kind of guide to how events on the grand stage will pan out. In 1988 Liverpool warmed up for a final they were to lose stunningly to Wimbledon by crushing Sheffield Wednesday 5-1 at Hillsborough. However, as a guide to the current side's strength in depth it was indisputable.
A few days before, Fulham had been disembowelled in the traditional manner at Everton – where they have never won a league fixture. Now, had Kerim Frei's shot not struck the outside of the post or Alexander Doni not saved superbly when Clint Dempsey was put through, the margin of victory might have been humbling.
Dempsey was at the heart of everything good that Fulham attempted and the American began by running at the dead centre of the Liverpool defence, before switching the ball to the left flank from where John Arne Riise delivered the kind of low, blisteringly hard cross that was his trademark here under Gérard Houllier.
It was probably meant for Alex Kacaniklic but struck Martin Skrtel on the chest and gave Doni no chance whatsoever. There was so little noise that it appeared at first as if the goal had been disallowed. For much of the time the evening resembled a reserve match and not a very good reserve match at that.
The mood at England's most atmospheric stadium was sullen. For the opening 20 minutes, Liverpool were jaw-droppingly incompetent. They sleepwalked through their opening moves, surrendered possession and, for good measure, put the ball in their own net.
Gradually, they hauled themselves back into the game through Dirk Kuyt, whose time at Anfield may be coming to a close, and Andy Carroll, who like Fernando Torres is ending the season a sight better than he started it. Nevertheless, apart from a shot from Kuyt that skimmed by the post and a clearance off the line from Brede Hangeland, there were few concrete chances.
These were two clubs that had diametrically opposite opinions of the new England manager. Those few Fulham fans who would have made the journey to Merseyside with their usual trepidation, chanted Roy Hodgson's name throughout. Anfield made no reply. But for two superbly executed cup runs and the magic of his name, the pressure on Dalglish would have been intolerable.
Man of the match Dempsey.
Match rating 6/10.
Referee L Probert (Wiltshire).