Fulham 1-2 Liverpool: Milner's penalty sinks Cottagers to move Reds back to the league summit
(Getty Images - John Powell)

Fulham 1-2 Liverpool: Milner's penalty sinks Cottagers to move Reds back to the league summit

James Milner scored a late penalty to ensure the Reds moved two points clear at the top of the Premier League table.

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Joshua Kerr

As Craven Cottage gleamed in glorious sunshine mixed with driving rain, the football became just as chaotic at the weather. Liverpool were on the brink of failure, their illustrious title credentials were on the verge of collapse. However, the Reds found their strength to bottle the title race, by moving two points clear at the summit ahead of champions Manchester City with a vital 2-1 win over Fulham.

Goals from James Milner and Sadio Mane ensured Jürgen Klopp's men lived to fight another day and moved back to the top of the league with only seven games to go. 

This match wasn't an enthralling spectacle for all involved but it did still have its fair share of drama as the chasing pack were forced to face their demons in the face of adversity following a significant setback with 15 minutes left on the clock.

Similarly to the eventful 3-2 in Liverpool's last visit to Craven Cottage five years ago - that was sealed by a dramatic Steven Gerrard injury-time penalty - this latest instalment needed to be decided from the spot as well.

Ryan Babel's shock equaliser against his former club gave Fulham an unlikely foothold back into the game in which they had barely contested or competed. But Milner's penalty nine minutes from time Liverpool got the Reds the victory they needed to leapfrog Pep Guardiola's side.

Despite the Citizen's not in action in the league this weekend due to FA Cup commitments all Liverpool can do in the meantime is keep winning. It was another vital hurdle cleared with games against Tottenham and Chelsea still to play this afternoon's trip to the capital was not a time to drop points. 

City's trip to Old Trafford may seem even more significant with the champions potentially travelling to local rivals on Wednesday 24 needing a win to return to the top. One thing is for sure from today's evidence. This title race certainly isn't over no matter what the experts are saying.

Story of the match

57 points separated the two teams before kick-off, City will certainly rest easy in anticipation of their trip to Craven Cottage. Any fears that a Fulham side, 13 points from safety would put up a serious fight were profoundly naive, who against Liverpool eased off the gas from the off and continued to invite the visitors to play. 

The wait for a Premier League point stretched to 47 days and counting with City awaiting Scott Parker's doomed side.

Despite this, Parker seems to have turned a corner with the Cottagers making them much more competitive in large moments. Despite their inability to take the game to their opponent, they have found a new ability to stay in the match even against the leagues best sides. 

The hosts set up extremely narrow, with the full-backs seemingly on a leash unable to push high. They attempted to squeeze Liverpool like a teenage zit but to little effect. The upshot from the visitors was to exploit the gaps that were given to them with both Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold seemingly given a free pass to consistently roam down the flanks.

Timothy Fosu-Mensah started for the first time in over a month whilst right-back Floyd Ayite made his first start of the season ahead of him. Both of Liverpool's full-back were on a hunting duty and it seemed inevitable that a goal from the visitors would emerge from the left flank, and that it did. 

It was a lovely move from Klopp's team, yet was the outcome of such a simple surge. Robertson played the ball to Mane, who tormented yet again on the wing, sliding through Roberto Firmino who committed his run before his pull-back found Mane who poked home.

It was the Senegalese ace's 11th goal in 11 matches and that should have really have been curtains for Fulham. Against a team that was toothless from the initial whistle, a single strike should have been enough to settle this contest.

However, Liverpool have made a bad habit of failing to see out matches: Crystal Palace, Leicester, West Ham and Burnley all were encounters that looked to have potentially eluded the Reds and this trip to Fulham looked to be the latest instalment in Liverpool's soap opera of setbacks.

The warning signs were certainly there for Liverpool. Fulham's initial uselessness eventually saw them grow into proceedings and there was a mini-scare when Ayite's header past Alisson sent the home crowd into delirium only for it to be flagged offside. An electrifying counter also saw club-record signing Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa's volley being saved low by the Brazillian. 

Liverpool's single-goal lead was beginning to look frail and on the verge of collapse. The visitors continued to search for that second cushion and opted to introduce Milner and Divock Origi for Adam Lallana and Firmino. 

It was the substitute who almost gift-wrapped the hosts a point brightly pristine with a red ribbon as Milner failed to hook away a clearance that spiralled chaos and controversy from the visitors.

As the ball skewed off the Englishman's foot towards his own goal, Virgil van Dijk began to chase. Considering the Netherlands skipper is recently considered as the world's best defender this was an utterly calamitous mistake from the 28-year-old's high standards. 

The defender's indecisiveness invited Alisson to intervene as the ball was headed underneath the shot-stoppers feet where Babel was lurking to gracefully accept the gift. Van Dijk's countryman refused to celebrate against his former side - whom he also endured a dramatic title challenge in the 2008/09 season.

Liverpool's illustrious title credentials looked to have disintegrated before their very eyes and to their merit they had to recover almost instantly. The visitors knew that Fulham were rooted to the bottom for a reason and that a chance would inevitably present itself.

It dully came, and in the most innocuous of fashions: Milner's lofted diagonal ball was brought down by Salah who hooked a shot that was spilt by Sergio Rico, who then saw Mane about to pounce and instinctively grabbed the forward by the waist forcing Craig Pawson to point to the spot.

Milner atoned for his previous sins by cooly sticking the penalty straight down the middle. Any chance of a Fulham fightback was quickly extinguished. As the whistle blew for full-time, Klopp once again unleashed a trademark fist pump like a victorious boxer. 

The afternoon sunshine was finally smiling in Liverpool's favour. This title-race lives on, at least for another day.

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