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Carragher cruises as Reds get into gear

The margin of victory may have flattered and been the product, to a large degree, of Fulham losing the impressive Papa Bouba Diop early in the second half, but there is no disguising that, following a lacklustre start to the season, these are increasingly heady times for Liverpool.

Not only is there the promise of hundreds of millions of pounds of investment coming into the club but - far rarer than that - Liverpool supporters yesterday could celebrate the appearance of Jamie Carragher's name on the scoresheet, his close-range conversion representing his first League goal in almost eight years and just his third in a shade over 300 League games. 'His first goal of the century,' beamed Rafa Benitez.

Benitez has long stated that the last month of 2006 will be crucial in determining Liverpool's fortunes this season and two League victories by a combined 8-0 margin so far in December represents a fine start to proceedings.

Certainly, the timing of the display, watched from the directors' box by representatives of Dubai International Capital, who are in talks over a proposed £450million takeover of the club, could hardly have been better - not that Benitez is about to let events in the boardroom and speculation about fantasy football signings distract him.

'I'm really focused on the football. I'm only worried about my team, how we can improve things,' said the Liverpool manager. 'The chairman, the board, Rick Parry are all doing their jobs and I'm happy with the situation. I'm told they were here and maybe I will talk with them later, but I haven't yet.

'Even when we were losing games, I was saying in press conferences that we were creating a lot of opportunities, had a lot of attempts,' Benitez said. 'We just needed to be more successful in front of goal. The first half today was the same - we had two or three opportunities, but the last shot or the last pass wasn't the best. In the second half, after we got the goal, it was easier.

'We're up to fourth, but the most important thing now is that we keep going. We're aiming for three points every game and after one or two months we will see the situation in the table. For now, we're not watching the table every week.'

Carragher's goal, sliding in at the far post after Daniel Agger had headed on a Steven Gerrard corner, made it 2-0 on the hour and was the highlight of an impressive second-half performance by the hosts, who took full advantage of Diop being absent from his defensive midfield role in front of the Fulham back four.

Without Diop, Fulham went to pieces, conceding three goals in 13 minutes, although the visitors could actually count themselves fortunate to have escaped so lightly. In the opening minute, Dirk Kuyt hurriedly stabbed a right-foot shot at the keeper before both he and Craig Bellamy missed a superb cross from Jermaine Pennant. However, once players other than the out-of-form Liverpool front pair began to appear on the end of chances, the floodgates opened.

In the 54th minute, the rout started after Ian Pearce used his hands to charge down Kuyt's fierce shot at point-blank range. A penalty was a somewhat harsh judgment, given that he was merely raising his hands to cover his face. Nevertheless, after Gerrard saw his penalty well saved by Jan Lastuvka, the Liverpool captain was calm enough to take advantage of a fortunate rebound and place the ball back past the keeper.

Five minutes after Carragher's moment to savour, Agger was again involved in a goal, his cross finding the head of Luis Garcia, whose looping effort drifted over the Czech keeper's head for number three. There seemed every likelihood of further goals and Lastuvka saved Gerrard's volley well before substitute Mark Gonzalez completed a fine afternoon for his team in added time when he placed a superb left-footed free-kick directly into the Fulham goal from 25 yards.

The events were in stark contrast to the first half, in which Liverpool's only real chance saw Liam Rosenior clear a Garcia shot off the line in the fifth minute, while Jose Reina was forced to produce a fine finger-tip save to keep out Fulham's only chance of the entire match, Brian McBride's strike two minutes later.

'I didn't see that coming at half time,' said the Fulham manager, Chris Coleman. 'I thought we were OK for the first 45 minutes. The defining moment was the first goal and for 15 minutes after that we fell away, our concentration was poor. There was a lack of discipline and belief that we were going to get back into it.'

Teams

Liverpool
Jose Manuel Reina, Daniel Agger, Jamie Carragher, Steve Finnan, Xabi Alonso, Steven Gerrard, Javier Sanz Luis Garcia (Robbie Fowler), Jermaine Pennant, John Arne Riise, Craig Bellamy (Peter Crouch), Dirk Kuyt (Mark Gonzalez)

Fulham
Jan Lastuvka, Zat Knight, Ian Pearce (Heidar Helguson), Liam Rosenior, Moritz Volz, Michael Brown, Papa Bouba Diop (Philippe Christanval), Claus Jensen, C, Luis Boa Morte, Brian McBride (Collins John), Tomasz Radzinski

Referee: Rennie, U

Match Facts

Corners:
Liverpool 14
Fulham 1

Goal Attempts:
Liverpool 32
Fulham 6

On Target:
Liverpool 19
Fulham 4


Copyright - The Observer

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