Benayoun's last-gasp winner takes Liverpool to the top

The application of pressure is not an art that Rafa Benítez shies away from. New contracts for himself, Steven Gerrard, Dirk Kuyt and assorted backroom staff? Push, push, push until the powers that be accede. Total control of transfers and the forced exit of a truculent chief executive. Shove, shove and shove again.

Now his Spanish stubbornness can be fully focused on the field – on pressing Manchester United into a spectacular fall from Premier League grace. A late, late victory at Fulham yesterday brought three points from a venue where Liverpool's great rivals ceded them a fortnight before.

When Sir Alex Ferguson examines the League table this morning he'll find Benítez two points above, asking pressing questions about what United can make of their two surplus games.

This could, though, have been a quite different story. Utterly dominant for the first half, Liverpool slipped into frustrated raggedness in the second. Specialists in late-game revivals that they are, this did not look like being one of them until Yossi Benayoun walked on to resurrect them. Nursing calf and hamstring injuries, the Israeli substitute twice missed the home net by a foot before a 92nd-minute ball found him in enough space to turn and redirect it past Mark Schwarzer.

"That will be the most important goal of the season if we can win the title," said Benítez of his team's eighth added-time finish this league season. In the away end, Liverpool's supporters were still chanting "we're going to win the League" – the first time those words have passed their collective lips in over 18 years.

"Hopefully we can keep them happy until the end," Benítez added. "That will be the most important thing. Today we have to enjoy, we have to be really pleased, but still there are a lot of games to come. As a manager you have to be calm. The winning mentality is not to say things, it is to do things. So we are doing things."

It is typical of Benítez that he arrived at Craven Cottage with half an eye on the Champions League. Though Gerrard and Fernando Torres went unrotated, it was hard to imagine Andrea Dossena, Lucas and Emiliano Insúa starting were Chelsea not due at Anfield on Wednesday evening. Employed on the left wing, Dossena almost extended his unlikely run of chipped finishes early on. From the ensuing corner the Italy defender redirected a netbound Martin Skrtel strike on to the crossbar.

With four attackers pushed uncharacteristically high up the pitch, the visitors regularly invaded Fulham's area. Gerrard marched down the left side then cut the ball back to an isolated Torres; Schwarzer needed two goes at saving the Spaniard's low shot. A free header over was followed by Torres spinning around the box to tee up Xabi Alonso, and the midfielder was unfortunate to see his fine volley cannon off the woodwork.

As pensive Liverpool supporters recalled the dominance that preceded early-season defeat at Tottenham, Torres concluded an immaculate Gerrard one-two with a pass beyond the keeper but off the inside of the post. A minute later the captain crossed for Dossena to find yet more timber – this time from six yards.

While Fulham were making sparse impact in attack, Liverpool's fluidity departed them after half-time, with midfield passing being eschewed for long balls forward, few of which created anything of note. An increasingly jumpy Benítez attempted to reinvigorate proceedings by adding Ryan Babel, who came close to converting on the counter. Torres and Kuyt then just failed to connect with Gerrard's near-post cross.

Fulham kept faith in their methods, their shape steadfastly retained as they sought to exploit Liverpool's anxiety. Danny Murphy threatened from a free-kick and visiting defenders dived into fouls as Fulham closed in on an eighth home point against the Champions League elite. But Benayoun changed all that – and just maybe a great deal more.

Copyright - The Guardian

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