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Evening Standard report

Liverpool leapfrogged Manchester City into top spot in the Premier League table after James Milner's late penalty earned a 2-1 win at doomed Fulham.

With City in FA Cup action on Saturday, the Reds moved two points clear of their title rivals having played a game more, despite a major scare at Craven Cottage when Ryan Babel equalised against his former club 15 minutes from time.

With Mohamed Salah again off-colour, and now without a goal in seven appearances, Jurgen Klopp's side showed impressive resolve to restore their lead after Sadio Mane was fouled in the area by Fulham goalkeeper Sergio Rico, having opened the scoring in the first half.

The Senegalese's goal on 26 minutes was the only real moment of quality in a drab opening period, in which Fulham kept the visitors at bay thanks to some fine last-ditch defending from Calum Chambers and Tim Ream.

Starting on the left flank, Mane played in Roberto Firmino before bursting into the box and finishing the Brazilian's return pass with one touch.

It was no surprise that Liverpool's main threat was coming down the left flank, where Tim Fosu-Mensah was starting his first game since November and Floyd Ayite, also handed a rare start by interim boss Scott Parker, was reluctant to track back.

With Fulham tidy in possession but unwilling to take any risks, it felt like a question of if, rather than when, Liverpool would extend their lead at the interval but the Cottagers grew in confidence and efforts by a Andre-Frank Anguissa and a disallowed goal by Ayite – several yards offside from Ryan Sessegnon's deflected shot – suggested there was something still in the match for the hosts.

Sure enough, shortly after Mane's headed Robertson's corner onto the crossbar, Babel equalised following a comedy of defensive errors.

Milner's first touch after replacing Adam Lallana was to shank the ball high towards his own goal and Virgil van Dijk, under pressure from compatriot Babel, sent a weak headed back towards Alisson.

Any error from the centre-back is a collector's item and Babel made his compatriot pay, easily winning a 50:50 against the goalkeeper before rolling the ball home – but refusing to celebrate.

This was the kind of afternoon where titles are won and lost and Liverpool showed their mental strength to restore their lead just six minutes later, as Milner made amends from the spot.

Rico was the villain for Fulham, dropping an easy catch at the feet of Mane, who had nodded onto the crossbar minutes before Fulham's equaliser, and leaving referee Craig Pawson no choice but to point to the spot.

The midfielder made no mistake, going down the middle as Rico leapt to his right, to leave Fulham 12 points from safety with just seven games remaining. The Fulham No.1 did make a late save to deny Salah but the damage had been done.

The Fulham fans will not have to wait long to see world class players back at the Cottage, with City the next visitors, but after that it could be some time. They are sinking fast, while Liverpool continue to go toe-to-toe with Pep Guardiola's side.

Copyright - Evening Standard

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