It started out strangely enough when the teamsheet was released, with Lucas missing out due to a mild thigh injury and Poulsen unexpectedly seeing his second start in a row, and though the Dane again wasn't a massive liability, his frequent wandering and at times over-ambitious hit or miss passing did noticeably hurt Liverpool's ability to control the center of the park. With both Meireles and Gerrard looking to get forward fairly often as was expected in what has become Dalglish's standard 4-3-3 variant, the end result was a fairly even battle in the middle of the park despite Liverpool's nominal man advantage as the wide forwards dropped back and the fullbacks quickly stepped up. In the end, though, that it was perhaps the sloppiest and least assertive of Liverpool's performances under their new old manager didn't matter, and the squad's renewed confidence finally paid off with a hard fought--and more than a little lucky--three points.
The game moved in waves for much of its length, and an early stretch of Liverpool dominance perhaps should have ended with a two goal lead after the male linesman--who presumably should have known the offside rule by nature of his gender--missed a fairly easy call and wrongly flagged Torres offside seconds before the reinvigorated striker buried the ball in the back of the net. Liverpool didn't let up, though, and not long afterwards the on form Meireles forced a miraculous save out of Fulham's back up keeper David Stockdale with a point blank headed effort. However, with nothing to show for it on the scoreboard, the pressure wouldn't last, and Fulham soon fought their way back into the match to forge their own pair of quality chances. When the first half did come to a close, it could have fairly been two-two or anywhere in between.
Then, seven minutes into the second half and with Liverpool again firing out of the gate, a bit of luck broke their way and lead to the only goal of the match. With Torres breaking into the box, his deflected shot thudded square off the base of the post and pinballed around between Raul Meireles, goalkeeper Stockdale, and Fulham defenders John Pantsil and Chris Baird before Pantsil's final touch dribbled it over the line for a Liverpool lead. After a first half that had at times been scrappy and seen both sides waste their best opportunities, Liverpool's hard work to open the second had put Fulham on the back foot and forced a bit of luck for the home side. In the past it would have been easy to imagine this Liverpool side sinking lower and lower after their good play in the opening minutes amounted to nothing with the help of some questionable officiating, but today there was enough belief for them to grow back into the game and flood the box with enough bodies and pressure to earn the sort of lucky break that never seems to come without that effort and belief.
Fulham fullback John Pantsil, on the other hand, began to lose his head after his own goal, first engaging in a shovng match with Johsnon and Gerrard before bundling Johnson over and going nose to nose with Daniel Agger as the Liverpool teammates stuck up for each other and the Fulham players milled about in the background looking vaguely embarrassed. It earned him a yellow card for his efforts, but if the rest of the Fulham side had been as fired up as he was after going down a goal, they might well have clawed their way back into the game with greater success.
As it was, the goal and resulting chippy play only seemed to fire up Liverpool, who returned to long stretches of dominant possession play that could have led to a goal or two like the third scored on Saturday against Wolves if it wasn't for Kuyt's heavy touch in the final third stopping moves on a number of occasions. Dalglish rightly and proactively swapped Kuyt out soon after it became clear his form or fitness weren't allowing him to contribute anything positive to the match, though in bringing on Shelvey it resulted in a somewhat odd situation where not only were Meireles and Gerrard swapping the two central midfield positions, they were also swapping with Shelvey on the right frequently. Perhaps given enough time on the training pitch this would effectively confuse opponents, but it only seemed today to confuse Liverpool and allow Fulham to finally settle down again before a switch of Aurelio for Poulsen, with Maxi moving to the right and the three midfielders staying inside, settled the reds down once more.
It certainly wasn't a classic match, but one clear positive for Liverpool could be seen in Reina's distribution, which was at a stark contrast to the last few months. The sight of Liverpool's sweeper-keeper rushing to the edge of his box with ball in hand, looking to start a break, only to pull up short and rather annoyed, had become as good a representation as any of Liverpool's entire frustrating season. Today, though, Reina's short kicks and long throws started countless breaks, and whether its down to renewed confidence or the manager's instructions, the comparison to what came before is a stark one. That it encapsulated the improved mood of the entire side--and of the supporters watching--even in a match that was far from pretty to watch, says a great deal about how far this squad has come in a very short time under Kenny Dalglish.
In the end, though, it would take one final moment of that luck that seems to spring from confidence and hard work to see Liverpool through, as a pair of Fulham chances saw both a smart Meireles clearance off the line as well as bit of pure luck when a header dropping towards the open bottom corner glanced off an unaware Kelly and into Reina's waiting grasp. And if there is anything in the larger picture to take from today--beyond those much needed three points as the season settles comfortably into its second half--it's that confidence, and the way that at times luck seems to go hand in hand with it. Sure, Liverpool were lucky. They were lucky to get their goal, and lucky to not have at least one go against them, but their hard work and refusal to let their heads drop for too long any time Fulham had a spell of dominance was what put them in the position to get those bits of luck, and it's hard to believe that had this match been played in December when originally scheduled the players would have had that confidence and belief that saw them in positions to capitalise on a lucky break or two today.
It's a sports cliche that sometimes you have to be good to be lucky and lucky to be good, and today Liverpool were a little of both. It might not have been a fluid performance like the match against Wolves, or even at the level of some of their earlier losing performances under Dalglish, but the belief was there today, and the effort was there today. And the luck followed. Just as those spells of pass and move possession play throughout the match seemed to visibly build Liverpool's confidence throughout the ninety minutes, so to will a result like today's do wonders for building their confidence for the remainder of the season.