Maxi pulls fast one as five-star Liverpool run riot
Some riposte. Liverpool fans had endured all the crowing of United fans and simply re-focused on their revival under Dalglish. Some start. They tore into opponents managed by that United legend, Mark Hughes, and were three goals clear within 16 minutes.
To the delight of the Liverpool fans soon partying in the Putney End, their team produced echoes of Liverpool's style under Dalglish more than two decades ago. Old principles like pass and move, constant pressing and relentless application were all on show. The movement was exceptional, Fulham having no answer to the fluidity of Dalglish's five-man midfield.
Raul Meireles, Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez kept racing forward. Lucas and Jay Spearing were also terrific, sitting deeper but delivering some masterful forward passes.
Up top, Luis Suarez was unplayable, twisting the Fulham defence this way and that, darting with the ball constantly towards the Hammersmith End.
Michael Jackson's statue showed more mobility than some of Hughes' defenders in the opening stages. This was a genuine shock; Fulham have prided themselves on their defensive expertise here this season.
The goals began to flow within 32 seconds. Timing his run well, Suarez gathered Lucas' pass down the left and cut in, shimmering with menace. The speed of the move caught Fulham cold. Frozen even. Suarez drilled the ball across. It clipped Carlos Salcido and Mark Schwarzer needed to dive from his line to stop the ball reaching Kuyt. Poor Schwarzer. He had no chance as Maxi drove the ball back in past him: 0-1.
It got worse for Fulham, much worse. Part of Fulham's downfall was rooted in Liverpool's vibrancy, part was self-inflicted, their failure to get close to the raiders in red. Glen Johnson had been given the freedom of the right flank by Fulham, an offer he accepted readily. Eluding Salcido, Johnson lifted the ball to the far post where the unmarked Maxi shot home past Chris Baird and an even poorer Schwarzer: 0-2.
Liverpool appealed for a penalty when Suarez was shoved by Brede Hangeland, although the first shove occurred outside the box. Lee Mason, who was 40 yards away, had a good look but relied on his assistant referee who ruled no offence.
No matter. There was more, gloriously so for the Liverpool fans smarting at United's ascending to the leading perch in England. As the visiting fans chanted Dalglish's name, Kuyt exchanged passes with Johnson and sped into the box. The Dutchman's shot should still have been a routine stop for Schwarzer but he was shellshocked, his senses scrambled by the quickfire combinations and blows Liverpool had been landing. The goalkeeper allowed the ball to squeeze past him, poorest Schwarzer: 0-3.
Fulham fans squirmed in embarrassment. Hughes crossed his arms in resignation. He acted at the break, bringing on Bobby Zamora for Simon Davies. Zamora had an immediate impact, lifting the mood of Fulham fans, holding the ball up and bringing team-mates into play. Fulham at last had a focus.
And some chances. Eidur Gudjohnsen shot wide. And soon a goal. Zamora's arrival as the target-man paid off. Collecting possession on the edge of Liverpool's box, Zamora laid the ball off to Moussa Dembele, whose finish was so clever.
Using Pepe Reina's centre-halves to disguise his intentions form the keeper, Dembele placed the ball low and deliberately into the corner. Reina was enraged at the concession of a goal; picking the ball out of the back of the net, the Spaniard volleyed it angrily to one side, almost out of the ground. Mason promptly brandished a yellow.
Fulham fans loved Reina's discomfort, reveled in the sight of their team awoken from their first-half slumbers. There was no need for Jackson's help; Zamora helped make this a thriller. To the delight of the majority of the 25,693 fans, Zamora was causing constant problems, forcing Martin Skrtel into a panicky foul.
After 66 minutes, Hughes twisted again, removing Gudjohnsen and unleashing Andy Johnson but four minutes later it was a shot unleashed at the other end which ended matters as Maxi packed a smashing drive past the despairing dive of Schwarzer to round off a second hat-trick in three games.
Just to round off matter, the irrepresible Suarez then got goal that his general play deserved as he found himself one-on-one with the Fulham goalkeeper and shimmied past him to coolly slot in and round off a superb night.
Fulham managed a consolation when Steve Sidwell hit a stunning strike past Reina but rarely has such a fine goal been met with such silence at Craven Cottage. Within minutes, as they had been all night, it was the Liverpool fans making their voices heard. (© Daily Telegraph, London)