LONDON: Liverpool jumped above Manchester City to take top spot in the Premier League but needed a James Milner penalty nine minutes from time to see off lowly Fulham 2-1 at Craven Cottage on Sunday.
The on-form Sadio Mane put the visitors in front midway through the first half, but a rare defensive mix-up between Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker allowed Ryan Babel to give his former club a huge scare 16 minutes from time.
Fulham’s awful defending all season is the reason they are heading back to the Championship after just one season back in the top flight, and the hosts gave Jurgen Klopp’s men a much-needed gift when goalkeeper Sergio Rico bundled over Mane and Milner secured all three points from the spot.
Meanwhile, Mohamed Salah’s goal drought continued as the Egyptian has scored just once now in his last 10 games, but it was his shot that Rico spilled before the Spaniard unnecessarily pulled down Mane.
Salah should have got a much-needed confidence boost when released clean through by Mane during the second half, but Rico saved low to his left.
The Egyptian striker has suffered from a poor run of form in recent weeks.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp said: “It was (exactly) like how we are at the moment — we started really well, did a lot of good things and then lost the rhythm a little bit.
“I’m not the most experienced manager but I’ve had similar problems after Champions League games — the first-half was a bit rusty. We could’ve finished it off in the second-half but if you don’t kill the game at 1-0 up, it’s clear something like that can happen.
“I have no doubt about my players’ nerves. I always want perfection but it’s rare that you get it. People will say we should be more convincing in games like this but this is us, we are in the middle of a development, not at the end. How the boys dealt with it was brilliant.
“(It was an) average game, sensational result,” Klopp added.
“City don’t look like they will drop a lot of points, so we have to win and win and win. That’s our job to do.”
Fulham boss Scott Parker, who replaced Claudio Ranieri as the boss at Craven Cottage was looking for the positives after another damaging defeat for the west Londoners. ”The back end of the game we came strong and caused Liverpool some problems. It was pleasing, but we have lost (but have) some positives to take from the game.
“These players have been working really well for the two weeks I’ve been here. But you need to stay in the game against Liverpool. First half we did that. We changed things around a little bit and were in the ascendancy. The goal was what we deserved. We were in a position then to get the right side of it.
“I have seen some massive positives. I stand here two weeks on from being involved and these players are working to a maximum. The attitude and passion that comes with that means this club will be in a better place.”