Fernando Torres came off the bench to keep Liverpool’s English Premier League title bid on track by inspiring the Reds to a last-gasp win over Fulham on Saturday.
Rafael Benitez’s side had laboured for more than 80 minutes to break down the Cottagers at Anfield. But after Torres brilliantly breached their defences nine minutes from time, they finally ran out 2-0 winners thanks to an 85th-minute penalty from skipper Steven Gerrard.
The win lifted Liverpool into fourth place in the table, three points adrift of joint leaders Arsenal, who travel to Reading on Monday, and Manchester United, who host Blackburn 24 hours earlier.
Earlier on Saturday, Sunderland’s derby clash with local rivals Newcastle ended in a frustrating 1-1 draw after a performance that could and should have secured three badly needed points for Roy Keane’s side.
The day’s only other match in the top flight saw West Ham inflict a demoralising 5-0 defeat on bottom side Derby in front of their own supporters.
Sunderland looked set to claim local bragging rights when Danny Higginbotham headed them into a 52nd-minute lead at the Stadium Light.
But they allowed Newcastle to equalise when James Milner’s cross crept in at the far post, and they are slipping dangerously close to the relegation zone after going seven games without a win.
Trinidad striker Kenwyne Jones missed a glorious chance and former Newcastle player Michael Chopra hit the bar as Sunderland pushed for victory in the closing stages. Keane said the missed opportunities should serve as a lesson for his struggling squad.
”The beauty of the premiership is if you don’t take your chances it will come back to haunt you and that’s what happened,” said the Irishman. ”We can talk all day about luck, but the players had the chances. We keep getting these lessons in the premiership.”
Newcastle boss Sam Allardyce admitted he was relieved to have avoided defeat in his first derby in charge of the Magpies.
”It’s a little bit more acceptable if you come back from a goal down away from home in a derby game and get a draw. It’s a big local derby and we haven’t lost. That’s very important for the fans.
”Up until the goal Sunderland had out-muscled us and we couldn’t get our passing game going. Their goal was disappointing. We can’t afford to keep giving silly mistakes away.”
West Ham took until four minutes before half-time to break down Derby’s defence, with Lee Bowyer giving them the advantage.
But Alan Curbishley’s side were ruthless after the restart, killing the match with three goals in the space of eight minutes.
Bowyer teed up Matt Etherington to fire home six minutes into the half. An unlucky own goal by Eddie Lewis followed and Bowyer finished off a sweeping counter-attack to claim his second of the afternoon.
Nolberto Solano rounded off a win that lifts West Ham into the top half of the table with a superb free kick that found the top corner of the net.
”A crazy 10 to 15 minutes cost us dearly and at the end it was men against boys,” Derby boss Billy Davies admitted.
Curbishley added: ”The first goal was always going to be the vital one and we managed to get it. That settled us down and put Derby on the back foot. It’s very difficult when you’re down the bottom there and you go one down.” — Sapa-AFP