Late Benayoun strike puts Liverpool on top

Benayoun cropped up for what could prove to be a vital goal in the title race.
Substitute Yossi Benayoun scored in the second minute of injury time to give Liverpool a 1-0 win at Fulham to claim top spot in the Premier League ahead of Manchester United.

Israeli international Benayoun smashed a right-foot shot past home goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer to leave his side two points clear of United, having played two games more. Champions United, who have stumbled to successive defeats in the league to arch-rivals Liverpool and Fulham, play Aston Villa on Sunday. Chelsea, who beat Newcastle 2-0 earlier on Sunday, have also moved into the title picture, but it is Liverpool who are mounting the strongest challenge to the reigning champions. Before the international break they had scored 11 goals in their last three league games and thumped Real Madrid 4-0 in the Champions League, but Saturday’s late kickoff looked set to end in a frustrating draw despite total domination. Liverpool hit the woodwork four times through Fernando Torres and Xabi Alonso and Andrea Dossena twice with Schwarzer also pulling off a string of fine saves. Roy Hodgson’s Fulham, who have proved a thorn in the side to the top four sides this season, offered little attacking threat but looked set to ride their luck as the game wore on. Just after the hour mark, Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez, seeing the possibility of extra points being squandered, threw on Dutch international Ryan Babel in place of Dossena.

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Before the end Benayoun, who scored a crucial goal in the away leg of the Real Madrid tie, also came on for Dirk Kuyt. It proved an inspired decision as he burst into the box to finally beat Schwarzer and send the Liverpool fans home happy. “Now you’re going to believe us, we’re going to win the league,” they chanted as their team hit the top again having thrown away the advantage they held at the start of the year through poor form in January and February. Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard said the win put further pressure on United. “It’s a massive three points — we knew a defeat or a draw was no good for us,” he told Setanta Sports. “We had to let United know they are in for a title fight until the end. “There were times towards the end when I thought it was not going to be our day. “But Yossi popped up with a fantastic strike and I thought it was the least we deserved,” he added.