London - United States midfielder Clint Dempsey brought Liverpool's eight-match unbeaten run in the Premier League to an end on Monday, pouncing on a late error by goalkeeper Pepe Reina to earn Fulham a 1-0 at Craven Cottage and ease his team's relegation worries.
The Spain 'keeper failed to hold a speculative shot by former Liverpool midfielder Danny Murphy in the 85th minute, and Dempsey slotted home the rebound from close range for Fulham's third win of the campaign to lift the London club five points clear of the bottom three.
The visitors had been reduced to 10 men by that point after defensive midfielder Jay Spearing was sent off in the 72nd minute for an overzealous tackle on Moussa Dembele, at a time when they were on top and threatening a win that would have lifted them above Newcastle to sixth.
Liverpool hit the goal frame twice, through Jordan Henderson in the first half and substitute Stewart Downing just before Dempsey's winner, while Luis Suarez had a goal harshly disallowed for offside in the 67th.
But Spearing's dismissal was the turning point in a fractious match. There was nothing wrong with the youngster's initial full-blooded tackle but he followed through by catching the Belgium forward's leg, leading referee Kevin Friend to brandish the red card.
"He has won the ball but he has probably upset the referee with his follow-through," said Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish, whose team lost for the first time since Sept. 18 to dent its hopes of keeping pace with its rivals for the Champions League positions.
Fulham manager Martin Jol said the sending-off was the pivotal moment in the game, which threatened to boil over a number of times - particularly when Dempsey went forehead-to-forehead with Craig Bellamy at the start of the second half.
"After the sending-off, we had a little bit more space and took advantage of that," Jol said. "I thought it was a bad tackle. I thought it was a sending-off."
Dempsey's 37th goal in the Premier League made him the most prolific American scorer in England's top division, surpassing the record he shared with former Fulham striker Brian McBride.
He nearly gave Fulham the lead minutes prior to eventually grabbing the winner, curling a shot against the bar before Downing went up the other end and smashed a fierce drive that was touched onto the post by goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer in the 84th.
"I think we would have taken something from the game if we had been left with all our men," Dalglish said. "I think we did enough to come away with something."
Spearing was only playing because Liverpool's first-choice midfield anchorman, Brazil international Lucas Leiva, was ruled out for the season last week with knee-ligament damage.
He took his enforcer role too far, though, leaving his team with an uncomfortable final 20 minutes to see out and spoiling an otherwise impressive display at the heart of a Liverpool midfield that dominated the second half.
With the match featuring two of the five meanest defenses in the league, the shortage of goals came as no surprise although Liverpool had come away from Craven Cottage with a 5-2 victory last season.
Maxi Rodriguez, the scorer of a hat trick in that match, was left out as Dalglish opted adventurously for a front three of Andy Carroll, Bellamy and Suarez. However, it was only in the second half that the trio came to life.
While Carroll was largely anonymous, Suarez was again lively and was denied a penalty when he tangled with Brede Hangeland. That incurred the wrath of a home crowd already unhappy with what it considered as playacting by the Uruguay striker on a number of occasions in the match.