(Wednesday, April 23, 2008) -- Fulham was seemingly handed a gift Saturday by Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez, who rested eight regulars ahead of his club's crucial Champions League semifinal yesterday. However, Fulham quickly learned that a Liverpool lineup heavy with reserves is formidable and good enough to defeat the Cottagers in the English Premier League.
Despite good efforts by its American attackers Brian McBride and Clint Dempsey, Fulham was blanked 2-0 with one Liverpool goal coming because of a miscue by U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller.
There was little Keller could do in the 16th minute when Jermaine Pennant, who has been out with a broken leg since October, banged in a hard shot from in front of the net after a pinpoint pass by Lucas Leiva.
The score remained 1-0 as constant forays by Fulham produced nothing. Then, just after Dempsey's header went inches wide in the 70th minute, Peter Crouch, a Liverpool substitute but an regular for England, ripped a low shot that went through Keller's hands to make it 2-0.
U.S. defender Carlos Bocanegra remained on the bench for Fulham, while striker Eddie Johnson once again didn't dress for the Cottagers.
With three matches remaining, Fulham (5-18-12, 27 points) is in 19th place and facing relegation, five points below 17th place and safety. Reading (9-21-5) and Bolton Wanderers (8-19-8) are tied for 16th, each with 32 points -- one point above the drop zone -- though Bolton owns the tiebreaker with a goal differential that is eight better.
Reading faced an almost impossible task Saturday -- coming away with points from a road match against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. The Royals played hard, but Arsenal scored twice in an eight-minute period in the first half Saturday to record a 2-0 triumph.
It was the fourth straight outing in which Reading failed to score, including losing three straight and sinking to the brink of relegation.
Emmanuel Adebayor, Arsenal's leading scorer, put the hosts ahead when he controlled a pass in front of the net and rolled a shot under Reading's U.S. goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann in the 30th minute. Eight minutes later, Gilberto Silva made it 2-0 when his shot changed directions following a deflection off Royals defender Andre Bikey.
Hahnemann finished with six saves, including a pair of beauties on shots by striker Robin Van Persie.
U.S. keeper Tim Howard but could not stop Michael Essien's 41st-minute strike, allowing visiting Chelsea to defeat Everton 1-0 Thursday in a match that saw much of the play in the midfield. Everton outshot Chelsea 10-5, 5-3 on goal with Howard ending up with only a single save.
Everton (18-10-7, 61) has settled into fifth place and must hold off Aston Villa (16-9-10, 58) for the position that brings a berth in the UEFA Cup, Europe's second-tier tournament.
The clock ran out on Everton's hopes of making it to fourth place and a berth in the European Champions League qualifying round with its 1-1 draw at Birmingham City April 12. Liverpool (19-4-12) is eight points ahead of the Toffees.
Birmingham's on-loan Argentinian Mauro Zarate, a reserve, crashed a stunning 20-yard free-kick past Howard in the 83rd minute to tie matters at 1-1, five minutes after Joleon Lescott put Everton ahead with his ninth goal of the season,
On April 6, Everton had a difficult time disposing of last-place Derby County 1-0 with Howard called on to make eight saves against a team that played like it had nothing to lose.
Everton was clearly tight and squandered several chances before Leon Osman's found net in the 56th minute.
On March 30, Everton traveled three miles to Anfield and lost 1-0 to Liverpool. The Toffees could not overcome a sloppy first half and failed to score after intermission despite much improved play.
Howard was strong, especially over the first 45 minutes, finishing with six saves. He was helpless to stop Fernando Torres from putting away a poorly cleared corner kick in the sixth minute.
U.S. midfielder Eddie Lewis continues to play 90 minutes for Derby, which is 1-26-8 with 11 points and about to set a modern record for futility.
On Saturday, visiting County fell 2-1 to West Ham United at Upton Park. Derby's most dangerous player was Lewis, who made runs down the left flank and provided a number of excellent crosses, though none were converted.
As has been the case recently, American midfielder Benny Feilhaber dressed for Derby, but did not play.
American keeper Brad Friedel recorded 12 saves for Blackburn Rovers, who hosted first-place Manchester United and came away with a 1-1 draw.
Roque Santa Cruz put Rovers ahead with a goal in the 21st minute, but Carlos Tevez tied the score at 1-1 in the 88th minute, reacting quickly to Paul Scholes' near-post glancing header to head home the equalizer as Friedel scrambled to get back in position.
United attacked fervently in the final 12 minutes. In the 78th minute. Wayne Rooney found Cristiano Ronaldo, whose shot was stopped by a defender. Tevez picked up the loose ball and sent it toward goal, but Friedel maneuvered back to snare it. In quick succession, Friedel then stopped hard shots from Rooney and substitute John O'Shea.
On April 13, Liverpool brushed past visiting Rovers 3-1 in a game that saw three goals scored in the final seven minutes.
Friedel was solid again, but Liverpool, playing at home, was just too much for Rovers. The introduction of Yossi Benayoun into the Liverpool lineup in the 59th minute was a dramatic changing point. With fresh legs, Benayoun outran two defenders a minute later and fed Lucas Leiva. The Brazilian exchanged passes with Steven Gerrard, who cut into the box and side-footed the ball past a stranded Friedel.
Fernando Torres made it 2-0 for the Reds in the 82nd minute before the teams traded goals in stoppage time.
On April 5, Friedel made eight saves in a 1-1 home draw with Tottenham Hotspur at Ewood Park.
Dimitar Berbatov beat Friedel in the sixth minute, but the keeper stuffed Berbatov and stopped a blast from Steed Malbranque in the second half. Morten Gamst Pedersen tied the match at 1-1 for Blackburn in the 30th minute.
On March 29, Friedel posted a clean sheet, but the best Rovers could do at Reading was a 0-0 draw. By gaining only three points out of its last four outings, Blackburn (13-9-13, 52) dropped to ninth place and out of contention for European competition next season.
West Ham got injured defender Lucas Neill back for its 2-1 win over visiting Derby Saturday, which meant that American Jonathan Spector did not dress. Spector had gone the distance for the three prior matches in succession, a stretch in which West Ham did not play well, losing 1-0 to Bolton and Sunderland and 2-1 to Sunderland on a stoppage-time goal from Andy Reid.
West Ham (13-14-8, 47) is in 10th place.
DeMerit spends time on Watford bench
If Watford is to return to the Premier League, it will have to do so through the second-tier League Championship promotion playoffs. By winning the 2005-06 playoffs, Watford was promoted to the Premier League for the 2006-07 season, only to be relegated back to the second division for this season.
American defender Jay DeMerit has been in and out of the Watford lineup since suffering a knee injury more than a month ago. On Saturday, DeMerit was on the bench, but did not play in a 2-0 home loss to Crystal Palace with both goals scored in the final 16 minutes.
On April 12, DeMerit did not play as Watford drew 1-1 with West Bromwich Albion. Three days earlier, DeMerit entered in the 71st minute of a 3-0 setback to visiting Barnsely, Watford's worst defeat of the season. That followed a 1-0 victory over visiting Coventry with DeMerit coming off the bench in the 86th minute.
DeMerit's last start was a 3-0 loss at Hull March 29 with him coming out in the 79th minute.
With two games left, Watford, 1-3-8 in its last 12 outings, is not assured of making the promotion playoffs, in which the third-through-sixth-place finishers compete for a third berth in the Premier League
At 18-11-15 with 69 points, Watford is in fifth place, one point ahead of Crystal Palace (17-10-17) with Wolverhampton (17-12-15, 66) and Ipswich Town (17-13-14, 65) still hanging on.
West Brom (22-11-11, 77) and Stoke City (20-9-15, 75) are in the first two places, but have not yet clinched the two automatic promotion spots over Hull City (20-12-12, 72) and Bristol City (19-11-14, 71).