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Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011

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Home victory: Fulham's Clint Dempsey (left) vies for position with Liverpool's Andy Carroll during Premier League action on Monday night at Craven Cottage. Fulham won 1-0. AP

Dempsey leads Fulham past Liverpool in ill-tempered match


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."

Top player nominees


PARIS — Barcelona teammates Lionel Messi and Xavi Hernandez will be up against Real Madrid winger Cristiano Ronaldo for the FIFA world player of the year award.

The three Ballon d'Or finalists were selected Monday from among 23 nominees. Messi beat Barcelona teammates Andres Iniesta and Xavi to win last year.

Messi also won the award two years ago when France Football magazine chose the best player in Europe. The Ballon d'Or is now merged with FIFA's player of the year award to create one trophy.

Messi and Ronaldo already have scored 17 league goals this season. They play each other in the Spanish League on Saturday.

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