Saturday 4 April 2009. Liverpool arrive at Craven Cottage to take on Fulham in a match that the Reds must win to maintain their charge for a first Premier League title. It’s a fixture that has banana skin written all over it, for this was the venue where Liverpool’s main rivals for the crown, reigning champions Manchester United, were taken down 2-0 only a fortnight earlier.
Liverpool boss the game but cannot find a way past Fulham’s well-drilled defence. It looks as if the Reds will be held to a frustrating scoreless draw as the third minute of stoppage time begins. Ryan Babel takes possession and cuts infield. His pass to Fernando Torres is intercepted by Brede Hangeland, whose attempted clearance ricochets off Torres and falls to Yossi Benayoun, who takes a touch to set himself before firing the ball past Mark Schwarzer. It’s a goal that gives Liverpool a priceless victory and a surge of belief that they could finally land the league title.
Alas, they would have to settle for second behind Manchester United, despite losing just two league games all season. However, no Liverpool fan who followed the club through that memorable campaign will forget the outpouring of elation and sure-fire conviction spawned by Benayoun’s 93rd-minute winner at Craven Cottage.
The Israeli midfielder spent just three years at Liverpool but would depart Anfield with a goal ratio just shy of one every three matches. Having joined from West Ham in 2007, he struck two hat-tricks in his first season for the Reds, one in the Champions League in an 8-0 romp over Besiktas and another in an FA Cup tie against Havant & Waterlooville that proved far more uncomfortable than was generally expected.
During the aforementioned 2008/09 season, Benayoun scored a famous winner in Liverpool’s late victory against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, as well as two goals in a pulsating 4-4 draw with Arsenal during the title run-in. Indeed, during those concluding weeks of the season, the Israeli was one of Liverpool’s key players in a team that also contained Torres, Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Sami Hyypia, Xabi Alonso, Dirk Kuyt and Javier Mascherano.
Benayoun would only have one more season at Anfield before departing for Chelsea in 2010. He would never enjoy the same cult hero status at Stamford Bridge, with the Blues sending him on loan spells to Arsenal and West Ham during a disappointing three-year spell. He moved to QPR in 2013 before returning to Israel after half a season at Loftus Road. Now 37, Benayoun is likely to see out his career with Maccabi Tel Aviv, with whom he featured during last season’s Europa League in a frustrating campaign which saw them lose to Irish underdogs Dundalk in the group stage.
Considering the star-studded Liverpool squads in which he featured during the Rafael Benitez days, it can be easy to gloss over Benayoun’s contribution in the red shirt. For the fleeting bliss and hope that his stoppage time winner at Fulham brought, though, he will always be remembered with great fondness and admiration from Liverpool fans.