(Reuters) - Liverpool kept their top-four ambitions alive with a dramatic 3-2 victory over Fulham on Wednesday, but match-winner Steven Gerrard acknowledged they cannot afford to keep giving away goals if they want to play in Europe next season.
Gerrard converted a last-minute penalty after Sascha Riether sent Daniel Sturridge tumbling at Craven Cottage, keeping the Reds in fourth spot, three ahead of Tottenham Hotspur in the race for a place in the Champions League.
Liverpool were worthy winners but made victory difficult for themselves, giving away two goals to the Premier League's bottom club which forced them to come from behind twice.
A comical own goal from Kolo Toure gave Fulham an early lead, before a stunning Gerrard pass allowed Sturridge to level matters just before halftime.
Kieran Richardson pounced on a poor clearance from Martin Skrtel to take back the advantage for the hosts just after the hour mark, and after Philippe Coutinho drew Liverpool level for the second time Gerrard finished the comeback from the spot.
Amid the jubilation, Liverpool's captain said they needed to tighten up at the back to maintain a run that has left them four points off leaders Chelsea with 12 matches remaining.
"It's a great win for the lads. I got the final penalty, which is an important spot-kick, but it was about the character and determination we showed today," he told the club website (www.liverpoolfc.com).
"I don't think we defended well enough but we showed plenty of guts and we never gave up. If you do that, more often than not you get the breaks - and we got one in the end. It was a great win for us."
Although Liverpool have drawn plenty of praise for their stunning attacking form, including Saturday's 5-1 mauling of Arsenal, defensive lapses have cost them valuable points.
Another Toure error allowed West Bromwich Albion to share the spoils earlier in February, and last month lax defending handed Aston Villa a 2-0 lead before Liverpool fought back for a draw, points that could prove vital in one of the tightest title races in recent years.
"Against Arsenal, we showed how much class we've got," Gerrard added.
"We showed we've got talent all over the pitch; at home, with the atmosphere behind us, you don't have to motivate yourself - you just go out and perform, and more often than not you play well.
"But coming away on a Wednesday night, windy, on a difficult pitch, away to Fulham is a big test for the team. We've passed it but we still have to learn from our mistakes and defend better on the road if we're to finish in the top four places.
"We're in the mix. It's still early days, there's a lot of football to be played and we're not going to get carried away. But we are in good form. We feel as if we're dark horses."
(Reporting By Josh Reich, editing by Ed Osmond)