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Bracewell should be given his head

last updated Monday 10th January 2000, 11:08 AM

No matter what triumphs Paul Bracewell provides for his Fulham side, it appears the club are still gratuitously ungrateful.

Since Bracewell took over from Kevin Keegan, he has seen Ruud Gullit linked with his job, Terry Venables and now Joe Kinnear. There seems no pleasing Mohamed Al Fayed, even though the chairman ran on the pitch afterwards to celebrate this second convincing victory over Premiership opposition.

But then, this is the club who parted company with Micky Adams after he had led them to promotion from the Second Division, installing the charismatic Keegan in his place.

While Bracewell may not be the kind of 'in your face' manager that appeals to Fulham's own sphinx, he has put together a talented coaching team in Frank Sibley, his assistant, and Viv Busby, an ex-Fulham striker.

The homework they did on Wimbledon was sufficient to win their fourth round tie 3-0 and follow up their impressive 3-1 victory over Tottenham in the Worthington Cup last month.

No matter that this once combative Dons side, who used to play like dogs of war and revelled in their nickname of the Crazy Gang, raised no more than a whimper. They only played as well as Fulham allowed them to.

Bracewell switched to a back four to cope with Wimbledon's aggressive front players and, apart from a spell just after half-time, Fulham controlled the match.

It was a perfect way for Bracewell to let Al Fayed know he has the tactical acumen and communication skills to take the club further. There is a basis here, a team well organised and with the fire and hunger to strike out for the Premiership.

Lee Clark stressed that in the dressing-room afterwards, when all the talk was of who they fancied in the last 16. Given the way they overran Wimbledon at times, Fulham will take some beating in this competition.

At the back they were rock solid, in the middle they were magnificently served and up front, Geoff Horsfield and Barry Hayles provided so much movement and hard work that the Dons were stretched to breaking point.

Clark said: 'We definitely ruffled them and not many teams do that. I think the attitude we had was to show that beating Spurs was no fluke.' It is interesting that Bracewell has grafted into his side three gems from the north-east - Andy Melville, Kevin Ball and Clark.

There is a grit about them, a willingness to put their foot in and win the ball. Once they had it, Clark made sure they did not give it away, passing it convincingly on a pudding of a pitch.

It meant that Hayles got the service he needed to run at Wimbledon and take on defenders.

He said: 'The manager has given me licence to use my tricks. Wimbledon's game is straightforward and once we broke it up and combated the way they played, they did not have much else to offer.'

Wayne Collins scored twice and Steve Finnan got the other, Wimbledon unable to recover after going two down before the interval. Collins, who has now scored five goals in as many starts, said: 'When we play Premiership sides, it suits our style more.'

So long as Bracewell is given the opportunity to work unhindered, Fulham can get into the Premiership.

Maybe not this season but the potential is there.

Clark identified the ambition within Craven Cottage when he said: 'I have seen at this club the same kind of driving force that was in place under Sir John Hall at Newcastle United.

'It happened there and it is happening at Fulham. I wanted to go for it, that's why I joined them. This kind of result convinces me I was right.'

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