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Fulham grab lifeline - S. Times

last updated Sunday 21st April 2002, 9:58 AM
Leeds (0) 0 Fulham (0) 1
Fulham winning at Elland Road ended with the fans’ boos filling the air and Leeds United’s players walking off the field as following a hearse. In a sense, they were because the dream of next season’s Champions League formally died yesterday. Fulham, on the other hand, guaranteed their Premiership status next season.

  Fulham midfielder  
  Fulham goal scorer
Steed Malbranque
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What would the coroner’s report say about the Leeds team: passed away peacefully after a short illness? That would be kind because Leeds were hardly a team yesterday. Where was the joy, the effervescence that once made them sparkle? Gone. The question now is who will be around when the team starts again?

Fulham deserved to win, their first away victory in the Premiership since the turn of the year. They worked hard for what they got and when Steed Malbranque got his chance, he took it well. But do not forget why Fulham had fallen into such a perilous position: they are a nice football team in the same way that the poodle is a nice dog.

Malbranque deserves credit and it was no accident that his strike won the match. Seven minutes of the second half had passed when an Alain Goma shot was blocked and fell to him. Quick as lightning, he struck with his right foot and the speed of the shot beat Nigel Martyn. It wasn’t that Leeds didn’t search for an equaliser but rather that they didn’t know where to look.

Afterwards David O’Leary acknowledged that his team lost a little heart after Malbranque’s goal and lamented the absence of the injured Mark Viduka.

“He made a silly challenge in a five-a-side on Friday but that sums up our season,” said O’Leary. Sadly, it does not. Leeds’ problems run much deeper than unfortunate injuries.

The team have lost their way. From the performances, you now get a sense of internal disenchantment and diminished self-esteem. Some of the players have not progressed and others have gone backwards. Without wingers, yesterday’s side was tactically incoherent.

The spirit that once made the team formidable has been eroded and again yesterday too much desire was spent in unhelpful aggression. Lee Bowyer was a particular culprit but there were times, too, when David Batty and Danny Mills were not much better. Nothing demonstrates disharmony as much as indiscipline.

Even Rio Ferdinard, who you expect to soothe and encourage, snarled at Mills after the full-back allowed Luis Boa Morte to slip inside him. It was a bad mistake but Ferdinand’s rebuke didn’t do much for Mills’ spirits. Another tell-tale sign was Robbie Fowler’s listlessness. His game depends on sharpness but yesterday he played as if just awoken from a deep sleep. The darting runs that so trouble defenders were absent. Robbie Keane played well, but too often he had to run for two men.

What will gall Leeds fans is that so much more could have been achieved this season. Even yesterday, Leeds still had plenty of chances to beat Fulham. Fowler scrambled the ball across the line in the first half but the goal was disallowed because of Bowyer’s foul on Edwin Van der Sar. Then Keane was unlucky when running skilfully through the defence before pulling his shot wide.

Match Stats Leeds Fulham
Goal attempts 9 7
On Target 4 4
Hit woodwork 0 0
Fouls 12 16
Offsides 4 1
Corners 1 4
Yellows 2 3
Reds 0 0
source: www.sports.com
Right on half-time Fowler stooped to head at the far post but couldn’t get enough power and Van der Sar saved. There were other chances, most notably when Mills crossed for Keane, who evaded Steve Finnan’s tackle and laid the ball back for Fowler. He blazed high and over. Fulham were content to funnel back and play Leeds on the break. They did so effectively and Van der Sar didn’t have much more to do. Andy Melville and Goma were well protected by Sylvain Legwinski, who did much to stifle Leeds.

Rufus Brevett also did much to annoy them. In the left-back’s various skirmishes with Bowyer, Batty and Alan Smith, he was as much sinned against as sinning. From Leeds’ point of view, the absurdity is that the usual suspects continue to involve themselves in the usual nonsense.

For the summer, O’Leary could do worse than give his warriors video tapes of Don Revie’s team at its best. The old team could and often did physically dominate their rivals. They could, occasionally, be dirty but they were rarely undisciplined. Revie, you see, brought together a fine group of players and moulded them into a great team. So far, O’Leary has only a fine group of players.

Leeds Martyn, Mills, Ferdinand, Matteo, Harte, Smith, Bakke, Batty, Bowyer, Fowler, Keane.

Subs Not Used: Robinson, Kelly, Wilcox, Johnson, Richardson.

Booked: Bowyer, Matteo.

Fulham Van der Sar, Finnan, Melville, Goma, Brevett, Davis (Ouaddou 87), Malbranque, Boa Morte (Goldbaek 9), Legwinski, Saha (Hayles 77), Marlet.

Subs Not Used: Taylor, Knight.

Booked: Goma(F,3), Van der Sar(D, 45), Legwinski(F, 83).

Goals: Malbranque 52.

Att: 39,111 Ref: R Styles (Waterlooville).
Source The Times by David Walsh
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