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Fulham out Leeds - Soccernet

last updated Monday 03rd December 2001, 8:47 AM
It wouldn't have been the most spectacular goal of his career, nor would it have been entirely deserved. But Robbie Fowler's scuffed overhead kick four minutes from time, executed while slowly falling on his backside, nearly provided the £11million striker with the perfect start to life as a Leeds United player.

Fulham goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar trod on the ball as it bobbled near his goal line, briefly creating chaos before salvaging his pride.

That moment of panic aside, Fowler - who scored the first of 171 Liverpool goals on his debut at Craven Cottage in October 1993 - never really looked like repeating the achievement in his new guise as potential Leeds hero.

To the slight surprise of those who view foreign play-ers as lightweight, Fulham dominated a contest of fearful physicality and bone-jarring rawness and only their stereotypical tendency to over-elaborate allowed Leeds to escape with a point.

Leeds manager David O'Leary conceded as much afterwards, while repeating his assertion that a Champions League place - not the Premiership crown - remains the limit of their League ambitions. He certainly isn't fooled by Sir Alex Ferguson's early surrender.

But the Irishman with a habit of talking down his young team was far from bashful about Fowler, whose decision to leave Liverpool's rotation system has been rewarded with a promise of more regular football.

Insisting that the 26-year-old was now the first name on his team-sheet, O'Leary said: 'I've got to play him. He needs a run of games. I want to see him with 10 or 12 under his belt, really get his confidence going, get him up to speed in training and understanding what we expect of him.

'We've signed him at a price and, if we get him right, it will be an excellent buy. He's an excellent finisher and now he has to show that. People ask: "Why are Liverpool letting him go?", but they said the same about Dominic Matteo. I hope Robbie is the same kind of signing. 'I think we can get the best out of him. He's a lad who makes us better.'

Leeds certainly need something to improve their form, with only one win in their last seven Premiership matches explaining exactly why O'Leary willingly writes off his Premiership chances.

They were out-played, outworked, out-fought and even out-niggled by Fulham, who refused to be intimidated by a midfield bristling with the jagged skills of David Batty, Seth Johnson and Alan Smith - pulled back from striker to the right flank to cover for the absent Lee Bowyer.

Luis Boa Morte impressed far beyond his reputation, forcing Gary Kelly to clear off the line after skinning Rio Ferdinand and beating Nigel Martyn from a tight angle after 13 minutes.

Despite excellent possession and some quite dazzling interplay around the box, that was about as close as Fulham came to scoring in the first half.

Leeds were restricted to even fewer chances, Fowler lashing a tame 40- yard effort goalwards in sheer frustration.

If anything, the visitors were even less impressive after the break, though a late effort from Smith - booked early on for a twofooted lunge on Steed Malbranque - forced Van der Sar to prove his worth.

John Collins forced Martyn into a fantastic save at the other end with a 25-yard free-kick but shots on target were in short supply.

Louis Saha and Malbranque seemed to want to beat everyone in the Leeds team rather than trying for goal, while the more direct Barry Hayles couldn't buy a slice of luck, either slipping at the vital moment or finding a Leeds leg blocking his shots.

Fulham manager Jean Tigana admitted: 'We need more power around the box but we played against the best defence in the country. They have conceded only eight goals. The team progresses quickly but it's still not enough.'
Source Soccernet by John Greechan
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