Fulham lack confidence in front of goal
Martin Hardy at Sunday Telegraph

Middlesbrough (1) 1 Fulham (0) 0

Quite what links the rugged landscape of Middlesbrough to the hip-swivelling rhythm of Brazil is anyone's guess, but there can be no denying the galvanising effect when a samba swagger is in town.

It could be their most productive relationship yet, given his phenomenal scoring record in Holland. They had to wait for nearly an hour before meeting their latest beau in the flesh, and there were few trees pulled up during his 32 minutes as a second-half substitute in the place of the once more underwhelming Dong Gook Lee.

But Alves' reception was staggering. Nearly 4,000 more people came through the turnstiles than for the previous game with Wigan and there is a growing belief that his arrival will be the fulcrum for a new chapter being patiently written by Gareth Southgate.

The Boro manager has steadfastly maintained support for Jeremie Aliadiere all season and is now getting his rewards. Aliadiere is faster, stronger and more assured in front of goal following the kind of extended run that would never have come his way at Arsenal.

He was the matchwinner yesterday, a timely reminder to his manager at a time when Southgate chooses from a clutch of world class forwards.

advertisement"Jeremie has been outstanding all season," Southgate said. "He has played unselfishly, his pace and movement cause problems and he is now finishing his chances. He has an air of confidence about him and he is growing in strength.

"I knew the reception Afonso would get. We wouldn't have got the impetus at half-time if I had brought him on then. I knew he would struggle physically because he's not ready.

"I had to counter that with the lift he would give the crowd. He has dipped his toes in the water and has seen what the Premier League can be like. He has had a mad couple of weeks with visas and training with new team-mates."

They are team-mates now filled with belief, a huge contrast to the collective that fell into the bottom three at the start of December. Yesterday's victory took them to 12th position, above north-east rivals Newcastle and out of sight of Fulham, marooned one place from the foot of the division.

"I would have thought Middlesbrough are not in danger now," said Roy Hodgson, Fulham's manager. "Gareth won't be nonchalant and think the battle is won, but those three points are a step in the right direction for them and a major blow for us."

Neither side created much but for the goal and a succession of Stewart Downing corners that Robert Huth could not convert. Clint Dempsey almost equalised late, but Fulham lack confidence in front of goal.

"We showed a lot of grit," added Hodgson. "There were signs of encouragement. I would like to see the goal. I don't know who played him onside. It was a technical error. We go away with a reasonably encouraging performance but a bad result."