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Boro 3-1 Fulham: Cottagers lack edge

last updated Monday 14th May 2007, 7:37 AM
Simon Davies
Simon Davies scores last Fulham
goal of 2006/2007 season

Mark Viduka capped what could prove to be his Middlesbrough swansong with a clinically-taken double as the Teessiders eased past Fulham with a 3-1 win.

The 31-year-old Australian, whose contract expires at the end of next month, fired his side ahead on 34 minutes and claimed his 19th goal of the season within a minute of the restart.

Had it not been for a fine one-on-one save from Antti Niemi, who was outstanding in the Fulham goal, eight minutes from time, Viduka would have collected a hat-trick and become the first Boro striker to score 20 goals in a season since Fabrizio Ravanelli a decade ago.

The Teessiders wobbled briefly when Simon Davies cashed in on an error by David Wheater to level on 42 minutes, but the defender made amends in first-half stoppage time with a powerful header to restore his side's lead.

Victory ensured Gareth Southgate's side finished the season one point and two places better off than they had done in Steve McClaren's final campaign at the Riverside Stadium.

Fulham fought gamely throughout, but were comprehensively beaten as Viduka and England winger Stewart Downing made the difference.

Both sides had confirmed their top-flight status with vital 1-0 victories last week and the atmosphere before kick-off had an end-of-season feel about it.

However, what transpired far exceeded expectations as Boro ripped into the Londoners.

Has it not been for the excellence of Niemi, the Teessiders could have been home and dry by the break.

The Finn pulled off two stunning saves with seconds to keep out Dong-Gook Lee's vicious volley and then Emanuel Pogatetz's header, and later repeated to feat to turn away George Boateng's fierce drive and Fabio Rochemback's long-range piledriver.

Match Stats Boro Fulham
Goals 3 1
Possession 62% 38%
Goal attempts 21 8
On Target 10 5
Corners 10 3
Off-sides 4 1
Fouls 11 12
Yellows 1 0
Reds 0 0
source: Soccernet

However, Niemi's heroics should really have made little difference as chances came and went with Southgate's men failing to make the most of them.

Chief villain was South Korea striker Lee, who squandered glorious opportunities on 17 minutes and then on the stroke of half-time, although he was not alone.

Downing and Argentinian midfielder Julio Arca were also guilty of bad misses, and it took the expert to make the pressure tell.

Viduka needed no second invitation after being played in by Jonathan Woodgate, calmly shifting the ball onto his right foot before dispatching it past the helpless Niemi.

Wheater, in for the injured Andrew Taylor, was left red-faced three minutes before the break when he failed to deal with Carlos Bocangera's up-and-under and then compounded the error by leaving his header short for Davies to lob keeper Mark Schwarzer.

However, he atoned for his mistake deep into stoppage time when he thundered home a header from Rochemback's corner to restore Boro's lead.

Fulham found themselves further behind within a minute of the restart when Viduka once again demonstrated the power and finishing ability which has proved so valuable to the Teessiders over the years.

Collecting Lee's pass with his back to goal, he failed in his attempt to play Boateng in, but persevered to roll his marker and drill an unstoppable shot past Niemi.

The visitors might have grabbed a lifeline on 48 minutes when Tomasz Radzinski found space on the left, but he fired into the side-netting with Schwarzer covering his near post.

Lee's accuracy deteriorated further as his desperation to score increased, and he fired high and wide from distance on 56 minutes with the visitors stretched once again.

By contrast, Viduka was in menacing form and intent on completing a hat-trick, Bocanegra and former Boro defender Franck Queudrue, on for Philippe Christanval, combining to deny him a shot at goal and Liam Rosenior managing to cut out Boateng's cross on the hour with the Australian waiting to pounce at the far post.

The 31-year-old almost got there with 20 minutes remaining when he controlled Downing's inviting cross and then sent a dipping volley inches over the bar with Niemi rooted to the spot.

Fulham substitute Collins John saw a 72nd-minute effort blocked by Wheater, but Bocanegra had to be on his toes to get to Downing's cross just before Viduka seconds later with the Riverside urging the striker on.

But the former Leeds frontman should really have collected his third goal as time ran down as he danced towards Niemi only to see the keeper kick the ball away and then recover to parry Rochemback's follow-up.

Middlesbrough boss Gareth Southgate has not given up hope of persuading striker Mark Viduka to extend his stay at the Riverside Stadium after seeing him sink Fulham.

The 31-year-old Australian scored twice to take his tally for the season to 19 as Boro stormed to a 3-1 victory which handed them a 12th-place finish in the Barclays Premiership.

Viduka was given a standing ovation when he was substituted in the final minute of normal time, and the home supporters among a crowd of 29,556 implored him to sign the contract extension he has been offered as the players returned for a lap of honour.

The former Leeds frontman gave nothing away in a radio interview conducted on the pitch, and Southgate is hoping for a positive answer within the next 10 days.

Southgate said: 'He is going to think about things over the next few days. I suspect we will know in the next 10 days or so.

'He heads back to Australia to link up with their team, but I do not mind how long it takes if it is the right answer from our point of view.'

Viduka demonstrated his ability with two excellent finishes, in contrast to the rest of his team-mates.

His 34th-minute strike put Boro ahead, and after young defender David Wheater had atoned for his own error in allowing Simon Davies to level by heading home Boro's second in first-half stoppage time, he added his second within a minute of the restart to clinch the points.

Southgate admitted his need to assess the squad when he took over from Steve McClaren last summer had caused a delay in resolving Viduka's situation, although one he hopes will not prove fatal.

He said: 'Once a player goes into the last year of his contract, then he has the right to think about things. The longer it was left, he is then prepared to exercise that right.

'With it being my first year, I suppose I wanted to assess the squad in the early part of the season and I did not want to make a decision last summer on what I was going to do with players this summer.

'Perhaps that delay has slightly put us on the back foot a bit, but I needed to make sure I was making the right decisions on people.

'But that is how it has to be. If we had rushed into things previously, anything could have happened.

'But he knew we wanted him to stay - we made that clear in January when we had the opportunity to sell him if we had wanted to.

'Whatever happens with him, he has been brilliant for me as a manager. In my first season, he has been a real leader in the dressing room and on the field.

'I am very grateful for his contribution.'

Fulham boss Lawrie Sanchez:
Sanchez, who was handed the Fulham job on a permanent basis on Friday, admitted his side had got what it deserved, and was relieved that safety had already been assured.

He said: 'As I understand it, we have avoided it by a point, have we? To be honest, that is not good enough.

'I have had five games and what is it - three defeats, a draw and a win?

'We have got over the line, but we have squeaked over the line. The job now is to make sure this is but a distant memory come next season.'

Sanchez used the final day to hand a senior debut to defender Matthew Briggs, who at 16 years and 65 days old, became the youngest player to feature in a Premiership game.

Middlesbrough: Schwarzer, Davies, Woodgate, Wheater, Pogatetz, Downing, Boateng (Morrison 68), Rochemback, Arca, Lee (Yakubu 68), Viduka (Johnson 90).
Subs Not Used: Jones, Euell.

Booked: Pogatetz.

Goals: Viduka 34, Wheater 45, Viduka 47.

Fulham: Niemi, Rosenior, Christanval (Queudrue 50), Knight, Bocanegra, Dempsey, Volz (Briggs 77), Davies, Radzinski, Helguson (John 64), McBride.
Subs Not Used: Lastuvka, Jensen.

Goals: Davies 42.

Att: 29,556

Ref: M Riley (W Yorkshire).


Source soccernet
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