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Fulham 2 Portsmouth 2 - Match Report

last updated Saturday 06th October 2001, 10:08 AM
A warm Friday afternoon defied the time of year as Fulham, without a match this weekend, took the field against Portsmouth to a closed Craven Cottage.

Despite fielding a near full-strength side, Fulham were made to work hard for the draw as their well-organised visitors looked to have the measure of the Whites' passing game from the start.

Fulham started the match brightly with Louis Saha forcing a fine save out of Portsmouth's custodian. From the ensuing corner, Fulham had the ball in the net via Zat Knight's head. Unfortunately for the Whites, his challenge with the 'keeper was judged to be too physical for the referee's taste.

Having survived this early shock, Portsmouth took the lead only a matter of minutes later. Despite a clear suspicion of offside, Fulham's back line was caught out as Hahnemann was lobbed with ease as he attempted to close in on Portsmouth's lone attacker. 1-0 to the visitors.

With the game still yet to find any meaningful pattern, Fulham occasionally threatened down the left with Jon Harley and Rufus Brevett combining well. However, with the defence playing slightly deeper than usual, Fulham were unable to break with any sufficient threatening force.

John Collins was doing a sterling job of anchoring the midfield diamond when Fulham's next significant scoring opportunity arose. Receiving the ball in midfield, Bjarne Goldbaek managed to feed the ball inside Portsmouth's left back for the advancing Mark Hudson to clip in a dangerous-looking cross. Barry Hayles met the ball in the centre of the six-yard line but his header was too fine and the ball sailed past the far post.

At times Portsmouth appeared happy to depart from their strict 4-4-2 formation and place all ten men behind the ball in an attempt to hold on to their lead. Such a defensive tactic looked to be paying off, as Fulham were limited to plenty of possession in non-threatening areas. Indeed Portsmouth were doing a fine job in taking the pace out of Fulham's attacks.

Attacks, which often failed to carry enough momentum to successfully break past Pompey's midfield line.

On 20 minutes, Fulham were stunned again when Portsmouth doubled their lead through a typically opportunist goal. With the right half of Fulham's back four caught out of position up field, a diagonal ball over, and in between Zat Knight and Rufus Brevett managed to find a lone striker in blue and white who made no mistake in clipping the ball over the advancing Hahnemann.

Portsmouth went back into defensive mode after their second, yet there was a greater air of confidence this time, as they looked to keep their attacking options available.

Fulham, on the other hand were still struggling to keep possession of the ball amidst some dense and tenacious defending. With Louis Saha looking to mesmerise in front of Portsmouth's back line, his trickery on the ball was often relentlessly bulldozed wide.

Still looking to find a way through the seemingly impenetrable wall of blue, Saha was soon given a prime opportunity as Fulham were awarded a free kick on the edge of the area. Stepping up to the ball, Saha rocketed a fearsome right foot pile driver into the wall, which deflected back for the Frenchman to pull the trigger again, only for his second effort to ricochet away.

Unperturbed, Fulham continued in their attempts to thread their way through the packed heart of Portsmouth's defence. In the last minute of the half, their efforts were rewarded.

Just as Fulham looked to have exhausted their options in-and-around the D of the area. The ball was chipped over the melee for Saha to latch on to. His first touch, on the stretch, faintly took the pace out of the ball. His second attempt was far more decisive as he thundered the ball into the roof of the net, via an incidental deflection off the 'keeper's body.

Having reached the interval only one goal down, Fulham made four half-time substitutions. With Collins, Saha, Hayles and Brevett making way for Legwinski, Boa Morte, Marlet and Lewis.

Despite Fulham's change in personnel, Portsmouth were still using fewer players to pass the ball to greater effect; and with their midfield significantly restructured, Fulham were taking time to find their bearings in the middle of the park.

A midfield which now comprised of Legwinski in the holding role, Lewis and Goldbaek wide with Clark supporting the strikers.

On 52 minutes Steve Marlet used his electric pace to chase down a ball he had little right to win. Having taken the Portsmouth back line by surprise, Marlet was unceremoniously brought down for what looked like a clear-cut penalty. To the amazement of the Fulham players and management, the referee awarded a corner.

With Zat Knight, frequently drifting forward and Marlet showing good promise, Fulham's set pieces now looked to have two useful outlets.

As the second half wore on, Boa Morte's introduction looked to have an ever increasing impact on the game. Nonetheless it was Boa Morte's companion on the right, Bjarne Goldbaek who had Fulham's next opportunity.

With Fulham now looking to get around the side of the penalty area, Goldbaek found himself in space on the right of the box. His well-aimed shot was saved at the far post however.

The Whites were now playing a good 20 yards further up the pitch than in the corresponding period of the first half, and with the introduction of Stolcers and Betsy for Goldbaek and Clark respectively. Tigana was looking to add a touch of directness to Fulham's attack.

The substitution looked to have had an almost instant effect as Stolcers showed good control to bring the ball down and play Hudson through on the overlap. The youngster, playing out of his customary centre back position, fired his shot across goal, only to see it deflect off the far post and back across the face of goal.

As Fulham began to turn the screw, Steve Marlet was looking particularly dangerous as he tirelessly chased Fulham's hopeful through-balls to great effect.

Portsmouth were not yet out of the game however, as a three-man, one touch move, initiated on the half-way line carved through Fulham's defence with shocking ease. Unfortunately for the visitors, the final piece of such a dangerous move ended up crashing against the hoardings of the Putney Terrace. However, the move was a stark warning and perhaps even a lesson to Fulham.

With almost the last throw of the dice, Fulham managed to salvage a draw with a Boa Morte strike. Having received the ball deep on the right, Hudson fed a diagonal ball into Betsy, who was heading up Fulham's midfield diamond.

Betsy spotted the run of Boa Morte ahead to his right, and in turn, fed the ball through for the Portuguese international to poke home with his right foot. The final whistle sounded shortly after.

In a match were possession was fairly even overall, Fulham found it difficult to pass the ball with purpose against a side defending with structure and intelligence. But for some individual flashes of brilliance from Fulham, an honest neutral's opinion would have to conclude that Portsmouth's clear and decisive interplay was far more satisfying from a footballing perspective.

Fulham:
Hahnemann, Hudson, Neilson, Knight, Brevett, Collins, Goldbaek, Harley, Clark, Saha, Hayles

Subs Used:
Legwinski for Collins (45), Boa Morte for Saha (45), Marlet for Hayles (45), Lewis for Brevett (45), Stolcers for Goldbaek (70), Betsy for Clark (70).
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