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Fulham a class above - Independent

last updated Sunday 09th December 2001, 8:25 AM
Fulham won a slow burner of a game between two of the many teams clustered around the middle of the Premiership which came alight with goals on either side of half-time and positively flared up 15 minutes from the end, when Luis Boa Morte (for the second time this season) and Everton's David Weir were sent off amid a scrum involving most players on the pitch.

Barry Hayles had scored twice to bring about a deserved victory for a team who – whatever the table says – looked a class above the opposition. Unbeaten now in seven games, they would be well up among the challenging pack if even one of four home draws had been converted into a victory. Lack of goals has been the problem, though Hayles could not be faulted yesterday, except for his part in the brawl.

As he and Louis Saha might both have been dismissed, and Everton were given the subsequent free-kick, their manager Walter Smith was as close as he gets to animation. "The sending off [of Weir] was disgraceful," he said. "He's the only player ever sent off for clearing the ball, getting pulled down and then being stamped on by an opponent. It was a mystifying decision, among many others. We'll appeal if we can."

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The hoo-ha began when Weir, already booked, ran heavily into Boa Morte, who fell to the floor and grabbed the Everton man's leg. That hardly seemed a red card offence, but off he went, while Hayles escaped for lunging in with his foot and Saha got away with what looked like a flailing elbow. Fulham's goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar won the prize for running furthest to join in, in his case the best part of 70 yards.

Perhaps he was bored, Everton having given him so little to do. Their players were lucky that the incident deflected Smith's wrath from a feeble performance, which he admitted was their worst of the season. After four unbeaten matches, the last three without conceding a goal, they troubled Van der Sar with one early free-kick by Alan Stubbs and nothing more. Lacking a natural goalscorer in the continued absence of Duncan Ferguson and Kevin Campbell – both some way from regaining fitness – and believing a partnership of Tomasz Radzinski and Joe-Max Moore too lightweight, Smith persisted with a fullback, Steve Watson, as a bludgeon to Radzinski's rapier.

The ploy did not work, and despite an hour's industrious performance from Paul Gascoigne, given a rare start, the midfield was never able to wrench sufficient possession from the former Evertonian John Collins and the excellent Steed Malbranque. For half an hour, Fulham lacked penetration as well, Saha heading their only chance wide from Steve Finnan's cross before poor defending allowed a breakthrough 10 minutes before half-time. From a central position, Malbranque, surely one of the summer's best signings by any club, angled a free-kick intelligently wide to Rufus Brevett, whose cross was headed in by a criminally unmarked Hayles.

The visitors began the second half rather more aggressively, only to be undone within five minutes from a corner that followed the best move of the game. Finnan, exemplary at right-back, began it, Malbranque and Boa Morte played a sharp one-two and the latter's centre led to a shot from Saha, pushed behind by Steve Simonsen. The reprieve was brief: Malbranque's corner bypassed the defence and Hayles tapped in his second goal of the afternoon.

"You might as well go home," chorused the home supporters to the Scouse contingent. Had Malbranque's driving run a few minutes later been blessed with the finish it deserved, instead of Scot Gemmill's lunging deflection, they could have done. All the Frenchman earned was a corner and a bottle thrown at him from Evertonian fans.

Smith decided a more direct force was required in midfield so Niclas Alexandersson replaced Gascoigne, who left to a generous ovation from all round the ground. Thomas Gravesen then made way for Moore, with Watson dropping back to midfield, but there was little improvement and the only remaining drama was the double sending-off. By the final whistle, the Fulham chants had changed to "You're going down with United".

Van der Sar, Finnan, Brevett, Melville, Goma, Collins, Malbranque, Legwinski, Boa Morte, Saha (Davis 79), Hayles.

Subs Not Used: Taylor, Clark, Ouaddou, Stolcers.

Sent Off: Boa Morte (79).

Booked: Melville, Legwinski, Hayles.

Goals: Hayles 36, 50.

Simonsen, Watson, Pistone, Stubbs, Weir, Gascoigne (Alexandersson 58), Gemmill, Naysmith, Pembridge, Gravesen (Moore 73), Radzinski.

Subs Not Used: Gerrard, Unsworth, Tal.

Sent Off: Weir (77).

Booked: Weir, Pistone, Stubbs, Simonsen.

Att: 19,338 Ref: P Dowd (Stoke-on-Trent).
Source The Independent by Steve Tongue
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