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Fulham meanies - Observer

last updated Sunday 10th February 2002, 5:49 PM
Fulham central defender Alain Goma
Alain Goma part of the meanest defence in the Premiership

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Fulham (1) 2 Blackburn (0) 0

Fulham fans sang back home to the Nationwide to their visitors, and they might also get the last laugh on top of yesterday's fun because this defeat sends Blackburn tumbling into the relegation zone. Only the inadequacies of their immediate rivals for relegation is likely to give them cause for hope just now.

Fulham boasted the meanest defence in the Premiership going into this game. If the way they defended against Blackburn is anything to go by they must also be one of the luckiest. For Blackburn, notoriously goal-shy this season, hit the woodwork twice in the opening exchanges, and Fulham often looked wobbly at the back when under the slightest pressure.

Andy Cole struck a post first with a sweet right-foot shot from the edge of the penalty area. Then Henning Berg cracked a volley from a Damien Duff corner which Edwin van der Sar miraculously diverted onto the crossbar. Both shots seemed worthy of a goal and Blackburn's initial confidence belied their poor Premiership standing just above the relegation zone with only two wins from their previous 13 games.

Fulham, whose fans were still celebrating last season's fun and games in which they firmly crushed Blackburn in the First Division title race, looked unsure of themselves until Steve Marlet raised confidence levels when he fashioned a right-foot overhead kick which also hit a post.

The enigmatic Marlet was clearly boosted too and set off on a run which ultimately led to Fulham taking the lead 10 minutes later.

The French striker dribbled his way to the edge of the Blackburn area, exchanged a one-two with Barry Hayles, and although Berg then handled the ball when Marlet played it back again, Hayles kept his concentration and poacher's instinct to force the loose ball into the net with a lunging volley.
Match Stats Fulham Rovers
Goal attempts 13 10
On Target 8 6
Hit woodwork 1 2
Fouls 18 15
Offsides 4 1
Corners 4 2
Yellows 3 2
Reds 0 1
source: www.sports.com

Blackburn had to show some steel now or they would run the risk of being overrun. But, for a while, it was all Fulham, and Brad Friedel effectively kept Blackburn in the game with a save from Steed Malbranque's free-kick just before the break.

Blackburn's chance to get back into the game both came and went at the start of the second half when Duff crossed and David Dunn headed wide with the goal seemingly at his mercy. Lucas Neill's volleyed attempt soon after was even worse to watch.

Blackburn continued to press forward with purpose, and then, just as in the first half, they were hit by a Fulham break and went two goals down in the 63rd minute.

Midfielder Malbranque started and finished the move in devastating fashion. He broke from deep in his own half and played the ball long and wide to Marlet before making up ground into the penalty area and getting on the end of a cross to score with a flying left-foot volley.

Blackburn started this game well enough but ended up with what they deserved against the Fulham team with whom they so fiercely contested the First Division last season.

The visitors' misery was compounded when defender Craig Short was sent off for elbowing Marlet in time added on at the end.

Fulham: Van der Sar, Finnan, Brevett, Melville, Goma, Collins, Malbranque, Legwinski, Davis, Marlet (Willock 90), Hayles.

Subs Not Used: Taylor, Harley, Saha, Ouaddou.

Booked: Malbranque(02 unsporting behaviour), Melville(03 foul), Marlet(90 foul).

Goals: Hayles 31, Malbranque 63.

Blackburn: Friedel, Tugay, Berg, Short, Curtis (Hignett 68), Taylor, Duff, Dunn, Jansen (Johansson 90), Cole, Neill (Gillespie 69).

Subs Not Used: Kelly, Hughes.

Sent Off: Short Short (90 foul). Booked: Neill(7 foul), Tugay(81 foul).

Att: 19,580 Ref: M Halsey (Welwyn Garden City).
Source The Observer by Nick Callow
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