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Fulham stifled - Independent

last updated Sunday 08th April 2001, 8:40 AM
Craven Cottage, used to watching Fulham brush aside mere mortals in their apparently inexorable march into the Premiership, was forced to endure a first goalless draw of the season and did not enjoy the experience.

The locals took their frustration out on West Bromwich Albion, who successfully stifled the champions-elect, but might have sand-Baggied them in a first half during which, unexpectedly, they looked the only side likely to score. Albion, in fifth place and helped by Preston's defeat at Burnley on Friday night, may not be ready for the higher grade, but should make the play-offs.

A year ago Charlton led the division by a similar margin at the same stage, only to stagger over the line in anti-climactic fashion, failing to win their last seven games and taking the championship by a mere two points from Manchester City. Fulham's players are determined not to go the same way and have the powerful incentive of knowing that any one of them could be replaced over-night by an expensive new acquisition if standards slip.

For whatever reason, they took a long time to get going. On a well-grassed pitch freshened up by rain, the ball did not find a white shirt as often as it should have. Possession was squandered in some dangerously deep positions, notably by the England under-21 international midfielder Sean Davis.

His first error let in Richard Sneekes, to feed Bob Taylor for a shot deflected past a post by a defender. Mike Appleton took the kick, from which Taylor's header was pushed over the bar by Maik Taylor. Losing the ball again, Davis conceded a free-kick in his haste to make amends, Jordao wasting the opportunity with a poor effort before being forced to limp off.

Still Albion made the better chances ­ such as they were ­ Tony Butler heading on a free-kick for Taylor to trouble his namesake in the Fulham goal again. In the last minute of the first half, Lee Hughes nodded down Neil Clement's free-kick and Taylor's quickly taken shot clipped the outside of a post.

It was extraordinary, but true, that the home side did not manage a single shot before half-time, one cross from Lee Clark, hacked away by Clem-ent, being the sum of their attacking threat. It was remedied to a degree soon after half-time with Clark's low 25-yarder, held by Russell Hoult, and Louis Saha making space to curl a shot wide of the far post.

Bjarne Goldbaek, brought on as a wide midfielder for the ineffectual Latvian, Andrejs Stolcers, added some urgency and with Luis Boa Morte suspended, Karlheinz Riedle appeared as an extra striker. The German replaced John Collins, who had not been able to exert his customary authority.

Not until the 66th minute did Fulham create a genuine chance, Davis being thwarted by Hoult and Barry Hayles hitting the rebound against his prostrate team-mate. Hoult ensured a point with late saves from Riedle and Clark.
Source Independent by Steve Tongue
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