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Fulham surge on - Observer

last updated Sunday 13th January 2002, 1:05 PM
Fulham desperately seeking a predator. John Carew. Dwight Yorke. Anyone... The plea for a marksman, forcibly voiced from the banks of the Thames to The Riverside before two of the Premiership's more goal-shy sides met to try to avoid the probability of a goalless draw, was answered in passionate style by two Frenchmen of whom expectations were so great this season.

Louis Saha, who promised so much but has delivered so little so far, and Steve Marlet, who cost a pretty penny but has been hampered by injury, struck to remind Mohamed al-Fayed that the chequebook may not need to be flashed about so urgently after all.

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Middlesbrough, though, would be well advised to ask Steve Gibson for a little more of his funds. Perilously placed a slither above the relegation zone, having lost five of their previous six games, they were gasping for breath for much of this match and too easily relinquished an early advantage.

With neither side renowned for their free-scoring exploits - this could have been billed as 'pretty passing without penetration takes on orderly organisation without oomph' - a goal arrived with unexpected speed and from an unusual source.

Only eight minutes had elapsed when Boro took the lead and for this they owe a huge debt of gratitude to Edwin van der Sar's lapse of concentration. Carlos Marinelli's floated free-kick appeared easy pickings for the experienced Dutchman, but van der Sar decided he would leave it to drift harmlessly out of play.
Match Stats Fulham Middlesboro
Goal attempts 19 8
On Target 11 4
Fouls 15 18
Offsides 2 4
Corners 7 1
Yellows 1 2
Reds 0 0

Bad move. He obviously had not noticed Colin Cooper ghosting in behind him and Boro's stalwart defender and son of the town was only too thrilled to glance home a rare and precious goal. To put it into perspective, that took Cooper to joint second in his club'sgoalscoring charts, so grim is their goal record.

Fulham were peeved and set off to make amends. A new-look attacking combination of Steve Marlet and Barry Hayles, supported by Steed Malbranque's subtle probing, showed flashes of potential but was marshalled by the visiting rearguard fairly comfortably.

Hayles nodded a couple of half-chances narrowly off target, while Marlet, desperate to make up for lost time after a fractured tibia had robbed him of two months acclimatising to the Premiership, was full of useful endeavour. Sylvain Legwinski soon picked him out and the £11.5 million striker rose above his marker to connect with a powerful thud of the head. Too high, though.

Jean Tigana felt the need to inject new attacking impetus 10 minutes before half-time and replaced a midfielder, Legwinski, with another front man, Louis Saha. Before long, the gamble paid off handsomely as Saha struck. Malbranque whipped in a low free-kick from the right and there was the peroxide head of a precocious talent whose confidence has been in tatters for much of the season to hammer a stooping header past Mark Crossley.

Two-and-a-half minutes into first-half stoppage time, Tigana must have been even more satisfied with his tactical tinkering. Saha squeezed a pass into the box towards Hayles, whose touch was slack but invited Marlet to take up the baton. Fulham's signing nipped past Crossley and nudged his second Premiership goal of the season under the Boro goalkeeper.

Confidence now coursing through his veins, Marlet continued to tear at Boro. Immediately after the restart, his scissors kick was deflected wide and moments later another header caused a few more fluttering heartbeats for the visitors from Teesside.

Saha, equally energised, saw a thunderous header shepherded off the line by Robbie Mustoe and a drive deflected by Gareth Southgate. Fulham surged on and the shots rained in. Boro drafted back everyone bar Noel Whelan in an attempt at damage limitation.

Their lone forward supplied a rare moment of respite, Whelan skipping into the box before clipping an angled drive just past the far post. Attacking support is required, and soon.

Fulham: Van der Sar, Finnan, Brevett, Melville, Goma, Collins, Malbranque, Legwinski (Saha 36), Davis, Marlet, Hayles (Knight 73).

Subs Not Used: Taylor, Harley, Stolcers.

Booked: Hayles.

Goals: Saha 40, Marlet 45.

Middlesbrough: Crossley, Stockdale, Cooper, Southgate, Festa, Ince, Mustoe, Greening (Windass 67), Marinelli (Nemeth 78), Whelan, Ricard (Stamp 50).

Subs Not Used: Gavin, Jones.

Booked: Ince, Windass.

Goals: Cooper 8.

Att: 18,975

Ref: M Dean (The Wirral).
Source The Observer by Amy Lawrence
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