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The Arizonan

Glory days again - The Observer

last updated Sunday 15th April 2001, 12:52 AM
The last time Fulham embraced the top flight of English football, Yorkshire were winning the county championship under Brian Close and The Beatles were sounding better than Liam Gallagher ever would.

But as the stylish Londoners prepare now for their reincarnation as a serious team, there will be more than nostalgia to sustain their debut in the Premiership next season.

They needed only a draw to ensure promotion, so dominant are they in the First Division with six matches left, but they rounded out their campaign with a win of nervous brilliance.

As a Fulham fan of 60 years' standing remarked during this classy performance: 'There is not a single player of ours out there who has played better than he is playing now for Jean Tigana. In fact, this has to be our most talented team of them all.'

It would be a delight for all impartial admirers of the passing game if Fulham were able to embrace that talent under pressure against the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Leeds.

This is the sort of football that Arthur Rowe would have been proud of at White Hart Lane several decades ago - yet Tigana has brought a French flair to Fulham's play that is just as wonderful to watch.

He has obviously given them free rein to express themselves as they see fit and they did just that with a flurry of nutmegs, backheeled flicks, dummy runs and intuitive running off the ball.

There was little in the first 45 minutes to suggest we had gathered to witness anything more than an exhibition, although, playing into a driving wind and drizzle in the second half, Fulham had one or two uncomfortable moments.

Overall, though, Fulham were quicker, smarter and more composed than Huddersfield, whose anxiety for points was probably more urgent given their parlous position near the bottom of the table. They had come to this match unbeaten in five games yet were so clearly outclassed it was hard to believe these teams were in the same division.

One of the first to recognise Fulham's superiority was the sharp-eyed Town manager Lou Macari, who said: 'On the opening weekend of the season I went to watch Birmingham play Fulham at St Andrews. When I came back into the McAlpine on the Monday morning, I told the rest of our coaching staff that I had just seen the champions-elect of Division One.'

These were two teams going in decidedly opposite directions, a disparity made cruelly obvious through the class of Boa Morte and Saha up front and the masterful defending of Melville at the back, leaving few areas in which Huddersfield competed on level terms.

Nevertheless the first goal was a long time coming, as Fulham played with almost arrogant ease. In the 65th minute Lucketti brought Boa Morte down in the area and, from the spot, Saha did what he does best and blasted the ball home. Within 12 minutes, however, Facey robbed Symons in midfield, held off Melville and placed the equaliser neatly under Taylor.

Even though they needed only a point, Fulham now regathered their senses and pressed forward again after this hiccup in search of a win. Boa Morte, yet again, picked up Finnan's chipped pass, rounded the keeper Vaesen and languidly stroked in the winner.

While Fulham had the majority of possession and chances - 11 shots on goal to Huddersfield's five - there were a few moments in the second half when the machine looked a little creaky. Fulham missed chance after chance.

For Huddersfield, Lucketti was competitive throughout, bringing down Saha and Boa Morte in separate challenges; Heary and Facey also provided odd moments of encouragement and their Dutch international Gorre might have scored in the second half if he'd had an extra moment on the ball.

For Fulham, Clark, despite missing a late chance, was all smooth control in the middle of the field. Generally, the players around him had all the time and space they needed in which to create a succession of eye-pleasing attacks.

The several thousand who travelled to Huddersfield to witness Fulham's elevation stayed behind for 20 minutes celebrating near the golf range-end goalmouth. Next season they will have one more winter at Craven Cottage, before the builders move in. Overall they can hardly care where they play - this time five years ago they were losing 2-1 to Torquay at the bottom end of the Third Division. It's been some journey.

Source The Observer by Kevin Mitchell
Since 1998
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