Date:Tuesday December 19 2006
Fulham (2) 2 Middlesbrough (0) 1
Although Chris Coleman was desparate for this win to get Fulham back to their winning ways, he could not help but feel sympathy for his old mucker from his Crystal Palace playing days, Although I am sure that Gareth Southgate understands that ifs everyman for himself whilst trying to survive the strongest league in the world!!
And so it was at Craven Cottage last night, when first-half goals by Heidar Helguson and Brian McBride pushed Southgate deeper into the mire.
A fine late goal by Mark Viduka kindled hope for Middlesbrough, but Fulham were equal to the scrap. Coleman has vigorously defended Southgate's right to manage without the relevant coaching credentials.
Southgate was unfortunate here, falling behind early to a contentious penalty, but his threadbare defence were guilty for letting in McBride for a second and so compounding the club's problems.
He offered few excuses. 'That performance would have been good enough to get a different result at another time,' he said.
Understandably, Coleman was delighted that his patched-up team, without playmaker Luis Boa Morte, fashioned a win, but he remained pragmatic as he measured up Fulham's situation. One minute his team are spoken of as being on the fringes of Europe, the next they are said to be a relegation battle.
'I never lose sight of the bigger picture here,' Coleman insisted. 'I know the set-up and I know the finances. This wasn't pretty, graceful football, but for us a mid-table finish represents a great performance. We must never start talking about breaking into the top six.'
The ravages of injury could not inhibit Fulham's sense of purpose, and they had reason to believe in their own strength when confronted by a Middlesbrough defence shorn of Jonathan Woodgate and Robert Huth.
Middlesbrough are a tricky team to predict, so capable are they of switching between the skilful and the abject in a single game. But the initial pressure was all theirs, and the trickery of Morrison was hardly a precursor to an early Fulham goal. This, though, did not account for the actions of captain George Boateng, who put in a heavy but committed challenge on Moritz Volz, for which referee Mike Dean had no hesitation in awarding a penalty.
Helguson was the picture of assurance as he sent Mark Schwarzer the wrong way. Tomasz Radzinski almost added to the lead five minutes later, but this time the Middlesbrough goalkeeper parried.
The Middlesbrough threat was spasmodic, and Southgate's second-string back four looked increasingly exposed. They were directly at fault for Fulham's second goal. Radzinski found the perfect pass to pick out McBride, but the striker should have been far more closely marked by Chris Riggott - as it was, the American simply span and chose his spot for a curling strike that easily evaded Schwarzer.
Although Middlesbrough's response, rather like Fulham's general play, was far from pretty, there was no faulting their spirit. Their reward was at last gained after 73 minutes, when Aiyegbeni Yakubu slid a ball through Fulham's defence for strike partner Viduka to chase. The Australian happily obliged, accelerating past a static Zat Knight to place a shot comfortably to Niemi's left.
'I thought we had enough chances to win the game,' Southgate argued, as he was again left seeking his first away win in management.
'If we could win away, it would relieve the pressure on our home games, but we have had the opportunities to do that.'
At some stage soon, if his first season in charge is not to unravel into a nightmare, those opportunities will have to be seized.
Niemi; Rosenior, Knight, Christanval,
Queudrue; Routledge, Volz, Brown,
Radzinski; McBride, Helguson.
subs: Lastuvka (g), Bocanegra, Runstrom, Zakuani, N Jensen.
Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Parnaby, Arca, Riggott, Taylor; Morrison, Davies, Boateng, Downing; Yakubu, Viduka.
Subs: Jones (g), Christie, Cattermole, Johnson, Wheater.
Vital's Man of the match: Tomasz Radzinski (Fulham).
eferee: M Dean (Merseyside).
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