|Steed Malbranque ended 10 weeks of misery for Fulham by firing home the goal which should guarantee Jean Tigana's side Premiership football for next season.|
Lee Bowyer Card was given for a foul
Dominic Matteo Card was given for a foul
Alain Goma Card was given for a foul
Edwin Van der Sar Card was given for a foul
Sylvain Legwinski Card was given for a foul
Player was substituted due to an injury
Off:Luis Boa Morte
Player was substituted for tactical reasons
Player was substituted for tactical reasons
It was a crisp 52nd-minute finish which also doused the flickering flame of Leeds' Champions League hopes and the potential £20million windfall which comes with it.
February 9 was the date of Fulham's last league victory, following which they have endured a harrowing run of seven defeats and two draws which placed their top-flight future on the line.
But Fulham have now hit the magical 40-point barrier to move seven clear of Ipswich who appear doomed to join Derby and Leicester back in Division One as the Tractor Boys still have to play title-chasers Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool in three of their final four matches.
It was a deserved victory as David O'Leary's players laboured through agame as if the end of the season was already upon them, despite the Irishman's claim there was still plenty for his side to play for.
With the threat of Intertoto Cup football and a mid-July start to next season dispelled Sunday courtesy of Arsenal and Chelsea reaching the FA Cup final, it appeared as if thoughts had already turned to either the World Cup or some summer sunshine in a far away isle.
Ahead of kick off, Champions League football was still a possibility for Leeds as they trailed Newcastle by four points, albeit with the Magpies having a game in hand.
By the end of the 90 minutes, though, such an enticing prospect had been blown away following a listless Leeds performance, in combination with the Magpies' 3-0 romp over Charlton.
The events of such a tumultuous season finally appeared to have caught up with Leeds, who were without leading 16-goal scorer Mark Viduka after the Australian sustained a twisted ankle towards the end of training on Friday.
It allowed O'Leary to start with the two Robbies - Keane and Fowler - up front for the first time since the latter's £11million arrival from Liverpool nearly five months ago.
Leeds began, though, as if Viduka was still on the pitch as they pumped long balls forward which the burly striker would normally seize upon before bringing his team-mates into play.
Once Leeds cottoned on such a tactic was not going to work on this occasion, they then started to control the game, allowing Fulham limited time and space with which to work the ball and so even fewer opportunities. Leeds did have the ball in the back of the net midway through the half, with Fowler bundling home from close range, only for referee Rob Styles to deny the 27-year-old his 13th goal in Leeds colours due to a Lee Bowyer foul on Edwin van der Sar.
Keane, as he has often done in the past, was then guilty of wasting a superb one-on-one opportunity after being sent clear by Fowler.
With only Edwin van der Sar to beat the Republic of Ireland international flicked his shot past the advancing Dutchman, but more importantly, a yard beyond the woodwork.
Minutes before the break Leeds should have taken the lead when Alan Smith picked out Keane at the far post from the left wing, allowing the impish forward to cushion a header back across the face of the goal.
A stooping Fowler then looked poised to score, but van der Sar was on hand to save the close-range header low down at the foot of his right-hand post.
Fulham had barely seen the whites of Nigel Martyn's eyes in the first half, other than Louis Saha driving in a shot from just inside the edge of the area following a one-two with Sean Davis.
But they found the willpower to apply the pressure at the start of the second period and gained their rewards as Leeds made a hash of clearing their lines from a corner in the 52nd minute. Malbranque was on hand to apply a crisp finish, driving an angled 15-yard shot into Martyn's bottom left corner for his 10th goal of the season since his 4million summer move from Lyon.
Leeds, though, still had the chances to steal a point as Keane and Eirik Bakke were within a whisker of turning home a drive through the six-yard box from Alan Smith on the hour.
Moments later, Danny Mills then picked out Keane at the far post with aright-wing cross courtesy of a Steve Finnan slip.
As Finnan regained his feet, Keane fed the ball back to the awaiting Fowler, only for him to sky his shot over the bar from 10 yards, and with it Leeds' hopes of playing alongside Europe's elite.
While Fulham can tentatively start to look forward to next season in the Premier League, for O'Leary a summer of change and a major squad overhaul now beckons as he faces limited transfer funding due to another campaign of UEFA Cup football.
Competition: Barclays Premier League
Date: Saturday 20 April 2002
Venue: Elland Road, Leeds
Referee: Rob Styles
Line-up: Martyn; Mills, Harte; Batty; Ferdinand, Matteo; Smith, Bowyer; Keane, Fowler; Bakke
Unused substitutes: Robinson, Hay, Kelly, Wilcox, Johnson
Line-up: Van der Sar; Finnan, Brevett; Davis (Goldbaek 87'); Goma, Melville; Malbranque, Legwinski; Marlet, Saha (Hayles 77'); Boa Morte (Ouaddou 9')
Unused substitutes: Taylor, Knight
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