Never mind Gazza

Sunday 9 December 2001

Fulham Striker Barry Hayles is a man who took the best part of a year to win over his own supporters.

On Saturday at Craven Cottage, whilst all eyes might have been on former England ace Paul 'Gazza' Gascoigne, it was Barry 'Bazza' Hayles who delivered the goods, and there's no doubt which one of the two Fulham fans would rather have in their side.

Whilst Gascoigne left the pitch to a standing ovation from home fans, in stark contrast the travelling Everton supporters could only manage a missile attack on Steed Malbranque, Fulham's French U21 Captain. Hayles, however, made sure justice was executed in the correct fashion with two goals that Gazza himself would have been happy to tuck away, even in his prime.

Before the season kicked off some soccer pundits said Hayles didn't have what it takes to score goals in the top flight. Now South London born Barry is making them eat their words and in the process has turned himself into something of a hero at Fulham.

His brace against Everton extended The Cottagers impressive unbeaten run to seven games, taking in credible draws against Bolton, Ipswich, and Leeds plus victories over Newcastle, West Ham United and Southampton.

One person who never doubted Hayles' ability to score goals is his former boss Ian Holloway, now in charge at deadly rivals Queens Park Rangers.

It was Holloway that sold Hayles to Fulham whilst Manager of Bristol Rovers. Something that he must now regret as lowly Rangers watch Fulham widen the gap in West London.

He said:

"A lot of people had doubts about Barry's ability but I'm not one of them. If I ever became a Premiership Manager Barry is the first player I'd want to sign. £2 million was a bargain and I knew all along that he'd succeed at the highest level."

With 19 goals helping Jean Tigana's team to the 1st Division Championship last term, that £2 million fee has been paid in full - anything from now on must be counted as interest.

Hayles notched up goals number 44 and 45 for the Cottagers at the weekend and his teammates believe there's plenty more still to come.

Skipper Andy Melville said:

"Barry's got a lot of tricks up his sleeve. He's a very awkward player to mark and he's deceivingly strong. Once he has the ball and is heading toward goal, it takes a lot to shake him off."

Hayles must however, add another string to his bow before he can become a truly feared top-flight hitman - goals away from Craven Cottage.

Amazingly, all eight of this season's strikes have come at home. With confidence high, who'd bet against him breaking his away day duck at Anfield on Wednesday?