Art of winning

Monday 10 December 2001

Ian McCulloch writes...

There's an art to the winning of games when you're not playing particularly well, as all the top teams, and especially Liverpool this season, regularly prove. Fulham managed it on Saturday. Against a poor, unambitious Everton side almost totally devoid of ideas, Fulham struggled to raise their game but ultimately ran out comfortable winners.

There were only two mysteries in the game: how Fulham did not win by a greater margin, and how the referee contrived to send Luis Boa Morte off after watching him being stamped on.

Louis Saha may be going through a barren time in front of goal at the moment, but he was in mercurial form against Everton, leaving defenders mesmerised in his wake as he went on run after mazy run. He was particularly unlucky with a first half header from a Finnan cross, and a left foot shot from the edge of the box, after a wonderfully worked team move, that goalkeeper Simonsen did well to palm away for the corner from which Barry Hayles scored his second goal.

Speaking after the match, Saha acknowledged that Fulham are learning how to graft an edge onto their beautiful game.

"I was very pleased with the win, it was not the best game we've ever played but it's a brilliant result. I've said it before, but it's what we needed to do. We started the season very well up at Manchester but didn't get the points, and that's been a feature of a lot of our games ever since where we haven't got what we deserved. But now we haven't played such a beautiful game but we've got the three points at the end, and that's what we've got to keep doing.

"We are now seven games unbeaten, and as well as giving us confidence, that makes other teams frightened to come to the Cottage. It's been important for us to improve since we've come into the Premiership, and we know we have to fight sometimes. We deserved to win because we wanted it more than them."

Saha is as eloquent off the field as he is on it, but asked to describe the sending off incident he struggles to get the words out he is so angry.

"I think it's wrong. I don't understand how Boa Morte could be sent off. He did nothing, perhaps the ball was too long and he stopped it just before, and the guy just..ah...it was...I was very close and he just kicked him and walked on him. To leave his feet on his head and keep going...." Louis gives up, bewildered by the injustice of it all.

"I think everyone will be able to see it on the video and you'll see that Luis did nothing. He was just on the floor and got kicked. I was already scared about the game when I saw who was refereeing.

"But we have to put all of that behind us. We've got some tough games coming up, but if we can keep the same spirit, and keep playing as well as we can we will definitely do very well."

It was not a particularly edifying sight to see the Fulham team piling in after the incident, but it is perhaps an indicator of the team spirit in the camp to see how quickly the players leapt to the defence of their fallen teammate. It could also be a sign of how frustrated they are with the lack of protection they have been getting from referees recently. In the face of immense provocation game after game, perhaps they finally took the law into their own hands.

Fulham play the beautiful game the way it should be played. If teams think they can stop that by resorting to thuggery it's up to referees to do something about it. If they don't, is it any wonder that you get scenes like those we saw on Saturday?