Boro v Fulham Preview

Friday 21 December 2001

Fulham meet Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium on Saturday and with both clubs averaging just 1 goal a game a goal fest is not on the cards.

Middlesbrough have notched just one goal in their last five outings, while Fulham have merely doubled this tally during the same 450-minute period.

This is not to say that valuable points have not been mustered along the way, as both teams have proven resilient at times. Two goalless draws and a narrow victory over Aston Villa have prevented Boro from sliding into the relegation mire, just as a run of four consecutive clean sheets has kept the Cottagers in the upper half of the table.

Nevertheless, stringency at the back cannot be a permanent substitute for a lack of punch in attack and Jean Tigana knows that his side are floundering desperately in the opposition half.

"I think possibly we need some new blood, but I won't be going out and signing anybody right now, that is something for the future," he lamented after the 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Tottenham. This marked Fulham's heaviest defeat since the Frenchman took charge at Craven Cottage.

Ironically, Middlesbrough have also averaged a rather lacklustre solitary goal per game this season and have relied too heavily on Alen Boksic to kill teams off. The Croatian has netted half-a-dozen goals and tested the 'keeper with more shots than any of his colleagues this season - the same sort of individual input that kept the club afloat in the top flight last year.

Barry Hayles has also hit six for the Londoners and as a unit Fulham have shown more ambition in front of goal than their hosts by unleashing an extra 40 shots. But the Premiership newcomers have converted just nine percent of their efforts - only four other teams have registered a worse rate this term - and this explains why Tigana may be forced to delve into the transfer market sooner rather than later.

However, if the current front pairing of Louis Saha and Hayles can forge a way past a Boro rearguard that has been breached 23 times this season then they may get a temporary reprieve, before more competition arrives. It took a Mark Crossley fumble for Manchester United to find a way through on Saturday, but Fulham have completed a quarter of their crosses and their crisp passing ability could see them through.

Meanwhile, Boro's Robbie Mustoe has warned of the threat Fulham will present at the Riverside Stadium tomorrow.

Talking to the official Middlesbrough website Mustoe admitted he was surprised by The Whites heavy defeat at Spurs last weekend saying:

"Before that they had been very, very tight at the back. They keep the ball well and the boy up front, Saha, looks a very good player. They have people there who can hurt us and this will be a tough game."

"I saw him (Saha) on telly the other day and he looked sharp and quick"

"He has good feet and has done very well at Fulham. He is an excellent player and one we have to be very careful of on Saturday."

He continued...

"They have proved you can play your way out of the first division. They played superb football right through last season and I'm pleased because in my mind that's the way football should be played.

"With a good coach and the right players it can be very successful."

"I know some may look at this game and say that after games against Liverpool and Manchester United we are up against easier opposition but I think the fans are educated enough to know that Fulham are a good side, they are no easy-beats.

"We have to make sure they don't get into any sort of stride, we're right on top of them and we pin them back. One point which is a bit worrying for us is our lack of goals."

FULHAM'S STATS AHEAD OF BORO'

WIDEST WINNING MARGIN
3 Goals - Fulham 5-2 Derby Co WCup

HEAVIEST LOSING MARGIN
4 Goals - Tottenham H 4-0 Fulham Prem

HIGHEST SCORING MATCH
7 Goals - 5-2 Derby Co WC

8 CLEAN SHEETS [8 in the Prem]

1. Fulham 2-0 Sunderland 22 Aug Prem 1.
2. Fulham 0-0 Derby Co 25 Aug Prem 2.
3. Leicester C 0-0 Fulham 22 Sep Prem 3.
4. West Ham U 0-2 Fulham 3 Nov Prem 4.
5. Bolton W 0-0 Fulham 24 Nov Prem 5.
6. Fulham 0-0 Leeds U 2 Dec Prem 6.
7. Fulham 2-0 Everton 8 Dec Prem 7.
8. Liverpool 0-0 Fulham 12 Dec Prem 8.

FAILED TO SCORE 7 TIMES [7 in Prem]

1. Fulham 0-0 Derby Co 25 Aug Prem 1.
2. Leicester C 0-0 Fulham 22 Sep Prem 2.
3. Aston Villa 2-0 Fulham 14 Oct Prem 3.
4. Bolton W 0-0 Fulham 24 Nov Prem 4.
5. Fulham 0-0 Leeds U 2 Dec Prem 5.
6. Liverpool 0-0 Fulham 12 Dec Prem 6.
7. Tottenham 4-0 Fulham 15 Dec Prem 7.

0 HAT TRICK HEROES

2 RED CARDS

21 Oct Fulham 1-1 Ipswich Pm Luis Boa Morte 1.
8 Dec Fulham 2-0 Everton Pm Luis Boa Morte 2.

EVER PRESENTS: 2
Steve Finnan
Steed Malbrangue

STARTED EVERY GAME: 1
Steve Finnan