What the papers say

Thursday 27 December 2001

From the Telegraph

If Fulham are to remain in the Premiership, the return of Steve Marlet cannot come soon enough. Jean Tigana's side have now failed to score in five of their last six league games, and such was the quality of their finishing yesterday that it was easy to see why.

For Tigana, these must be frustrating times. It was back in September that he signed Marlet from Lyons for £11.5 million, but injury has so far restricted the Frenchman to just five starts.

According to Fulham's assistant manager, Christian Damiano, Marlet has recovered from a serious knee injury and returned to training. Judging by this, he will be straight back in the team as well.

Such ineptitude in attack caused some embarrassment, not least when an effort from Barry Hayles crossed the line for a Charlton throw-in and a Louis Saha shot spun sideways off his boot. A Craven Cottage crowd braving the icy conditions were less than amused.

"We're waiting for Marlet because we need to score more goals," said Damiano. "But it's more of a collective problem. Today we didn't play well as a team."

Indeed, they did not, and had it not been for the fine goalkeeping of Edwin van der Sar, a share of the points would have been most unlikely. Charlton's Jason Euell wasted the best chance of the afternoon, but his colleagues kept Fulham's Dutch international fairly busy.

Alan Curbishley's team had already beaten Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea this season when they came here yesterday, and it was only Van der Sar who denied them the chance to add Fulham to their list of London scalps.

Even so, they remain unbeaten by their rivals in the capital. "That was an improvement after the disappointment of losing to Blackburn last weekend," said Curbishley. "But on another day we might have taken all three points. I was pleased with our performance, even though we now haven't scored for three games. Van der Sar deserved to be man of the match."

Fulham began brightly enough, a fine ball from Steed Malbranque forcing Dean Kiely to make an excellent save at the feet of Lee Clark, but that early enthusiasm soon disappeared when Luis Boa Morte was once again booked for diving.

On this occasion it seemed that Graham Stuart had fouled him on the edge of the Charlton penalty area, but Steve Bennett, the Orpington referee, thought otherwise. "I have no comment to make," said Damiano. "You only need look at the television replay."

If Fulham felt that was somewhat unfortunate - and television evidence supported Damiano's argument - they could consider themselves a little luckier when Andy Melville lost possession to Euell. The former Wimbledon striker was left with only Van der Sar to beat, but sent his shot against the post.

After that, only the goalkeepers excelled. Kiely did well to divert a Saha free-kick beyond his right-hand post, just as he did two attempts from Sylvain Legwinski and Steve Finnan.

But it was Van der Sar who deserved much of the credit; a double save to first deny Claus Jensen and then Euell was one of the more impressive moments of a near faultless afternoon's work. Sadly for Fulham, the same could not be said for his colleagues.

The Guardian

Neither of these teams have been punching their weight recently and the gloves did not come off for Boxing Day. Jabs were exchanged and chins exposed but the knockout blow never arrived. Most judges would have scored the match Charlton's way though, if the referee had been required to decide, he would probably have got it wrong.

This may be a little harsh on Steve Bennett but then the season of goodwill ended at kick-off yesterday. Twenty minutes later he booked Luis Boa Morte for diving, a decision greeted with apoplexy throughout the ground.

Graham Stuart's tackle looked solid enough to fell a grizzly but Boa Morte's reputation may have cost him the decision. He is already appealing against the red card he received in the last game here, against Everton.

"He is a victim in this circumstance," said Fulham's assistant manager Christian Damiano, who had complained in the match programme that "every referee seems to have a big problem with Luis".

The new strictures on diving are an unwelcome extra load to referees already over- burdened. In the hands of officials who know exactly where they should be standing for a goal-kick but cannot tell a mistimed tackle from an assassination attempt, they are poisonous to the fair conduct of the game. They are going to claim a few more victims yet, and at what cost and what gain?

A number of Fulham players would not have stood up very well to video scrutiny either. Andy Melville had a torrid time, and the strikers are suffering worse. It may have been a little early in the day to pass and move but Louis Saha should surely be performing at a tempo above somnolent. He did get going in the right direction just before half-time, when he ran clear on to a Steed Malbranque pass, but his touch proved inadequate to a ball that sat up a little high on him.

Barry Hayles, the only Fulham goalscorer in the past seven matches, looked livelier but his shots were all sliced and his one headed opportunity was feeble. With achilles tendons having accounted for Steve Marlet and Lee Clark, the Manchester United defence may not face the most rigorous of examinations on Saturday.

Charlton posed more of a threat. Kevin Lisbie hit the bar and should have won the game in injury-time when he volleyed a Luke Young cross from close range over the bar. And Jason Euell should have scored midway through the first half after he robbed Melville but, with Edwin van der Sar beaten for the only time in the game, he hit the post.

Van der Sar had to work for his clean sheet. In the 54th minute he was particularly busy, saving at full length from Claus Jensen and diving to block Euell's follow-up shot. That cost him a blow to the mouth but he went the distance to earn a deserved decision from the man-of-the- match judges.

The Independent

Charlton extended their distinguished unbeaten record against London clubs to 10 games with a goalless draw at Fulham yesterday, but the game itself was further evidence that mid-table life in the Premiership is a dull affair.

Neither side is likely to be threatened by relegation come May, but nor will they be jostling for a place at the top of the League, and yesterday was a prime example of the mundanity of life in the middle of a three-tiered top flight.

Fulham have now failed to score in five of their last six League games, yet still they cling to a place in the top half of the table. While Charlton, despite their run against London opposition stretching back to Boxing Day last year, can also only boast the comfort of mid-table.

"The key this season is that we don't let any problems linger and we ensure that we continue to pick up points," said the Charlton manager, Alan Curbishley. "It is a tight league in the middle and we didn't pick up points last Saturday at Blackburn, but here we were away from home and most would have taken a point before the game. We just need to win our home games this year."

Charlton were quick to make their presence felt and could have taken the lead on 12 minutes when the striker Kevin Lisbie laid off to Claus Jensen in the box, but the midfielder dragged his shot woefully wide.

Fulham's Lee Clark was then forced off with a ligament injury, to be replaced by the controversial winger Luis Boa Morte, who was quick to make an impact as Charlton were caught on the counter. Barry Hayles' surging run released his strike partner Louis Saha, who in turn laid into the path of Boa Morte.

The Portuguese striker was brought crashing down under the challenge of Charlton's last man, Graeme Stuart, just outside the area. But Boa Morte's reputation seemingly preceded him as the referee Steve Bennett unjustly cautioned him for diving.

The striker Jason Euell came closest to breaking the deadlock for Charlton after dispossessing the Fulham captain, Andy Melville, outside area before firing against the post having been through on goal.

The second half continued in much the same vein as the first with neither side taking control. The Charlton midfielder Claus Jensen forced keeper Edwin van der Sar into action after 55 minutes drilling low to his right, before Saha saw his free-kick pushed wide by an in-flight Dean Kiely with 15 minutes left.

But it was left to Boa Morte to again provide the talking point of the half with six minutes left, as he broke through on goal and tapped past Kiely before jumping over the keeper and going down in the area. This time Bennett pointed for a goal kick and left his cards in his pocket.

The result left both teams frustrated but the Fulham assistant manager, Christian Dominano, said the game could have turned had Bennett called Boa Morte's first claim the other way. "I saw the tape after and the Charlton player never played the ball," said Dominano. "I watched four or five different angles and everyone has seen the same thing."

The Sun

Luis Boa Morte and Louis Saha set the First Division alight with 53 goals between them last term.

But in the Premiership, Fulham's two great entertainers continue to make headlines for the wrong reasons, writes Dave Kidd.

Portuguese livewire Boa Morte was booked for diving for the second successive match and the third time this season.

And Saha suffered another nightmare in front of goal - including one glaring miss - to continue a dismal run of just one Premiership strike since August.

Charlton chalked up their sixth London derby without defeat and would have won but for Fulham keeper Edwin van der Sar, all 6ft 7in and £7million worth of him.

With so many Dutch caps in his possession, it is little wonder the former Juventus keeper has such a reputation for repelling unwanted invaders.

But at the other end, Fulham have hit a sticky patch in front of goal by failing to find the net in five of their last six Premiership outings.

Lee Clark's role in this match was brief but almost fruitful. The Geordie midfield man sprinted on to a Steed Malbranque through ball but was thwarted when Dean Kiely rushed out and blocked his seventh-minute shot.

Clark then hobbled off with a calf injury to be replaced by Boa Morte - and the fun really began.

The potty Portuguese winger had already been booked for diving against Ipswich and Tottenham, the caution against George Burley's men having led to the first of his two recent red cards.

And in the 20th minute Boa completed an unwanted hat-trick when referee Steve Bennett yellow-carded him after an exaggerated fall on the edge of the box under Graham Stuart's challenge.

This time it looked as though Fulham's rubber-limbed tumbler had a decent case because the Charlton skipper did appear to make contact.

And Fulham's assistant manager Christian Damiano insisted: "Luis definitely didn't dive. I have seen the incident from four or five different angles and there was definitely contact."

Damiano had used his programme notes to insist Boa Morte was earning an unfair reputation.

Jean Tigana's No2 said: "Every referee seems to have a problem with Boa Morte but he was the victim when he was sent off against Ipswich and Everton."

The red card he received against Everton has since been rescinded, fuelling Fulham's belief that officials are making knee-jerk decisions against their unpredictable star.

After Boa's big moment, the strikers took centre stage in this festive game of charades. Firstly Charlton's Jason Euell and then Saha fluffed glorious chances.

Euell took advantage of Andy Melville's ill-advised attempt at nutmegging him by catching the Welshman off balance and darting clear.

But with only Van der Sar to beat, he squandered a chance to give Charlton a deserved lead when shooting against the outside of the post.

Just before half-time it was Saha's turn to blow a clear-cut opportunity when he latched on to another artful pass from Malbranque but completely miscued his shot wide of Kiely's left-hand post.

Van der Sar came to the fore after the interval with a tremendous double save to deny Claus Jensen and Euell.

The big Dutchman dived low to palm out Jensen's low drive and then he denied Euell at point-blank range.

Van der Sar made further stops from John Robinson and Kevin Lisbie, but at the other end Kiely was also a busy man.

The Irish keeper turned Saha's 25-yard curling free-kick around the post and pulled off an excellent one-handed save from Sylvain Legwinski.

Boa Morte was almost caught up in more controversy six minutes from time when he tumbled over in the box to avoid a challenge from Kiely but the Portuguese forward made no claim for a penalty and referee Bennett took no action.

But Damiano admitted: "We didn't play well. Charlton were good, well organised and showed fantastic spirit.

"We have not been scoring enough goals and we are waiting for Steve Marlet to return as he is now back in training."

Charlton chief Alan Curbishley said: "We could have got all three points. It says a lot that their keeper was the man of the match.

"Dean Kiely made some great saves. Lisbie and Euell have caused all sorts of problems to opposing defences in recent games but he kept them out."

The Times

Alan Curbishley, the Charlton Athletic manager, is inclined to depict the FA Barclaycard Premiership as comprising the leading clubs and "our little league", which would most definitely include Fulham. What he cannot so readily delineate is why his team cannot contend with them as well as it can with opponents of more lustre.

In London fixtures alone Charlton have beaten Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal this season, yet drawn with West Ham United and once again Fulham, against whom they looked a workaday team. Surely they should be winning these encounters if they are capable of raising their game against the top cats? On the admission of Christian Damiano, the assistant manger, Fulham did not play well. If one thinks of a London derby in terms of an inability to settle on the ball, a lack of space, well organised defence and robust tackles, then this was it. Mohamed Al Fayed displayed greater poise in his pre-match kickabout.

More, certainly, than Jason Euell, who hit a post after he had dispossessed Andy Melville and had only the Fulham goalkeeper to beat. "I thought he might have gone round Edwin van der Sar," Curbishley said, "but those chances are not as easy as they look."

If that was the best opportunity of the match, then Charlton had others, especially in injury time when John Robinson had a left foot shot saved by Van der Sar, the man of the match.

This lack of deft finishing afflicted Fulham as well. Louis Saha scuffed an excellent chance at the end of the first half so badly that Dean Kiely, advancing from his goalline, did not even have to make a save. And, as if empathising with Paul Durkin at Anfield on Sunday, Steve Bennett, the referee, booked Luis Boa Morte for allegedly diving in the Charlton penalty area after a tackle by Claus Jensen.

Fulham take on Manchester United at Craven Cottage this Sunday and might well find they have more space for their passing game.

Charlton? Which ever league they consider themselves to be in, their inconsistency is absolute. Curbishley was simply relieved that they had gained a point after their dismal home performance against Blackburn Rovers last weekend.