Steed the star

Monday 5 November 2001

The dictionary definition of steed is a horse, 'especially one with spirit', and the performance of Steed Malbranque at Upton Park lived up to the description.

The Belgian-born French Under-21 captain, who turned down an advance from Arsenal three years ago, arrived at Fulham in the summer from Lyon for £4.5 million, reuniting with his former international coach Christian Damiano, now assistant to Fulham's Jean Tigana.

Malbranque teased West Ham from his position just behind strikers Luis Saha and Barry Hayles in a majestic performance designed to frustrate and, ultimately, destroy the opposition.

After three successive wins, West Ham may have thought they were over their troubles but they could easily have leaked considerably more than the two goals which came from Sylvian Legwinski and Malbranque.

Fulham's John Collins said of Malbranque: "He's capable of eliminating a player very easily. He's only 21, he's small and maybe similar to Zola in the way he takes the ball and beats players. He's an unknown and teams don't yet know him but they will."

Fulham, without record signing Steve Marlet for two months because of a hairline fracture of his leg, are beginning to fulfil the promise they showed in winning Division One with ease.

They were magnificent in defence, always ready with a spare man and a telling interception, and counter-attacked at speed.

West Ham's best performer was Hayden Foxe, an Australian brought in to cover for the suspended Tomas Repka. His response to the praise was telling: "Ah, mate, I'd rather play like poo and we win 1-0."

Sadly, West Ham did play that way, and allowed themselves to become frustrated, none more so than Paolo di Canio. Legwinski's goal began the damage and Di Canio helped Fulham add the second. When challenged by Malbranque, he slumped to the ground but did not impress referee Graham Barber. Fulham broke forward, Saha returned the ball to Malbranque and he scored his third goal in two games and fifth of the season.