Lady luck wears White

Tuesday 9 April 2002

Fulham left St James' Park on Monday night with a 1-1 draw courtesy of a lucky late equaliser from Louis Saha.

Sorry? Yes, you did read that right. For the incredulous amongst you out there, here is a repeat of those four crucial words, "a lucky late equaliser". Until the 77th minute of the game, this report would have been an exact copy of ninety per cent of all the other reports this season; lots of possession, missed chances, blah, blah, blah, came away with nothing, deserved more, you know how it goes.

But now we have a brand new, completely unused, unique descriptive phrase for everybody to savour, and very welcome it is too. Perhaps, just perhaps, Fulham's luck is very, very slowly turning. Not outrageously, and not enough to give Fulham the three points that they thoroughly deserved after dominating against Newcastle, but enough to get some reward for their efforts, and heaven knows there's been precious little of that recently.

The first signs of the fortune renaissance came against Southampton, with Steve Marlet's goal which, some outstanding chasing and harrying by the French international notwithstanding, relied heavily on the goalkeeper's unexpected fumble laying the ball on a plate for the striker to roll into the net. In every game against the Whites this season, the opposition keepers have been outstanding, as was Shay Given on Monday, and it was a pleasant change to see someone else's custodian make a ricket for a change.

Saha's goal was extraordinary, and very reminiscent of last season when the Frenchman seemed to have only look at the ball for it to hit the back of the net. He'd missed a couple of earlier chances when his amazing speed and athleticism had taken him past the defence and onto goal, only to find himself thwarted by the brilliance of Given. In this instance though, Saha, effecting a matador's pirouette, actually looked like he was trying to get out of the way of Sean Davis' edge of the box strike, only to find the ball diverting off his knee and into the net. The mixture of relief and disbelief on Saha's face afterwards said it all.

There had been the usual stack of missed chances before "Lucky" Louis' strike. A strangely subdued Marlet, looking more out of sorts than of late, had the best of them, none easier than in the first half when he found himself in the penalty area with the ball bouncing nicely in front of him, and Shay Given, in what was probably his only mistake of the match, in the middle of nowhere with the goal completely unattended.

Marlet could probably have let the ball hit his foot and it would have bounced gently over Given and into the net, but inexplicably and for reasons known only to himself, he chose to control the ball and turn away from goal. The opportunity was lost, as were so many others.

First prize for entertainment must go to Sylvain Legwinski though, who, finding himself with a good shooting opportunity on the edge of the box, unleashed a drive so powerful and so accurate, that the ball actually went sideways and dribbled out for a Newcastle throw on the far side of the pitch. Legwinski had been building up to this shot with a couple of other equally woeful efforts. One can only conclude that he had put his boots on the wrong feet.

The other stroke of luck, which would have gone against Fulham on any other day, was when Robert I think it was, went down for a penalty against a statuesque Andy Melville. Very debatable, but with the way things have been going, most Referees would have given the spot-kick. And if it had been the other way round, the Fulham player would most definitely have been booked for diving.

So it looks as though fortune is finally starting to smile down on us. And what better timing - you can't win the Cup without luck being on your side. Fulham have had a bit of good fortune in the Cup run already, and long may it continue!

Finally, mention must be made of the respective sets of fans. How glorious it was that as the game reached its conclusion all you could hear was the singing of the Fulham minority. Fantastic. There's always a lot of talk about the Geordie fans being the salt of the earth, real football lovers, that sort of thing. Well they booed their team off on Monday.

This is a side that are fourth in the Premiership, in with a good chance of a Champions League place, and playing exhilarating, attacking football. They came up against a team who they were expecting to beat but who turned out to be just a little bit better than them, and the fans couldn't take it.

We have to endure a lot of radio phone-in's where the people of the Northeast proclaim themselves the best fans in the world, well I know who the best fans in the world are - they were the few hundred who travelled the length of the country on a Monday night to watch a team who had picked up only one point out of a possible twenty-four, and who sang their hearts out all game. There might not be so many of them as there are at other clubs, but they're the real fans.