From This is London
If Fulham take note of only one element of their first season back in the top flight after a 33-year absence, it should be the way the players felt when they realised relegation was staring them in the face.
There was relief all round last night when Jean Tigana's side finally guaranteed safety with a home win over Bolton.
It has not been an easy ride. Mathematical security came with only two fixtures remaining and a few weeks after a run of six straight defeats.
Only the poor form of other teams kept them afloat during that barren spell in February and March. Yet it was not until they were within touching distance of the relegation zone that the magnitude of their predicament sunk in.
Defender Steve Finnan said: "It was getting tight down there. After those six defeats it started to hit home that we were not too good to go down. Then we knew it was down to us to produce and to show a bit of fighting spirit."
Fear helped to spur them on and today, remarkably, they are back up to 11th in the table and thinking of European qualification next season via the Intertoto Cup.
But even if Fulham manage that on top of their FA Cup run to the semi-finals, the players should not forget how bad it felt on their downward spiral.
Midfielder John Collins said: "We have to remember why we made our errors, analyse our mistakes and make sure we do not make them again.
"Football always brings difficult periods but it is how you react and come through them that matters.
"When the club has spent money expectations get higher but if things go wrong you have to take it on the chin and bounce back.
"We have to stuck to our footballing beliefs and things have turned. For most of the season we have been in the top 10 and I think if we finish up there it will be respectable. If we win our last two games then people will remember the season a bit differently."
Those matches are against Leicester on Saturday - the last game at Craven Cottage before work starts on a £ 70million redevelopment - and at Blackburn on 11 May.
Fulham were given momentum last night by a first-half volleyed goal from winger Bjarne Goldbaek, who made a rare start and whose enthusiasm eventually rubbed off on his team-mates.
Substitute Steve Marlet made it 2-0 in the 72nd minute when he beat Bolton goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen with a curling shot from the edge of the penalty area.
Fulham's third goal came four minutes later, scored by Barry Hayles after Steed Malbranque helped him beat the offside trap.
Bolton's £10m-rated striker Michael Ricketts moved closer to a transfer to West Ham or Tottenham today by indicating he wants to leave. His manager Sam Allardyce also said he would listen to offers but that the 23-year-old England international would not be sold cheaply.
The two men fell out last month and the players' form has dipped since Sven-Goran Eriksson picked him to play against Holland in February.
Both Spurs and West Ham showed an interest in Ricketts earlier this season.
Ricketts, who played for only the last 16 minutes at Fulham, said: "I believe I have enough talent to play wherever. If the club thinks they have got the right offer maybe they will let me go.
"I think I have had a decent season. I was in the England squad and I scored 15 goals this season. My ambition now, though, is just to start a game."
From The Independent
Guaranteeing their place in the Premiership in the penultimate match at Craven Cottage was hardly what Fulham's upwardly mobile followers or chairman had in mind at the start of the season, but they were grateful enough to do so by a flattering margin last night. After three successive home defeats, Jean Tigana's team were as edgy as the crowd until Steve Marlet and Barry Hayles added two quick goals in the last 20 minutes to Bjarne Goldbaek's strike shortly before half-time.
That added up to Fulham's biggest victory of a League campaign that seemed to lose direction amid the run to the FA Cup semi-final, but could still bring a place in the Intertoto Cup, ahead of Aston Villa and Everton. It was hard on Bolton, who will nevertheless be mathematically safe if Ipswich lose at home to Middlesbrough this evening or Manchester United on Saturday. Their manager, Sam Allardyce, remains nervous. "We've got two extremely difficult games, against Arsenal and West Ham," he said. "I should be sat here looking forward to my holidays, but I'm not."
It should only be a matter of time and survival will be a notable achievement. As the First Division play-off winners 11 months ago, Bolton were hardly expected to keep pace with Fulham and Blackburn, the two infinitely better off clubs who accompanied them into the Premiership. Yet here they were, going into last night's programme bunched together with the recipients of the largess of Mohamed Al Fayed and the late Jack Walker.
The visitors were the more threatening team until falling behind. Fredi Bobic should have scored in the first minute and Youri Djorkaeff, another of Bolton's foreign loanees, curled a free-kick past a post after being fouled by Rufus Brevett.
Fulham finally pulled themselves together five minutes before the break, hitting the crossbar and then scoring in quick succession. The Finnish goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen was at fault on both occasions. First he threw the ball straight to Louis Saha, whose pass gave Hayles the chance to lob on to the bar. Then from Steed Malbranque's corner, the goalkeeper produced a feeble punch out, before pushing Goldbaek's 25-yard drive into his net.
It was the former Chelsea man's first goal in 15 appearances this season and he might have scored again 60 seconds after the break. A turn of pace took him clear of Gudni Bergsson's challenge, but Jaaskelainen partially redeemed himself with a good block.
Bolton, having pushed the hard-working Djorkaeff further forward, were beginning to fade and Sean Davis, who had spent the morning in court receiving a year's ban for a drink-driving offence, was unlucky with a clever chip.
Marlet, on as a substitute for Saha with a delicate curled left-foot shot, and then Hayles made the game and Fulham's status safe with two goals in five minutes. Never mind the debts, check the League table.
BJARNE GOLDBAEK has been little more than a bit-part player in Fulham's difficult first season back in the top flight but the Dane timed his first goal of the season to perfection, helping to deliver Jean Tigana's side to Premiership safety last night.
Late goals from Steve Marlet and Barry Hayles earned Fulham their best win of the season. Mathematically, Bolton can still be relegated but if Ipswich fail to beat Middlesbrough tonight, they, too, will be safe for another season.
Earlier in the day it was revealed that Fulham had suffered a British record loss of £23.3 million after the club's wage bill soared.
That figure does not include the £31.8 million spent on acquiring six players including Marlet, Edwin van der Sar and Jon Harley. When next year's accounts are released, the figure could be even more damning.
Bolton arrived on the back of three wins and a draw from five at the end of their first season back in the Premiership. It had been a bad day all round for Fulham; earlier, midfielder Dean Davis had been convicted of drink driving, banned for a year and fined £600.
On the pitch, Bolton controlled the early stages with a chance after only 42 seconds. Fredi Bobic squeezed between Andy Melville and Alain Goma and saw his attempt deflected for a corner.
With Fulham's defence appearing less safe than the club's finances, Bolton squandered another good chance 10 minutes from the end of a one-sided first-half when Bobic set up Nicky Southall, whose finish from 20 yards was casual and wasteful.
Yet, curiously, Fulham finished the stronger. In the 29th minute, a poor clearance from Bolton goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen fell to Louis Saha, who offered Hayles an opportunity. His delicate chip dropped on to the cross bar.
However, in the 42nd minute Fulham opened the scoring when another poor clearance from Jaaskelainen ran to Goldbaek and the former Chelsea winger sent a right-foot volley into the corner.
Substitute Marlet extended the advantage before Hayles wrapped it up.
From The Times
IF SUCCESS can be measured by survival in the Premiership - and it can for many clubs - then Fulham have had a successful season. Deep in debt they might be, but their biggest league win of the campaign, against Bolton Wanderers at Craven Cottage last night, at least assured them of another campaign in the top flight.
For Bolton Wanderers, the wait to confirm their Premiership status will go on a bit longer. A win for them would also have secured their place among the elite, but if Ipswich Town lose at home to Middlesbrough this evening, they will join Fulham in celebration.
Sam Allardyce, the Bolton manager, will not watch the match at Portman Road. "I'm a bag of nerves as it is," he said. "The nerves are really jangling, believe me. It's not done and dusted yet." He should not worry too much. Bolton are seven points ahead of Ipswich, who must also play Liverpool and Manchester United.
For Fulham, whose appearance in the FA Cup semi-finals has tended to overshadow their slide down the league, retaining their Premiership place was of paramount importance. Earlier in the day, it was revealed that the club had made the biggest annual loss in British football - £24 million for the year to June 30, 2001. The wage bill had rocketed to £19.3 million, as they won promotion from the Nationwide League, and that was before the arrival of Steed Malbranque, Steve Marlet and Edwin van der Sar, among others, during the summer.
Returning to the Nationwide League could have ended the extravagant dreams of Mohamed Al Fayed, the Fulham chairman, and perhaps signalled the departure of Jean Tigana, the manager. Now, they can plan ahead, though maybe on a reduced budget, and even contemplate a possible European venture via the InterToto Cup.
"To stay in the Premiership is very important," Christian Damiano, Tigana's assistant, said. "Now we can play a bit more free in our last two games. When you arrive in the Premiership, you know it is one of the biggest leagues in the world. It is a discovery, you have to learn, and we have learnt."
Whereas Tigana has has spent £30 million on recruitment this season, Allardyce has laid out only £1.4 million. At first, it was the paupers who called the tune last night. Bolton dominated at will, without making the breakthrough.
Fulham gradually made inroads, with Sean Davis working hard in midfield only hours after he had been convicted of a drink-driving offence, for which he was banned for a year and fined £600. It did not appear to affect his on-field mobility and Fulham were grateful for his endeavours - as they were, too, when Anthony Barness blazed over from a good opening created by Fredi Bobic.
It needed something to turn the tide and it was a mistake from Jussi Jaaskelainen, the Bolton goalkeeper, that did it. He had already erred once, a poor clearance allowing Barry Hayles to lob the ball on to the crossbar, when he punched weakly at a Malbranque corner and Bjarne Goldbaek drove in his first goal of the season from the edge of the area.
Fulham made the most of it. They were transformed in the second half and romped to an easy win, Marlet letting fly with his left foot in the 72nd minute and, five minutes later, Barry Hayles jinking his way through to add the third.
Splashing the cash had paid off. Just.