What the papers say

Sunday 28 April 2002

The Independent

Fulham had already won their Premiership safety and Leicester had lost theirs, but next season Leicester will be in their new stadium and Fulham will be lodging at Queen's Park Rangers' ground while Craven Cottage may or may not be redeveloped.

An appeal by residents and conservationists against the Thames-side scheme has been upheld, so it could be a couple of years before we see what sort of mansion rises out of the rubble of the Cottage. So yesterday was another of those nostalgia days beloved of Fulham's older followers and enhanced by a parade of former players, including Johnny Haynes and Tosh Chamberlain.

Certainly, the new Cottage will be more spectator-friendly than when the crushed crowds of 40,000 stood in compressed discomfort to see a team full of "characters" like Chamberlain who won little more than the appreciation of masochists with a dodgy sense of humour. Apart from enjoying the near-genius of Haynes, often the walk through Bishop's Park by the river was the more rewarding and comfortable part of the day.

The Fulham Alliance, which has won the stay of the redevelopment's execution, think that Mohamed Al Fayed, the club's owner, may look at the £23.3m loss just announced and opt out, but he says not and, despite some absurd opposition, manager Jean Tigana is staying.

Ironically, it had been Leicester's manager Micky Adams who, during his time at Fulham, had raised the status of the club above the Third Division, and he was given as warm a reception as the past players. As for the current ones, both teams seemed more inclined to treat the inconsequential match as an end-of-season formality. "Bring on Haynes" was a cry that had plenty of sympathisers.

Fulham had the greater opportunities in a sloppy, wind-blown first half but Sylvain Legwinski headed Steed Malbranque's free-kick a shade wide and Sean Davis also headed an inviting chance inconclusively. Leicester were the more practical but less interesting. And quite why Fulham chose to lob high balls into a defence dominated by Matt Elliott and Lee Marshall was baffling.

Consistently, Malbranque prompted Fulham's more hopeful attacks, and equally consistently his efforts fell upon barren finishing. Midway through the second half he went gliding and swerving past three lunging tackles and played a perfect pass inside to the substitute Louis Saha, who instead of taking a first-time shot held up the ball and was stifled. It was that sort of game.

The day was really all about the changes that will take place at the Cottage. Some things never change. Robbie Savage had his name taken for a rash challenge. It was his 15th booking of the season. Fulham were supposed to be playing for a back-door entrance to the Uefa Cup by qualifying for the Intertoto Cup. In reality, they were happy to play out a draw, and pleased to end the season safe, if homeless.

The Telegraph

FULHAM WERE unable to make it a rousing farewell to Craven Cottage yesterday as their final home fixture ended up being a damp squib.

With only an InterToto Cup place as a potential incentive, it was not hard to see why they laboured in second gear for much of this match. Leicester, already relegated, had even less reason to be motivated but at least a goalless - and somewhat soulless - encounter means that they have avoided the indignity of equalling Watford's record for the lowest points total since the inception of the Premiership 11 years ago.

Life will never be the same at Fulham's home, whose history as a football ground goes back 105 years. Most missed of all, of course, will be the `cottage' itself, its ornate balcony directly overlooking one of the corner flags at the Putney End of the pitch. It will disappear when the current site is transformed into a 30,000-capacity, three-tier stadium costing £70 million - planning protests notwithstanding.

To mark the occasion, past players - including the legendary Johnny Haynes and George Cohen, a member of the England World Cup-winning side - paraded past the main stand before kick-off, a host of black and white balloons were released and a carnival atmosphere prevailed.

Next season the club take up temporary tenancy with west London neighbours Queens Park Rangers and will do so with their Premiership status intact. Leicester will also have a new headquarters come August - albeit hosting Division One fixtures.

Tigana's team ensured survival among the elite with a midweek win over Bolton, and there was perhaps an understandably relaxed air about their early play. However, the visitors, under Mickey Adams's control after Dave Bassett stepped aside, had the appetite for action. This was typified by Paul Dickov, who kept Edwin van der Sar on his toes with a couple of low, skimming efforts.

Yet the first real near-miss, midway through the half, fell to Fulham after Gary Rowett foolishly earned a caution for throwing the ball away. The free-kick, advanced another 10 yards after he contested the decision, was swung over by Steed Malbranque and Sylvain Legwinski headed just wide.

Malbranque then had a fierce drive charged down and a Sean Davis header looped over, but it was generally lukewarm fare, prompting one disgruntled fan to yell: "Bring on Haynes."

Haynes was the game's first £100-a-week player and he might have done better than Steve Marlet, who cost a cool £11 million, in meeting a scooped pass from Bjarne Goldbaek. Marlet's control was woeful and the chance went begging.

Frustration set in as both sides failed to find a flowing rhythm and a spate of bookings ensued, most notably for a wild lunge by Robbie Savage on Steve Finnan, his 15th yellow card of the campaign.

The Guardian

Fulham's final game at Craven Cottage before it is redeveloped failed to do justice to the famous names who have graced the old ground by the Thames as Jean Tigana's men stumbled to a goalless draw.

A succession of missed chances at both ends marked the end of Fulham's 105-year history at the old stadium, which will undergo a £70 million facelift before they return in two seasons' times.

Micky Adams returned to Fulham five years after being sacked as manager of the London club, and he named Alan Rogers in his side for the first time since the winger recovered from a knee injury.

Bjarne Goldbaek kept his place in the Fulham line-up at the expense of John Collins after scoring against Bolton Wanderers on Tuesday. Steve Marlet replaced Louis Saha, who dropped to the substitutes' bench.

Both sides had chances in the opening minutes. Barry Hayles brought the first save of the match from Ian Walker, and, almost immediately afterwards, an unmarked Paul Dickov forced Edwin van der Sar to stop his effort with his legs.

Muzzy Izzet cleverly put Dickov through again in the sixth minute, but the dimunitive striker flashed his left-shot across the goalmouth.

Fulham appeared happy to play on the break, despite being the home side, but the cutting edge that has been lacking all season was missing again. Their marking also left a lot to be desired, with Leicester free to pepper their penalty area with crosses in the early exchanges.

Leicester were forced into a change when Stefan Oakes replaced Callum Davidson, who had to go off after a bad tackle by Sylvain Legwinski, for which the Frenchman was rightly booked.

Leicester continued to look dangerous, though, and Dickov was denied again when Van der Sar kept out his header after good work by Izzet and Matthew Piper.

Fulham also had a chance to go into the break with a lead, but Sean Davis' looping header from Marlet's cross finished just the wrong side of the crossbar with Walker beaten.

The atmosphere was muted after the interval as neither side looked capable of making the breakthrough and the play became more scrappy.

Izzet teed up the onrushing Lee Marshall, but his miscued shot from 12 yards sailed harmlessly over the crossbar. Legwinski then failed at the other end when Malbranque found him with a header, Sinclair blocking his shot.

Dickov was full of running for Leicester, who now seemed content to sit back and soak up the pressure. Tigana took action to try to galvanise his side when he sent on Collins and Saha for Legwinski and Goldbaek.

And Saha should have put his side in front within a minute of his introduction after being played in by Malbranque. He breezed past Gary Rowett, but turned back inside when the goal was gaping and the chance passed.

Savage was booked for a wild lunge on Malbranque but Fulham failed to capitalise from the free-kick.

And Marlet then wasted anther good chance, putting a free header straight into Walker's arms from a cross by Malbranque as the game fizzled out.

It was a disappointing end to the illustrious history of Fulham's old stadium.

Sunday Times

FOR a football club that used to boast a vaudeville comedian as a chairman, Fulham would have been expected to produce more of a show for their Craven Cottage curtain call.

Tommy Trinder's catchphrase was "You lucky people." Those who turned up for this lacklustre farewell wondered about their good fortune. After 105 years of riverside residence, things will never be the same again on the banks of the Thames. Local action groups permitting, Fulham will return to their traditional home, and a £70m redeveloped ground, in two years after taking tenancy at nearby Queens Park Rangers.

Doubtless the late Trinder would have found something comical to say about the team's temporary departure. Unfortunately, the actual football produced on an afternoon of nostalgia was instantly forgettable.

Victory for Fulham against bottom-placed Leicester would have put them on course for their highest-ever league finish, beating the 10th place they achieved 42 years ago. But nobody wearing a white shirt seemed too concerned with this fact and those wearing blue were happy to collect a rare away point.

Not that Leicester manager Micky Adams wasn't feeling reflective. He was the manager who jump-charged Fulham's recovery from the depths of Division Three six years ago and still feels affection for his former workplace. However, he insisted: "We were well aware of the carnival atmosphere. If there was a party going on and a cake being presented, then we wanted to blow out the candles. If it was a disappointing game, I'm pleased with that in many ways."

Ever the salesman, Fulham chairman Mohamed al-Fayed chose the last game at the famous old venue as everybody knew it, to get rid of unwanted stock. Orders were invited for a variety of souvenirs. Naturally there was the square foot of turf (£10 including presentation box). But also more novel memorabilia, such as floodlight bulbs and fittings, and a limited edition of 800 bricks from the soon-to -be demolished Cottage itself.

And of course there was the obligatory parade of former Fulham heroes; Johnny Haynes, George Cohen, Tosh Chamberlain, Maurice Cook and Alan Mullery came out to take their bows, flanked naturally by the scarf-waving Fayed, and everybody seemed happy to see them.

Clearly not wanting his public profile to drop, Fayed was back on the pitch at half-time to present trophies to the Fulham ladies team and reappeared again after the final whistle to lead the customary end-of-season lap of honour. "It is a poignant occasion that will surely leave people with mixed emotions, myself included," he insisted. "We will never forget the emotional attachment."

However, footballing industry was minimal between Fayed's parades.

For a while even Robbie Savage seemed in a placid mood before a kick on Louis Saha resulted in his 15th booking of this season and consequently a three-match ban as Leicester begin life in the Nationwide League.

Fulham should have scored within a minute of Saha's introduction as a substitute. The Frenchman outpaced the entire Leicester defence but, with the goal seemingly at his mercy, he incomprehensively checked back on to his left foot and elected to tamely cross the ball.

Leicester stage their farewell to Filbert Street and the Premiership when they host Tottenham after the FA Cup final. Hopefully they will lay on a little more entertainment.

Sunday Mirror

FULHAM huffed and puffed but blew any chance of leaving Craven Cottage on a winning note.

In a match that failed to live up to the fanfare before kick-off, Fulham denied themselves a third successive win in a manner consistent of their season, squandering too many chances.

Manager Jean Tigana said: "Today was a very poor game. We started badly and things got a little bit better, but I am disappointed because it is our last game at this ground. The problems we have had are in the last 25 yards of the pitch and that is down to confidence.

"The players do not have the confidence they need when they get near to the box. It is something that we have got to work on."

The damp squib of a game was in contrast to the emotional scenes that marked the end of Fulham's 106-year tenure at Craven Cottage prior to a two-year exile at Loftus Road while the ground is improved.

The buoyant atmosphere was unarguably boosted by Fulham guaranteeing their place in the Premiership next season but the passion of the home fans turned to frustration after 20 minutes as Leicester put together a couple of attacks.

On the half hour Steed Malbranque saw a shot for the home side deflected wide in a rare moment of excitement. In fairness the sides had little to play for but the second half began as inauspiciously as the first, with only Lee Marshall briefly raising hopes of a goal, but he shot high and wide.

Frank Sinclair did well to scoop the ball clear of Steve Marlet and Bjarne Goldbaek had a stinging shot thwarted by Matt Elliot's backside.

Paul Dickov nearly spoiled Fulham's day, but his cute first time pass to Muzzy Izzet was cut out by Alain Goma.

Chances were being created, but wasted, as was epitomised by a rushed shot outside the box from Malbranque that sailed over.

Marlet, still not cleared of accusations that he is an £11million misfit, wasted another decent opportunity mishitting a volley.

Fulham pressed and the Leicester midfield became increasingly overrun.

Tigana replaced midfielder Legwinski with striker Louis Saha after 63 minutes. But Saha showed a severe lack of confidence within minutes of coming on.

Malbranque delivered a superb ball to his French compatriot, but Saha dwelt too long on the ball when it cried out to be struck first time.

Fulham's home season closed with a reminder of just why they ended up flirting with the relegation zone: not enough goals from their frontmen.

Tigana, while happy with the commitments of his players, admitted he was not satisfied with this season. "There are more games that we could have won," he said. "There are still many things to work on. But if you look at many of the players, they have not played at this level before."

Leicester boss Micky Adams confirmed that Middlesbrough's bid for midfielder Muzzy Izzet had been accepted. "Muzzy is the only player we have received an official bid for, so he is the only one who might be going," he said.