Best of the rest

Thursday 1 August 2002


THEY were wearing shirts advertising an internet betting firm and playing in a competition formed to facilitate a summer pools venture, but still Fulham did not take the gambler's approach.

Dogged by a lack of goals last season, they again showed a lack of attacking ambition last night in the first leg of their InterToto Cup semi-final against Sochaux at Loftus Road.

An injury-time goal by Sean Davis provided some relief, but Jean Tigana, the Fulham manager, repeated the familiar complaint that his midfield players had not been positive enough. A decent Sochaux side, which finished eighth in the French league last season, could prove troublesome in the second leg next Wednesday.

The venue, home of Queens Park Rangers, was a reminder of the aborted plan for a merged Fulham Park Rangers club 16 years ago.

The future of Craven Cottage had been threatened on that occasion and there was further concern among supporters yesterday when the club confirmed that it was seeking alternatives to its preferred option of returning to its Thames-side stadium in two years' time.

The threat of legal action from local residents and a £30 million rise in the estimated redevelopment costs were blamed. Loftus Road was not Fulham's only item of borrowed property on show for the first time last night.

A half-time substitute, Junichi Inamoto, the Japan midfield player who has signed on loan for a year, produced some fine dribbles reminiscent of his efforts at the World Cup finals and it was from his corner that Davis lashed home the winner from close range with his left foot.

Sylvain Legwinski headed against the crossbar for Fulham in the fifteenth minute, while an angled drive by Francileudo Santos brought a good save by Edwin van der Sar, the Fulham goalkeeper, with his legs, but otherwise there was little to excite a small crowd.

FROM THE SUN - Dave Kidd

SEAN DAVIS lit up Fulham's house-warming party by thumping home an injury-time Intertoto Cup winner.

The England Under-21 midfielder failed to score a Premiership goal all last season.

But he fired into the roof of the net from 20 yards to clinch this European semi-final, first leg, after a corner from Japanese debut-boy Junichi Inamoto.

The strike boosted Fulham's hopes of reaching the UEFA Cup. But it was a drab match watched by only 4,717 die-hards as Jean Tigana's men began their two-year tenancy at QPR's Loftus Road while Craven Cottage is revamped.

It had looked as if their Euro adventure was heading for the end of the road as they failed to find top gear against the club funded by French car firm Peugeot.

But the Whites will be just one tie away from the UEFA Cup if they earn at least a draw in next Wednesday's return.

Boss Tigana insists a place in a major European competition is crucial to his side's pulling power - and Davis popped up in the third minute of stoppage time to bring that dream closer.

Fulham had squeezed past Finnish side Haka and the Greeks of Egaleo to reach one of the six semi-finals in this bewildering competition.

With new signing Inamoto on the bench for the first time since his one-year loan switch from Gamba Osaka, his compatriots from the Japanese media abounded.

Ever hospitable, Fulham screened sumo wrestling on the TV in the Press room.

On the field, Frenchmen dominated, with Tigana including five of his countrymen and eight starting for the visitors.Sochaux begin their league campaign on Saturday and are two weeks further down the line in their pre-season preparations.

But it was Fulham who were quickest out of the blocks, with full-back Rufus Brevett having a decent penalty shout turned down in the third minute.

The Londoners got a boost when Sochaux's danger man, highly-rated France Under-21 striker Pierre-Alain Frau, limped off injured after just 12 minutes.

Sylvain Legwinski went closest to a first-half breakthrough when his header from a Steed Malbranque corner came back off the underside of the crossbar.

Sochaux's one threatening attack of the first period came when Jaouad Zairi, on as a sub for Frau, sprang the offside trap with a pass that found Brazilian Francileudo, who shoot across goal.
It was the same old story for Fulham as chance after chance went begging.

Brevett's dangerous low cross was missed by Louis Saha at the near post and by Legwinski at the back stick.

Then Malbranque curled a free-kick just over after Luis Boa Morte was fouled on the edge of the box. He then wriggled past two defenders to tee up Davis, whose shot was deflected wide.

Malbranque had a low drive saved by keeper Teddy Richert after Edwin van der Sar's long punt was nodded on by Saha.

The half-time introduction of Inamoto, on in place of Legwinski, at least pepped up his army of journalistic followers who had grown tired of watching their hero struggle through reserve games during his year on loan at Arsenal last term.

Every one of Fulham's Premiership matches will be broadcast live on Japanese TV, meaning former Stevenage carpenter Barry Hayles could soon be enjoying pop star status in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Boa Morte squandered a great chance at the start of the second period, shooting wide from close range after Malbranque set him up.


Plus ca change. Fulham began their two-year tenure at Queen's Park Rangers' Loftus Road ground with a familiar struggle to score in last night's Intertoto Cup semi-final first leg, despite being granted abundant possession by defensive-minded opponents.

At least there was a last-minute goal by Sean Davis for the sparse crowd of 4,717, who had little to enjoy otherwise apart from an encouraging 45 minutes from one of Jean Tigana's new recruits, Junichi Inamoto.

The ground might have changed, but the pattern was the same as for the home legs in the last two rounds. Fulham puffed and probed, with Steed Malbranque as busy as ever, but rarely gave Teddy Richert, the visiting goalkeeper, any work to do.

He was not required to make a save before half-time, despite being beaten once. In the 16th minute Malbranque won and took a corner, his compatriot Sylvain Legwinski's angled header hitting the bar.

Malbranque curled a free-kick too high after Luis Boa Morte had been crudely stopped as he burst through, but most of the time Sochaux's defence successfully crowded them out. Even when the home side broke after conceding a corner, with four men against two, Steve Marlet's shot was blocked before reaching Richert.

The visitors, who finished eighth in the French League last season, looked a cut above previous opponents Haka and Egaleo, without showing a great deal more ambition.

They might have scored in the 28th minute, Fabien Boudarne's pass sending the Brazilian striker Francilendo Dos Santos Silva clear of Fulham's back four. He was at an awkward angle, however, and Edwin van der Sar was able to divert the ball away to the corner flag.

Inamoto's inclusion in the squad, initially on the substitutes' bench, guaranteed that the evening's attendance would be improved by an influx of Japanese journalists, who ensured that the press box was fuller than the stands. They were rewarded for all those wasted days at Highbury when he was brought on in place of Legwinski for the second half.

Japan's World Cup hero took up a position wide on the right - he might have preferred to be more central - and earned grateful applause for some neat touches. He was also involved at the inception of the move that ought to have brought a goal six minutes after then interval.

Malbranque carried it on with a delicious touch but Boa Morte squandered the chance, shooting wide from eight yards.

There were few others and the crowd's frustration was made clear whenever Van der Sar dribbled out of his area and was urged "shoot!" He settled for hoofing the ball forward in most un-Tigana like fashion, and the manager sent Barry Hayles on for Malbranque as an extra attacker.

There was little improvement until Sochaux failed to clear a disputed corner and Davis drove in a fierce shot from 10 yards.