Jean Tigana

Sunday 18 August 2002

The Premiership is back at Loftus Road for the first time since 1996, although the ground's regular occupiers, Queen's Park Rangers, are still trying to battle their way out of the Second Division. Meanwhile, the latest tenants, Fulham, are at the summit of the top flight of English football for the first time in living memory. "It's certainly never happened in my lifetime," Alan Mullery joked.

After the game, the Fulham manager, Jean Tigana, expressed pleasure at his team's performance before speaking for the first time about his tricky summer, which saw the arrival of Franco Baresi as director of football.

Tigana revealed that he "liked the difficulties". "It was a good experience for me," he said, "because I grew and my heart is only for Fulham now. This was a great first day for us."

But, then, yesterday was all about firsts. First day back after the summer holidays; first time at a new home; first goal of the new Premiership season; and the near certainty that Bolton will not finish first come May. For a while, though, they were, as their fans chanted so loudly, "top of the League".

Two minutes were on the clock when Youri Djorkaeff, looking fit and rested following France's early exit from the World Cup, took hold of a return pass from Ricardo Gardner on the edge of the box before spinning the last defender, Alain Goma, with a wonderful turn. The Fulham centre-back had no choice but to bring down his compatriot; and Alan Wiley had no alternative but to point to the penalty spot.

Michael Ricketts, who has been a constant source of transfer speculation - with Tottenham showing the greatest interest, seemed to take an outrageous number of side- steps before finally making contact with the ball and slotting it past Edwin van der Sar. Loftus Road, which was almost full to capacity for this opener, went totally quiet. It was not the start the Fulham faithful had planned.

Tigana looked more tetchy than usual on the bench, but he need not have worried himself. Six minutes after Bolton had taken the lead, their creative midfielder, the Nigerian Jay-Jay Okocha, was caught in possession by Rufus Brevett, who then fed the ball to the lively Luis Boa Morte. The Portuguese international looked up and threaded a perfect ball through to the on-rushing Louis Saha. The striker was clear on goal and forced the Bolton captain, Gudni Bergsson, into a rash foul. The Frenchman stepped up to convert the spot-kick himself.

Bolton, who started last season with a 5-0 away win at Leicester, never recovered and Fulham began to take full control. A wonderful move on the half-hour mark, involving a clever back-heel from Simon Davis, saw Sylvain Legwinski fire in the second from eight yards. Fulham were rampant now, with the excellent Steed Malbranque pulling the strings from central midfield, and it came as little surprise when, nine minutes before the break, Boa Morte was brought down by Bernard Mendy inside the area for the "home" team's second penalty of the afternoon. This time it was Steve Marlet who converted the kick.

Sam Allardyce, the Bolton manager, substituted the ineffectual pair of Mendy and Okocha during the interval. "They will have to get up to pace if they want to play in my team," he said after the defeat.

Not that their replacements were able to do much better. Fulham were in cruise mode and such was their level of control that their manager even treated a legion of Japanese supporters, who had travelled to the ground while on a university tour, to Junichi Inamoto's Premiership debut.

The Japan international came on in the 67th minute and then had a hand in Fulham's fourth. His cross was only half-cleared and Legwinski drilled in his second with a low, rasping shot.

Source: The Independent