Davis Exclusive

Monday 11 February 2002

From Ian McCulloch

What is it about Graeme Souness that makes a win over one of his teams that much more pleasurable than any other victory would be? For supporters of a certain age it probably dates back to the famous Milk Cup trilogy in the early eighties, when Souness cynically took out Fulham's danger man, the precocious Paul Parker, with a tackle that would have led to a ten match ban in today's footballing climate.

Of course he subsequently fuelled the flames of antagonism with his ungracious remarks about who were the division's best side last season, clearly ignoring the evidence of the league table staring up at him.

For the first quarter of an hour on Saturday it looked as though Rovers were going to gain their revenge as they threatened to blow Fulham away, but by the end of the match they were a side well beaten.

In a season where the ball has not always bounced kindly for the Whites, Andy Cole's early snap shot came back off the foot of a post and could easily have gone in off the prone van der Sar. But Fulham rode their luck and came back strongly. Once Hayles had had put the Whites in front there was only one team in it, and the Blackburn heads dropped alarmingly.

The goal came from a powerful and determined run by Steve Marlet that saw him pick the ball up just outside his own area, and shrug off three burly challenges before exchanging passes in the Blackburn box for Hayles to score. The fact that there was a clear cut handball just prior to the goal, served only to allow referee Halsey the opportunity to execute another eccentric decision, totally ignoring the incident despite the linesman flagging furiously and the Blackburn players momentarily stopping to appeal against the obvious.

Sadly, this wasn't the most extreme of the man's efforts, the most bizarre being the booking of Marlet for allowing his nose to get in the way of Craig Short's elbow. Marlet had a superb game; apart from making both goals, he led the line brilliantly, had some good chances on goal and hit the post with the goalkeeper well beaten.

Speaking after the game, midfielder Sean Davis, back after his own nose break, described how delighted he was to be in the team and how pleased everyone was with a performance that has got the White's season back on track nicely.

"I thought we played we really well," he said, "We were committed and up for it. It was a really quick tempo in the first half, they hit the post, we hit the post. Edwin had to make a few good saves, but we could have scored more than two goals by the end. It was another clean sheet, so it's fair play to the lads, we stuck in there and we got the three points that we desperately needed.

"We came out of the traps quite slowly, but we showed good character to get back into the game. I thought our front two, Barry and Steve, did really well, and obviously the defence played their part too. It was a good all round team performance."

Blackburn started the game so well, it's hard to imagine that they were on the back of such a disastrous run. Could it be that the Whites' famous victory at Ewood Park last season still rankled? Davis agreed that it could have added to their initial motivation.

"They were really up for it. They started off very quickly, but the first goal just killed them, and after that we were able to stamp our authority on the game. I wouldn't say that we dominated everything, but we created a lot of chances. We were the home team and we took advantage of that.

"They've actually got a lot of quality in their squad and a very experienced manager, so even though they are right down there at the moment, they were a very difficult side to play against. I'm positive that they'll win their relegation battle and stay up. With the quality they've got in their side, and with the determination and aggression that they showed today, I'm sure they'll be all right."

Yet another clean sheet was achieved, with the defensive strengths of the team laying the foundations for the victory. The much-vaunted forward partnership of Cole and Jansen were made to look anonymous by the end, and despite everything that the highly talented pair, Duff and Dunn, tried to pull off, there was no way through.

"It's what we try and work from, a clean sheet," Davis said, "If you don't concede, you don't lose. Obviously our problem has been in not scoring goals, so to score two today was very good. On a personal level, I really enjoyed it, and it's nice to be back after everything that's happened recently.

"Everyone really wanted to win today. We not going to be happy just sitting in mid table, we really want to push for a European place so that we've got that to look forward to next season."

With a short break to come from league action, Cup glory beckons once again. With an extremely difficult, but winnable tie away at Walsall, a lot of fans have the feeling that this could be Fulham's year. What do the players think?

"Last time we played at Walsall we won 3-1," said Davis, "So I'm looking forward to going back. There is definitely a feeling here that we could all the way in this. We're determined and focussed, if we can get that bit of luck that everybody needs, then who knows..."

We'll leave the last word with Graeme Souness, who was surprisingly magnanimous after the defeat. He rued the missed chances and called the goals "sloppy", but overall his reading of the game was balanced and fair. His myopia regarding Short's sending off however, was extraordinary. After being red carded for a vicious and unprovoked elbow in the face on Marlet, Souness said of Short, who has now been sent off three times this season, "It's very frustrating. Short is an old-school English pro and he wouldn't purposely hit anybody."

By Souness' own playing standards it was an innocuous challenge, by anybody else's it was bloodthirsty. It would be interesting to hear Souness' comments after he has had a chance to study the video - as last season showed, he isn't someone who lets the facts intrude on his opinions.