Fab Finnan

Tuesday 15 January 2002

From Ian McCulloch

A telling point in Saturday's game came when Boro boss Steve McClaren took off his main frontline striker, Hamilton Ricard, and brought on midfielder Phil Stamp to play wide on the left. Two-one down and needing to do something to get his side back into the game, he clearly decided it was more important for his team to nullify the raids of full back Steve Finnan down the right than to actually focus on scoring a goal themselves.

What bigger compliment could there be for the Irish international who has hardly put a foot wrong in his first season in the Premiership? Speaking after the game, Finnan was clearly delighted with the way the team played and the battling qualities that they had to show to come back from the early goal conceded.

"That was a very good result for us," he said, "And it puts us up to ninth in the table now. We had to show a lot of character coming back from a goal behind. Even so, I thought we started quite well, although we didn't have too many chances early on. But they got a goal out of the blue, and as I say, we showed a lot of character to come back from that and in go in at the break 2-1 up, which I thought was thoroughly deserved.

"They were very tough to break down at the back, they've got some good players. In the second half they played with one-up and five across the middle and that made it a bit more difficult for us. And then they pushed up a bit more late in the game to try and get an equaliser, but we coped well and really had a lot of chances that should have wrapped it all up."

It was a dreadful start to the game, with the White's normally miserly defence seeming to switch off for the crucial few seconds that allowed Boro's Colin Cooper to sneak in unobserved and get a goal out of nowhere. With quite a few Fulham fans suspecting that this was a game with nil-nil written all over it, it looked to be up-hill all the way from there. Finnan was as non-plussed as the rest of us over the goal, but pointed out that it was the first League match this season that Fulham had come from behind to take the victory and that spoke volumes for the team.

"The free-kick's come over," he said, "And I think Edwin could have got it, but I suppose he thought it was just going out, and so did Sylvain. But to be fair to their lad, he did well - took a gamble and got in close to score. It was disappointing because we'd started well, and it is tough to come back when you've gone behind so early.

"They are a good team, and when you go a goal down, and the pitch is bad and it's hard to play, then it's very difficult. But we showed that we can battle back, and really, we created a lot of very good chances.

"Saha was excellent when we came on, his pace really scared them at the back. His confidence will have improved after getting that goal and I think he'll go on and score a lot more now. Steve Marlet also did very well, for his goal he kept very cool under pressure, and he really showed his ability by tucking it away very nicely. So I was very pleased for him and Louis, because they've both been under pressure to score.

"Even though the pitch is cutting up quite badly, we still like to get it down and play. In that first half, we were patient and carried on playing it around at the back, and that was important because then we were able to pull one or two of their players out of position, and then with our quick passing we were able to get in behind them, and they were probably some of our best moves of the game. Perhaps we should be doing more of that - being patient and keeping the ball, regardless of what anyone says. Keep passing and then when the gaps open up like they did today, we can hit quickly."

Once again, despite the good showing of the forwards, the final scoreline did not fairly reflect the White's superiority. The Boro keeper had a lot to do with that, making some inspired saves, including one spectacular one from Finnan himself in the second half. You suspect that he would have loved to get his name on the scoresheet.

"We did have quite a few chances, and Mark Crossley made some good saves, and there were a few goalmouth scrambles where we didn't get the rub of the green. So we would have been very disappointed if they had nicked one late on, but we thoroughly deserved the win. I had a good chance - it might have gone in but it was a good save.

"The league position is starting to look good, we've got a game in hand still. The lads are quietly confident that we'll finish in a good place - I don't know if a European place is on the cards, but if we keep playing like that then there's no reason why we shouldn't be up there. There's a long way to go, and we've just got to carry on the way we are."

Next one up is the Cup. The fans would love to go all the way to Cardiff. Do the players feel the same, or is it all just a distraction from the League?

"It's a big game on Tuesday," said Finnan, "We're optimistic of course - we were when we went to their place, but they gave us a bit of a scare and we had to score late on to stay in it, so we know it's not going to be a pushover. It would be nice to do well in this competition, so we've got to make sure we're really focussed.

"Domestically, apart from the League, this is the biggest competition, and we all feel it's important to do well, for ourselves and the fans and the Club, and you never know, it could be a way into Europe for us. It could be a very important thing for this Club."

Here's a happy man - playing at the top level for the first time, his team is doing well, he's playing brilliantly, he's off to the World Cup in the summer, everything in the garden is rosy. This isn't someone getting carried away though. With his feet firmly on the ground, Finnan is quick to pay tribute to the backing he's received from the fans.

"I'm very pleased with my own form," he said. "I've played in every game and I think I've done well, and it's great when you hear the fans chanting your name. I hope I show my appreciation by giving them a clap after the game. It's fantastic when they get behind me, and the team as well. The fans have been really, really good, hopefully they'll carry on doing it and we can reward them with something come the end of the season."