We'll be back

Sunday 3 March 2002

From Fulham Today's Ian McCulloch...

You have to go back to April 1998 for the last time that Fulham lost three league games in a row - that's an incredible sequence of 167 matches. It's no wonder that the supporters went home a bit bemused after Saturday's game; they've forgotten what it's like to be on a real losing run.

The other reason they went home bemused was that they had witnessed yet another smash and grab raid from a team playing a la Derby County (albeit with a bit more class). Liverpool, obviously worrying about nosebleeds if they crossed the halfway line, defended as though their lives depended on it and scored twice from their four or so chances.

Fulham, as usual, spurned a good number of clear-cut opportunities. Marlet, Saha, Boa Morte, Legwinski and Goma all could and should have scored, and a share of the spoils was the very least that the Whites deserved from what was a fine team performance.

The story of the stats tells it all - 61% of the possession, and it wasn't toothless either - Fulham had the lion's share of the chances. And once again, the intervention of the referee was crucial. For those of you without the benefit of video analysis, when Luis Boa Morte burst past Abel Xavier in the penalty area, the Portuguese defender put his arm round Luis' shoulder, pulling him back and then pushing him to the ground. This was an absolutely incontrovertible, cast-iron penalty - there could be no other interpretation.

The referee, from a vantage point ten yards away, had no hesitation in showing the yellow card to Boa Morte and awarding a goal kick. All too often these days, it seems the outcome of a match is being determined by the incompetence of a referee.

In many ways, the game summed up the Whites' season perfectly: a very good team performance that lacked ruthlessness/luck/confidence in front of goal, and a result strongly influenced by a referee who it has to be said, was either inept, or, more worryingly, had a hidden agenda.

Speaking after the game, midfielder Sylvain Legwinski gave an honest appraisal of his team's performance, refusing to be carried away by the positive things that the nation's media were saying about the way the team played.

"Yes it was disappointing result, and especially so because we played well," said the Frenchman, "But our problem is that we are not decisive enough - it's the same old problem in front of goal and it was the same today defensively. For the first goal, we should have cleared it and then we weren't able to score. Against a team like Liverpool we were always going to be up against it, if we conceded a goal first.

"Always after these games we say we played well. But if we don't get the right result then we shouldn't say that it was a good performance. It's only a good performance if you win the game, so today was not good for us. But I have to say that the number of good chances that we created means that we are still optimistic about what we can do here.

"Liverpool play a very containing game, so to come back after conceding an early goal was very difficult. They are very solid defensively, and they played very well at the back. Even so, we should have got something out of the game. We have Chelsea now on Wednesday, and the team are determined to tighten up our performance and get a result there."

This is the big one as far as the fans are concerned, but it looks as though the midfield is going to be a problem area for the Whites. Legwinski is out suspended and Lee Clark had to be substituted, obviously in some discomfort, after coming on as substitute himself. Also coming off injured was Sean Davis, but the young midfielder is determined to be available for the mid-week clash.

"I took a knee to my thigh," he said, after limping out of the dressing room, "It went dead straight away and I was really struggling to run on it. I hope that it's just a short-term thing; it would be a huge disappointment to me if I couldn't play on Wednesday.

"Every game is a big game at the moment and this one even more so. Hopefully a bit of rest on my leg means that I can start jogging on it fairly quickly. I'll be in first thing on Sunday morning and I'll keep icing it and moving it to stop it stiffening up even more.

"It means a lot to everyone to get a result at Chelsea, and I really hope I can be a part of it."

Something of an understatement there. If Fulham can sustain their good performance but convert the chances that their play deserves into a win on Wednesday, then the first three-game bad run for nearly four years will be readily forgiven and forgotten.