Fulham fail to spoil party

Sunday 12 May 2002

The Telegraph

Damien Duff and Andy Cole, the two principal reasons Blackburn have enjoyed such a successful return to the Premiership, were the match-winners once again against faltering Fulham.

Rovers finished in the top half of the table and with European football beckoning after their Worthington Cup success, manager Graeme Souness could be forgiven for a smile of self-satisfaction. Duff received Blackburn's player of the season award before the kick-off and crowned a sensational season with a superbly-worked goal.

Cole scored equally good efforts, and created and missed a hatful of other chances in an eventful game to highlight his own contribution to Blackburn's season after his £7 million move from Manchester United.

Fulham's early patient build-up play was decisive and Louis Saha was inches wide with a low drive from 25 yards. But Blackburn opened the scoring. After missing five ridiculously easy chances, including three more or less open goals, Cole finally got on the score sheet seven minutes into the second half with an extraordinary goal which left Maik Taylor red-faced with embarrassment.

Taylor received a routine back-pass from Jon Harley, but when Cole closed him down the Fulham goalkeeper tried to take the ball past him. Cole executed a perfect sliding tackle and then regained his feet to roll the ball into an empty net.

Five chances, one goal. Perhaps Glenn Hoddle was right all along about that ratio when, during his time as England manager, he repeatedly ignored Cole.

After 65 minutes a superb move was finished with aplomb by Duff. Cole turned Andy Melville and sent Matt Jansen through, and though Zat Knight slid in to force him wide, he poked a pass between two defenders for Duff to fire left-footed across Taylor and low into the corner.

It was the winger's eighth goal of a richly-rewarding season, and his seventh in the Premiership.
Cole then laid a chance on a plate for Jansen, holding off Steve Finnan before sliding a pass to his striker but Taylor was off his line to block.

A lightning dart to the near post by Cole nearly led to a third, as he made contact with Lucas Neill's pass but could not get it on target.

With 10 minutes to go it was 3-0, thanks to Cole. Tugay's perfectly-weighted through-ball sent Cole sprinting towards goal but there was still plenty to do, and he turned Melville inside out before stabbing past Taylor to make it 13 goals for Rovers since Jan 1.

Lewis almost surprised Kelly from distance before Taylor made a double save, first denying Cole his hat-trick and then blocking out Yordi.

The Independent

Andy Cole gave a performance to give Sven Goran Eriksson sleepless nights as Blackburn embarrassed Fulham to end the season in the top half of the table.

He scored a pair of fine goals, was denied a hat-trick only by a goal-line clearance a minute from time, and his all-round play was generous, intelligent and incisive.

In the opening period he perplexed his markers to squeeze into space and should have scored twice with headers from pin-point crosses by Keith Gillespie and the tormentor-in-chief, Damien Duff. Given the misses and, more pertinently, his disappointment at being left out of England's World Cup party and the subsequent announcement of retirement from the international scene, the tenacity and hunger he showed after the break was admirable.

He was rewarded within seven minutes of the restart. Maik Taylor, the Fulham goalkeeper, received a bread-and-butter back-pass from Jon Harley but, with plenty of time available to make the clearance, he dallied. Cole sensed an opportunity, made the tackle, and tucked the ball home with ease, much to Taylor's embarrassment.

The strike settled what nerves Blackburn might have had and, having dominated the fixture throughout, they assumed almost total control.

The visitors were disappointing and too easily defeated by a combative and speedy Blackburn midfield. Consequently chances were sparse.

A poor back-bass by Keith Gillespie almost allowed Steve Marlet to sneak in, but he was thwarted by an alert Alan Kelly in the Blackburn goal. Louis Saha, some way below his best, also came close with a shot from 25 yards that crept past a post and, when the game was as good as over, Bjarne Goldbaek clipped the crossbar with a fine chip. But these were fleeting moments in a Fulham performance of little cohesion and, prior to Blackburn's second, they were almost unable to breach the half-way line.

Cole was central to Blackburn's second strike. His deftly weighted pass found Jansen in space and, though defenders blocked his path, he regained possession and fed Duff, who cut in from the left to notch his eighth goal of the season. There was inevitability both that Blackburn would score again, and that it would be Cole who claimed it. Tugay Kerimoglu delivered the pass and the striker ran 40 yards with the ball at his feet before creating the space to squeeze his effort beyond Taylor.

Graeme Souness, the Blackburn manager, was delighted with his most costly acquisition's performance yesterday - and his contribution to the latter part of Blackburn's season. "I don't believe there is a better striker in England at this time and I can't for the life of me understand why he's not on the plane to the World Cup," the Scot said.

"He's scored 13 goals in 20 games for us, and it took him six matches to get to match fitness. He's been an inspiration. We paid a lot of money for him and he gets good wages - but he's delivered."

The Times

Never mind the football, get on with the party. This was more It's A Knockout than serious contest and why not? Both these promoted sides secured Premiership safety some time ago and after this victory Blackburn, who for several weeks teetered on the brink of relegation, have now finished in the top 10 as well as lifting the Worthington Cup along the way.

It is also a job well done for Fulham, who can look forward to the transformation of their traditional Craven Cottage home into a modern all-seater stadium with a little more confidence. In passing, they also have the dubious distinction of qualifying for the much- maligned Intertoto Cup.

Of course all this meant there was absolutely nothing at stake for a full house at Ewood Park, who witnessed a game squeezed in between music, dancing and fireworks.

The football was incidental. And it showed with an almost humorous array of novelty party pieces. Andrew Cole marked his retirement from international football by completely missing the target with two free first-half headers following pinpoint deliveries from Keith Gillespie and Matt Jansen.

Even Jansen, shattered by his omission from the England World Cup squad, was not himself, as he stumbled over the ball when it would have been easier to score.

Fulham were an anonymous force all afternoon and only had a long-range strike from Louis Saha in the first period to register any threat.

Inevitably the music hall mode continued after the teams changed round. Almost immediately Jon Harley, nearer the corner flag than his goalkeeper, ludicrously decided to roll the ball back across to Maik Taylor, even though Cole was standing in front of him. Unable to pick the ball up Taylor could only look in horror as the former England forward legitimately tackled the goalkeeper, before rolling the ball into the net.

The moment was met with optimistic chants of "Are you watching Eriksson?" Damien Duff, who will be on World Cup duty with the Republic of Ireland, was once again a class act and he doubled Blackburn's lead by cutting inside to curl the ball round Taylor.

With barely 10 minutes of the season left we were at last treated to a piece of vintage Cole.

Collecting the ball on the halfway line, he raced away into the penalty area and turned Andy Melville first one way and then the other before calmly prodding the ball past Taylor. If Eriksson had been watching, even he would have been impressed.

After the match, Blackburn manager Graeme Souness noted that it was a good way to finish a good season. He said of Cole: "I cannot understand why he is not on the plane to Japan and South Korea. But we will reap the benefit when we return to training."

The final whistle signalled the lap of honour, the reappearance of the Worthington Cup and spectacular pyrotechnics. The party was complete.

The Guardian

Damien Duff and Andy Cole - the two principal reasons Blackburn have enjoyed such a successful return to the Premiership - were the matchwinners once again against a faltering Fulham.

Victory saw Rovers finish in the top half of the table, and with European football beckoning after their Worthington Cup success, manager Graeme Souness could reflect on a satisfying season.
Duff received Blackburn's player of the season award before kick-off and crowned a magnificent season with a superbly-worked goal. Cole scored equally good efforts, to atone for creating and miss ing a hatful of other chances in an eventful game.

Cole should have started the party with a goal in the second minute. David Dunn beat Sylvain Legwinski to the ball and found Keith Gillespie. His cross dropped perfectly for Cole but somehow he contrived to head wide.

After 17 minutes, Cole fluffed what was, if anything, an easier chance. Jansen's tantalising cross from the left came to Cole at the perfect height, but from six yards out, he again headed wide.

Fulham's patient build-up play did becoming more decisive, however, and Luis Saha was inches wide with a low drive from 25 yards.

But seven minutes into the second half Cole finally got onto the scoresheet with an bizarre goal which greatly embarrassed Maik Taylor.

The Fulham goalkeeper received a routine back-pass from Jon Harley, but when Cole closed him down the Fulham goalkeeper attempted to take the ball past him. Cole executed a perfect sliding tackle and then regained his feet to roll the ball into an empty net. Five chances, one goal. Perhaps Glenn Hoddle was right after all about that goal-to-chance ratio.

After 65 minutes, a superb move ended in a lovely goal from Duff. Cole turned Andy Melville and sent Matt Jansen through, and although substitute Zat Knight forced him wide, he hit a pass between two defenders for Duff to fire left-footed across Taylor and low into the corner.

With 10 minutes to go it was 3-0. Tugay's perfectly-weighted through-ball sent Cole sprinting towards goal. He turned Melville inside out before stabbing past Taylor.