Legwinski exclusive

Monday 21 October 2002

Proving that he doesn't need Zidane, Henry and Wiltord around him to be able to score against top-class opposition, Steve Marlet scored a third poacher's goal in a week, this time against Manchester United, to add to the two he got for France last Saturday.

A superlative cross from Brevett, a dummy from Sava, and there was Marlet, leaving full-back Sylvestre helpless at the far-post, to slot the ball home and send the Fulham fans into ecstasies.

Manchester United went home grateful for their point and reliant on the referee's leniency after being outplayed for much of the game by a resurgent Fulham team.

There were many candidates for the man-of-the match award; Steve Finnan was the official recipient, but Zat Knight at the back or the midfield pairing of Sean Davis and Sylvain Legwinski, who played their more illustrious opponents off the park, were also in with a good shout. Legwinski, speaking after the game, described how the Whites had approached the match.

"It was a very tough game," he said, "We tried to push up against them, and tried to stop them playing in the way they are capable of - we tried to stop them passing. I thought we succeeded very well in the first half although it was more difficult after the break. But I think we can be very satisfied with our performance overall."

Ryan Giggs was Fulham's nemesis last year, and it was an unfamiliar looking Whites formation that lined up against the Reds. Instead of the usual diamond formation, Fulham reverted to a more traditional midfield with Davis and Legwinski in the middle, and Steve Finnan, making his return from injury, pushed up into the right midfield berth to counter the runs of Giggs.

It worked brilliantly, and it wasn't until Sir Alex Ferguson took off Phil Neville and allowed Giggs to run free down the middle that United started to show more of their usual attacking prowess.

"It was because we were up against players like Giggs and Scholes that we altered our system a little bit today to try and be more compact in the midfield," said Legwinski, "And it worked well I think.

"We played very high up the pitch and stopped them playing their football - that was our objective. It was nice to take the lead, and it was a shame that we made the mistake that let them back into it; but we are still learning how to play at this sort of level, and when you're up against a team like Manchester you have to learn very quickly, and one of the things you can't do is make mistakes like that in front of goal.

"It's always the same problem against a team like that; you think you're in control, and suddenly they've scored - out of nothing! It was exactly the same last year - you have to always keep your concentration.

"When you're winning you always try to keep the ball for the maximum time possible. We tried very hard to win that game and perhaps we didn't have all the luck we could have."

In stark contrast to the match against Charlton where the Whites struggled to put their game together but came away with the three points, luck was undoubtedly with the Reds on this occasion. Solskjaer clearly pushed Ouaddou out of the way to give himself the room to score his goal, Sava almost had the shirt pulled off his back as he missed the second of his three good chances, and Blanc should have been sent off for his last-man foul on Marlet.

And of course the referee let Barthez get away with as blatant a bit of cheating as you're ever likely to see, and that ultimately saved the game for the Reds. Unbelievably, Malbranque was forced to wait one minute and forty seconds before he was allowed to take his penalty - the cynical side of Manchester United's play has turned up trumps for them once again.

Legwinski was remarkably sanguine about the incident.

"This is someone who has played many international and European games showing his experience," he said, "When you take a penalty you already have a lot of pressure on your shoulders because everybody expects you to score, so someone like Barthez will do anything he can to add to that pressure.

"He will always do whatever he can, but it's part of the game and you have to learn how to deal with this sort of pressure. Unfortunately Steed missed this penalty, but not everybody is prepared to take them, and he has scored many good penalties already this season, so it's not a problem."

Before the game most Fulham fans would have settled for a point, and although they subsequently came away disappointed that they didn't win the game, they can be proud of their team's gutsy performance. It was further evidence that the Whites are indeed establishing themselves as a thoroughbred Premiership side this season. A good result against West Ham on Wednesday and Fulham will be right back challenging at the top of the table - heady days indeed!