Football: Collymore's calm upset by Morrison

Cottage industry unrewarded as leaky plumbing dampens Fulham faithful's red-carpet day; Fulham 0 Manchester City 0 Attendance: 16,754
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The Independent Online
THE GOOD times might not roll with quite such abandon at Craven Cottage this season. Kevin Keegan has been replaced by the more prosaic Paul Bracewell and notice of the change was served with Fulham's first goalless draw for a year. Not that Fulham were entirely to blame for a scrappy afternoon. Manchester City, also newly arrived in the First Division, did not inject much imagination into a game which never developed a pattern.

Perversely, City's best chances came after they were reduced to 10 men with the sending-off midway through the second half of their burly captain, Andy Morrison. His second yellow card followed a brief spat with Stan Collymore, who betrayed a lack of match practice on his home League debut for Fulham. "He was allegedly sent off for sticking his tongue down another player's throat," said the City manager, Joe Royle. "He must have a tongue like Red Rum."

The most theatrical entertainment came just before kick-off with the trumpeted arrival of the Fulham mascot, an allegorical knight in shining armour. Not far behind, of course, came the real thing, the chairman of Fulham himself, who conducted his own knighting ceremony, complete with red carpet and cardboard sword, presumably announcing the words: "Arise, Sir Craven" in true regal fashion. Most bizarre. Accompanied by a suited henchman and a rather nervous PR girl, Mohamed Al Fayed then completed his own walkabout, swirling his Fulham scarf like a true supporter.

For the moment, at least, Al Fayed has found his constituency, unquestioning adoration from a people who know only that his business dealings have financed the revival of their precious club. As long as the money keeps pouring in and Fulham's momentum is maintained, the fans will chant his name to the skies. If only the Passport Office was so easily convinced. How deep the loyalty is on either side will be fully tested when the first blip hits the graph. The only signs of trouble yesterday were some brief mom-ents of slickness by Manchester City's forwards and a plumbing failure in the main stand. "Fix the pipes, Mohamed," came the cry from a crowd for whom a sense of humour has always been essential.

For all the riches on the field, the old Cottage remains largely unchanged from the days of Johnny Haynes. It was always a pleasant place to watch football, shorn of the seriousness that pervaded the slicker neighbours at the other end of the Fulham Road. There is still an air of disbelief about their new-found status, an uncomfortable shuffling as if Just William had just been kitted out in his Sunday best. Vague talk of promotion to the Premiership, voiced confidently by Bracewell in his programme notes, would bring a crisis of identity as much as a potentially ruinous drain on resources. From much of what was on show yesterday, visions of visits by Manchester United and Arsenal can be shelved for a year or two. Fulham might have their work cut out surviving in a notoriously brutal division, though their teamsheet is laced with Premier League names.

Quite what Collymore's part in the renaissance will be is open to question. One social outcast paying the wages of another for three months hinted at the logic behind Fulham's most recent loan acquisition. Craven Cottage is a traditional rest home for strolling players - George Best, Rodney Marsh and Bobby Moore all plied their trade by the Thames once their competitive days were done - and the best of Collymore might yet be a worthy upholder of that lineage in style if not deed. Poor old Stan. Out for a gentle afternoon by the river, he found himself involved in an unseemly shoving match with Morrison and was booked for his pains. Trouble seems to follow him like a shadow.

Playing as an out-and-out striker alongside the more accomplished Geoff Horsfield, once of Halifax Town, the former Liverpool and Aston Villa maverick looked understandably short of match practice. Apart from one run and a curled shot, neatly saved by Nick Weaver, Collymore's most impressive contribution was to return to the pitch after the final whistle for some extra training. Signs of a new attitude? Nothing much suggested a mind robust enough to cope with rough old days at a makeshift office.

A club of much grander pretensions, City seemed happy to settle for a point, though they could have had all three in the closing stages. Bracewell brought on Paul Peschisolido to exploit the makeshift City defence, but two lapses of concentration almost cost them dear 15 minutes from time. First, Paul Dickov's cross from the right was clipped over the bar by Shaun Goater at full stretch; seconds later, an almost identical cross was met by Dickov, forcing Maik Taylor into a brilliant save. Fulham forced the pace to the end, but their supporters might have to sample footballing fare more local corner shop than Harrods hamper this season.