Football: Hayles fails to close Fulham blank account

Fulham 0 Ipswich Town 0
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FULHAM AND Ipswich, like a couple of pugilists terrified of suffering a Boxing Day knockout in the promotion battle, scrapped and clinched their way to a share of the spoils yesterday at Craven Cottage.

Of the two teams it is Ipswich that look as though they might have a chance of fighting at a higher weight. George Burley's side had plenty of chances to win the day, but were ultimately foiled by a mixture of striking profligacy and dogged Fulham defending.

Ipswich, in third place at the start of the day, deployed Jamie Scowcroft just behind David Johnson and Richard Naylor in attack. It was a tactic that Fulham's three central defenders - Simon Morgan, Andy Melville and Kit Symons - never quite solved.

The problem was never more evident than in the 37th minute when Scowcroft's intelligent knockdown released Wayne Brown. The Ipswich defender's cross fizzed across the box to the feet of David Johnson but the striker, unable to deliver the coup de grace, clipped his shot past the post. Johnson had a particularly wasteful first half, failing to convert three good chances.

Fulham have not managed to score a goal in the league during December and on the evidence of yesterday it was not hard to see why. Kit Symons went close from a couple of set pieces, but it was a measure of Fulham's lack of creativity from their pedestrian midfield that the London side's best chance in the opening period came when John McGreal nearly put through his own goal after a Barry Hayles cross.

Hayles was Fulham's best player. Unfortunately Geoff Horsfield, Fulham's top scorer in the league, was strangely subdued and the manager Paul Bracewell replaced him with Paul Peschisolido at the start of the second period. The Canadian almost snatched the points but was denied by Richard Wright's late save.

Fulham have not conceded a goal in December, but their five-man defence continues to ask more questions that it answers. Rufus Brevett, the left wing-back, rarely crossed the halfway line which left Fulham consistently undermanned in midfield. Just past the hour Bracewell brought on Gus Uhlenbeek for Brevett, and switched Finnan to the left wing-back position.

Fulham (5-3-2): Taylor; Finnan, Melville, Morgan, Symons, Brevett (Uhlenbeek, 68); Hayward (Ball, 61), Clark, Collins; Horsfield (Peschisolido, h-t), Hayles. Substitutes not used: Hahnemann (gk), Trollope.

Ipswich Town (4-3-1-2): R Wright; McGreal, Brown, Mowbray, Clapham; Wilnis, Holland, Magilton; Scowcroft; Naylor, Johnson (Midgley, 70). Substitutes not used: Salmon (gk), Stockwell, J Wright, Venus.

Referee: Alan Hall (West Midlands).

Bookings: Fulham: Clark. Ipswich: Mowbray, Wilnis.

Man of the match: R Wright.

Attendance: 17,255.