Appleton strikes out Fulham's home run

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The Independent Football

Fulham's triumphant pro-gress in the First Division, held up at the weekend as they dropped their first two points of the campaign, was driven into reverse gear last night by a fluent Preston side.

Fulham's triumphant pro-gress in the First Division, held up at the weekend as they dropped their first two points of the campaign, was driven into reverse gear last night by a fluent Preston side.

The visitors, also enjoying life at this level after succeeding Fulham as the Second Division champions last season, became the first side to beat the men of Craven Cottage following a bizarre goal from Michael Appleton after 68 minutes.

Three days earlier, Wolves had become the first league opposition to earn anything against the leaders by packing their midfield and playing a defender up front. Preston appeared equally set on a profitable outing, but adopted a diametrically opposed policy, playing their normal formation and knocking the ball around with composure.

They gave the home side due warning of their approach from the very first minute as an intricate piece of play on the edge of the box freed Mark Rankine to send in a lob which left Maik Taylor as a spectator in the Fulham goal as the ball drifted narrowly wide.

Fulham, who had won every one of their nine previous home games this season, soon recovered themselves and settled into the kind of rhythm which had proved the undoing of all their previous visitors. The man at the centre of their enterprise, albeit out on the left-wing, was Fabrice Fernandes, who moved with ominous ease through the Preston defence.

After quarter of an hour, he cut in past Graham Alexander to test David Lucas with an angled shot. Ten minutes later, after dispossessing Lee Cart-wright, he ran into the heart of the visitors' defence before flicking the ball out wide to Lee Clark, whose fierce shot was blocked.

Fernandes' next effort saw him supply the finishing shot himself after evading the opposition in a manner reminiscent of his manager Jean Tigana. Louis Saha and Barry Hayles also went close before the break, but as half-time approached the Fulham fervour had been hushed in the face of Preston's self-confidence.

Although Hayles and Fernandes stretched the Preston defence in the early part of the second half, the visitors fashioned more tangible rewards for themselves soon after the hour. A long ball from Erik Meijer gave Rankine another half-chance and, although he lost it through hesitation, Preston earned a corner, which Appleton scored from when his curling cross went in off the knee of the unfortunate Taylor.

Fulham (4-4-2): Taylor; Finnan, Melville, Coleman, Brevett; Goldbaek (Collins, 62), Davis (Trollope, 89), Clark, Fernandes (Boa Morte, 72); Hayles, Saha. Substitutes not used: Hahnemaan (gk), Symons.

Preston North End (4-4-2): Lucas; Alexander, Gregan, Murdock, Edwards; Cartwright, Rankine, Appleton, McKenna; Meijer, Macken (Robinson, 77). Substitutes not used: Moilanen (gk), Jackson, Gunnlaugsson, Anderson.

Referee: P Dawson (Sunderland).

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