Gabbiadini grounds high-flying Fulham

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The Independent Online

Such is Fulham's self-assurance these days it seems that, like Manchester United and Arsenal, they put out a reserve team in the Worthington Cup. For all Mohamed Al Fayed's' money, however, the shadow squad is not quite up to the standard of Old Trafford or Highbury and defeat at the greenfield site of Northampton Town's Sixfields Stadium was just punishment for their presumption.

Such is Fulham's self-assurance these days it seems that, like Manchester United and Arsenal, they put out a reserve team in the Worthington Cup. For all Mohamed Al Fayed's' money, however, the shadow squad is not quite up to the standard of Old Trafford or Highbury and defeat at the greenfield site of Northampton Town's Sixfields Stadium was just punishment for their presumption.

On their way up through the divisions, Fulham's nouveau riche supporters have tended to chant at clubs like Northampton "you'll never play us again".

Not in the League, at least; potentially irritating little cup-ties like last night's still crop up, however, and in the match programme the home chairman, Barry Stonhill, could not resist remarking acidly: "Much to the surprise of Fulham fans we are playing them again."

He would have been interested as well in the visitors' team selection, which showed a full house of 11 changes from the side that had won impressively at Birmingham on Friday. Not surprisingly, they lacked a certain amount of co-ordination, but were alarmingly casual in defence, and after Luis Boa-Morte had spurned a good opportunity by hooking Kevin Betsy's pass high and wide, Northampton began to take advantage. Chris Hargreaves and the much-travelled Marco Gabbiadini both brought Marcus Hahnemann to his knees and in the 23rd minute the American goalkeeper was beaten. Jamie Forrester, once poached by Auxerre as a teenager, sent a fine ball between two covering defenders that Gabbiadini was quickly onto to record his first goal for his ninth club.

There might have been more before Fulham achieved some poise. The overworked Hahnemann had to parry a fearsome 30-yard drive by Steven Howard, who was playing just behind the two strikers, and then hold Forrester's glancing header. Not until just before the interval did the visitors threaten again, Keith Welch deflecting a shot from Fabrice Fernandes on to a post before denying Eddie Lewis.

Fernandes, a midfielder signed on loan for the season from Rennes, was one of the few visiting players to state his claims for a First Division place with any conviction. Early in the second half he hit a swerving left-footed shot against the bar from well outside the penalty area. Other than that, Fulham's urgency manifested itself only in yellow cards for Boa-Morte, Steve Hayward and and Terry Phelan.

Howard struck a post after some poor defending and the home supporters, noisier than the poor attendance figure of 3,857 might have suggested, had the last word: "One-nil and we've got no cash." Monsieur Tigana may have to call up the first-team for the return leg.

Northampton (3-4-1-2): Welch; Hughes, Green, Hope; Hendon, Hunt, Hargreaves, Frain; Howard; Gabbiadini, Forrester (Hodge, 81). Substitutes not used: Sollitt (gk), Spedding, Hodge, Morrow, Wilson.

Fulham (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Collins, Symons, Neilson, Phelan; Betsy (Davis, h-t), Hayward, Fernades, Lewis; Peschisolido (Cornwall, 71) , Boa Morte. Substitutes not used: Trollope, McAnespie, Cornwall, Thompson (gk).

Referee:P Richards (Preston).

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