Tigana's artistes set a winning record

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The Independent Football

Mid-September has never before revealed definite champions: nor does it now. But Fulham's early-autumn pre-eminence is such that, all the season's slings and arrows being evenly distributed, it is hard to imagine even the most outrageous misfortune being proficient to deny them involvement in the next Premiership campaign.

Mid-September has never before revealed definite champions: nor does it now. But Fulham's early-autumn pre-eminence is such that, all the season's slings and arrows being evenly distributed, it is hard to imagine even the most outrageous misfortune being proficient to deny them involvement in the next Premiership campaign.

If this display was typical (and, reportedly, it was), then Jean Tigana's side are simply too good for a First Division in which Nottingham Forest are probably representative of the norm. Louis Saha, Fabrice Fernandes and Barry Hayles scored the goals which allowed Fulham their seventh straight win at the start of the league season - a new club record.

Partially liberated by their lead, Fulham were allowed to show off the full range of their passing skills, in which respect the Dane Bjarne Goldbaek excelled particularly. Their splendid creativity reaped its due rewards in the final 10 minutes. First, Fernandes exchanged a nifty one-two with Hayles before rifling in the second goal; then Hayles himself scurried beyond a disintegrating rear guard to lob the third.

It is an enlightening comment on the quick-shifting nature of football's hierarchy that Forest should have perceived this fixture as one of the campaign's highlights. Only just over four years ago, Fulham finished 17th in the Third Division, some 76 league places beneath the club now welcoming them as honoured guests.

Since then the finances and fortunes of both sides have altered radically. Once followed only by the faithful few, Fulham now had a healthy troupe who had found the fuel to ensure their "I was there" boasts for their club's landmark day.

Nor, from the outset, did it appear likely that their trip would be in vain. Fulham could easily have scored three times within the first 10 minutes. On another day, the half-time interval might have incorporated a trip across the road to borrow Nottinghamshire's cricket scoreboard.

Tigana's side pass and move like a Premiership unit; had they finished in similar style the French coach might well have been able to declare before tea. But Saha, who had scored seven goals in six league games prior to this, steered a shot wide when faced only by Forest's goalkeeper Dave Beasant; then, moments later, his unmarked header flew over. Goldbaek shot on to the roof of the net from halfway and thumped a free-kick against the base of a post.

Forest did establish a greater degree of defensive security during the second quarter of the game. It was a sage decision by their manager David Platt to withdraw Chris Bart-Williams from midfield and make him the third centre-half.

Building on that new-found solidity, Forest began, after the break, with greater conviction and a certain amount of adventure. Maik Taylor in Fulham's goal was even required, by a long-range drive from Alan Rogers, to exert himself.

However, Forest's improved outlook was soon rendered bleak by the award of a penalty against them. Hayles released Lee Clark, who darted through the inside-left channel before tumbling over the challenge of Christian Edwards. Saha thundered his spot-kick into the top corner.

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