Woeful Wimbledon no barrier to Tigana's advance

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The Independent Online

Two more goals from the prolific Louis Saha and one in the final minutes from substitute Barry Hayles left no doubt at Selhurst Park yesterday that Jean Tigana's team are worthy favourites to claim a place in the Premiership next summer.

Two more goals from the prolific Louis Saha and one in the final minutes from substitute Barry Hayles left no doubt at Selhurst Park yesterday that Jean Tigana's team are worthy favourites to claim a place in the Premiership next summer.

Wimbledon, struggling at home this season, were dismantled with ease as Fulham reclaimed the leadership of the First Division with a performance built on an unselfish passing game.

The obvious disparities in style were expected to be compromised by the strong breeze and driving rain, but in fact did little to stop Tigana's team from taking control of the opening half and performing like a side intent on rising to the Premiership in style. Passing with fluency, as befits a team coached by one of the luminaries from the glittering French team which won the 1984 European Championship finals, Fulham showed none of the jitters some may have assumed would effect them against the recently-relegated Wombles.

Indeed Wimbledon, a team in transition as they struggle to adjust to the demands of the Nationwide League, were often made to look not only second-best but second-class, as their west London rivals threatened to turn this District Line derby into a one-team show.

John Collins, in particular, showed the skills Scotland's midfield are missing with his deft touches and intelligence while, in attack, Saha and Louis Boa Morte demonstrated movement and danger at every opportunity.

The Portuguese striker Boa Morte, back in the squad after suspension, could have had a first-half hat-trick, but instead had to rue his luck after deflections and saves from Kelvin Davies denied him. A free-kick from Bjarne Goldbaek was also saved comfortably by the goalkeeper during Fulham's dominating opening before Saha struck his 16th goal of the season on the half-hour mark.

The goal followed a throw-in, taken by Rufus Brevett, which the Frenchman collected and fired low past Davies from more than 20 yards into the bottom corner. Stung by this reverse, Terry Burton's team showed they, too, could play a bit, but there was little end product as a mostly untidy period concluded a half of four bookings, three for Wimbledon players, Trond Andersen, Mark Williams and Damien Francis, and just one for Fulham, Brevett.

Francis was withdrawn at the interval, but to little avail for Wimbledon as the introduction of the experienced Jason Euell was unable to stem the flow of Fulham attacks at the start of the second period. Making light of the conditions, Fulham one-passed their way around with some ease and it was no surprise when Saha added his and his team's second from the penalty spot after 57 minutes after Boa Morte was brought down by Kimble.

The free-scoring Saha showed his dead-ball dexterity with a low left-foot drive in Davis' bottom right corner. Four minutes later, Davis was engaged again when he dived to tip a 30-yard shot from Lee Clark over the bar as Fulham went up a gear again and Saha almost completed a hat-trick, after being set up by substitute Barry Hayles, but saw another fierce shot blocked by the goalkeeper.

Fulham's supporters were cheered further by the news that Watford had lost at Tranmere, placing the London outfit at the top of the First Division pile. And by today's performance not something they will relinquish easily.

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