Cole strikes to give Fulham a victorious homecoming

Fulham 2 - Bolton Wanderers 0
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The Independent Online

Maybe this is as good as it gets for Fulham. The Bolton manager, Sam Allardyce, insists his side can't afford to get any worse.

Maybe this is as good as it gets for Fulham. The Bolton manager, Sam Allardyce, insists his side can't afford to get any worse.

The Fulham owner, Mohamed Al Fayed, aspired for Fulham "to be the Manchester United of the south" as he pumped the funds in to take them from the Third Division to the Premiership. He then talked of leaving Craven Cottage for an £80m stadium to house more than 40,000 spectators, which was what the old school feared would happen at the end of their two-season groundsharing at QPR. Craven Cottage is their home and has been to Fulham footballers since 1896.

But maybe they are just a small club near Putney after all, and Al Fayed wisely temporarily shelved the Manchester United plan to refit The Cottage for £7m and buy back the rights to build housing on the site for a few quid more.

So, the stage was all set on Saturday for the big homecoming and there was a carnival atmosphere to match, even though the 17,541 crowd was only just 1,000 above last season's average when Fulham had the lowest gate in the Premiership.

Craven Cottage is now all-seater and remains one of the country's most attractive grounds, with the cottage in one corner and the River Thames flowing behind the main stand.

But even an historic return home, the removal of "Diddy" Dave Hamilton as announcer, and home debuts for the new signings Andy Cole, Claus Jensen, Tomasz Radzinski and Papa Bouba Diop, could not fill it. Fulham have moved a long way forward in recent years, but the manager, Chris Coleman, says that they might just have to accept themselves for who they are at the moment.

"I'm starting to think that around 18,000 is all the fans we've got," Coleman admitted. "I know we've lost a few to Chelsea and it is going to take a bit of time before we get a few more fans through the gate. If that's our lot then fine, so long as the 18,000 keep making that noise for us.

"I think it's fair to say we are one of the smaller clubs in the Premiership, but we are competing with the big lads. And we have shown we can attract big players after such a good season last year, having steady finances and now we have our own ground back," Coleman said.

It will be interesting to see how many turn up for Wednesday's visit of Middlesbrough, when Cole will hope to continue his goalscoring form. Cole, a free transfer from Blackburn Rovers, scored his first ever League goal on loan from Arsenal at Fulham in 1991. His two against Bolton, in the 5th and 82nd minutes, made it 200 career League goals.

Bolton, who thrashed Charlton 4-1 on the opening day, play Southampton on Wednesday with Emmanuel Petit lined up to be their latest foreign signing. A clearly angry Sam Allardyce said: "Whatever happens, we will have to improve a lot on that abysmal performance. We had eight away wins last season, the fourth best record, and we should be an established Premiership team, but I am disappointed to say we didn't look like it and will need a dramatic improvement."

Goals: Fulham: Cole (5) 1-0; Cole (82) 2-0.

Fulham (4-5-1): Van der Sar; Volz, Goma, Knight, Bocanegra; John (Boa Morte 65), Diop, Legwinski, Jensen (Pembridge 85), Radzinski (McBride 69); Cole. Substitutes not used: Crossley, Pearce.

Bolton Wanderers (4-3-3): Jaaskelainen; Hunt, N'Gotty, Cesar, Gardner (Hierro 75); Okocha, Campo (Barness 55), Speed; Nolan, Davies, Pedersen (Giannakopoulos 51). Substitutes not used: Poole, Ben Haim.

Referee: R Styles (Hampshire)

Attendance: 17,541.

Man of the Match: Andy Cole.