If Chris Coleman's career in management has been a baptism of fire then a home match against Middlesbrough surely represented a gentler rite of passage into the new season.
The visitors needed no reminder of their abysmal away record last term - just three wins - and have the dubious distinction of not having beaten Fulham in London since 1985. The Cottagers' manager was still at school then. Now 33 and less than a year after he was forced to retire as a player after a horrific car crash, the Welshman secured the vibrant, if frantic, win he so craved in his first game as full-time manager. "Our technique and ability has never been in question," said Coleman, who had demanded more energy and aggression. He got it.
Programme notes are always poured over at this time of year and in chairman Mohamed Al Fayed's reassurance that he was still fully committed to Fulham lay the statement: "I need encouragement from our supporters and fans to carry on." Some reassurance. Still Fayed was at Loftus Road, which was far from full and where his club will remain for one more season, and saw his players at least make a committed start. But this was quickly undone when Martin Djetou's lumbering control allowed Carlos Marinelli to steal in. As the Argentinian headed towards goal, Edwin van der Sar was stranded and a calmly-struck shot rolled past him.
It was a poor goal to concede from a team not unused to the odd self-inflicted wound and, missing the injured Sean Davis - whose transfer request has led to £5m bids from Middlesbrough and Everton being accepted - they needed to rally quickly. Free signing Jerome Bonnissel - one of seven Frenchmen in the starting line-up - crossed for another, Louis Saha, to flick on. A third, Steve Marlet, the £11.5m striker whose tribulations have personified those of his club, slid in from four yards.
Invigorated, an aggressive Fulham pushed on, Marlet's attempt to lob an out-of-position Mark Schwarzer, after good build-up again by the intelligent Bonnissel and Saha, only just clawed away.
The pattern was set after the break with Middlesbrough showing faltering ambition, despite their manager's protestations to the contrary, and lacking the extra "quality" Steve McClaren said he is searching for in his pursuit of Davis and Gaizka Mendieta. They invited the home side on and, when Steed Malbranque found Junichi Inamoto clear in front of goal, the Japanese midfielder sliced wide. His embarrassment was short-lived as Malbranque's cleverly-flighted ball was worked by Saha into Inamoto's path and - this time, with no time - he smashed it in.
Fulham started to click through the gears, with Saha and Marlet prominent, although they almost ground to a halt with Inamoto again involved. He handled the ball but Malcolm Christie's casually-struck penalty was pushed away by Van der Sar. Fulham capitalised. Malbranque's shot struck the foot of Stuart Parnaby and bounced up for Saha to volley acrobatically in. The impressively energetic striker was immediately withdrawn and, surely, coated in cotton wool to secure against injury. Szilard Nemeth's late lobbed goal, after more goalkeeping suicide by Van der Sar, secured a nervous end. But by then the Frenchmen had engineered a sense of déjà vu for Middlesbrough.
Marlet 18, Inamoto 56, Saha 70
Marinelli 10, Nemeth 81
Half-time: 1-1 Attendance: 14,546Reuse content