Coleman stays on edge as Fulham struggle towards safety

Fulham 1 - Manchester City 1
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The Independent Online

In answer to the question of whether Fulham have done enough to secure their Premiership place, Chris Coleman replied emphatically in the negative. By then Coleman knew results elsewhere had gone in Fulham's favour but, having set a target of 39 points, he is taking nothing for granted.

In answer to the question of whether Fulham have done enough to secure their Premiership place, Chris Coleman replied emphatically in the negative. By then Coleman knew results elsewhere had gone in Fulham's favour but, having set a target of 39 points, he is taking nothing for granted.

"If we'd won I'd be breathing a little easier," he said after Saturday's 1-1 draw against Manchester City, who are responding so well to the influence of Stuart Pearce that it now seems certain that he will be offered the manager's post on a permanent basis.

There was nothing pretty about either team on a grey afternoon, although Fulham are edging towards their target after struggling all season to establish consistency, and City are above the safety line. Before the game, it could be imagined that Fulham might be sucked into the dogfight at the bottom, their nerves shredded by the prospect of away matches at Middlesbrough, Chelsea and Blackburn.

"I'd be a liar if I said that we weren't getting a bit edgy and thinking that we'd have to win our home games to be safe," Coleman added. "You find yourself looking at the table and the situation is bound to get through to the players. I've kept reminding them that we haven't lost at home this year, that we should have won games we lost, sometimes unluckily."

When Fulham fell behind in the 20th minute, Claudio Reyna pouncing on Edwin van der Sar's save from Antoine Sibierski's diving header, a hard fight was in prospect, especially as Coleman's team had struggled to break down a solid City defence. Fulham's passing was poor, their general play untidy, their only consistent threat provided by Luis Boa Morte and the forays of their left-back Liam Rosenior.

With both teams squandering possession as though there was a prize for losing the ball, it was no advert for the Premiership. "We couldn't get our game together in the first half," Coleman freely admitted, and City were little better.

Fulham raised the tempo but lack of pace in midfield, where the Wales international Mark Pembridge was playing only his second match in eight weeks, and the ineffectiveness of Andrew Cole, who blazed wide when well placed, made it an uphill struggle. There was, too, the loss of form by Steve Malbranque. Last season, the Frenchman was frequently Fulham's outstanding player, his creative skills suggesting that he could make the France squad. This season, hindered by injuries, he has not looked the same player.

Eleven minutes into the second half, his careless short pass was seized upon by Robbie Fowler, who wriggled past Lee Clark and Alain Goma, but with only Van der Sar to beat, he drove wide. Shortly after, Fowler and Malbranque were replaced, the former England international giving way to Shaun Wright-Phillips, who returned after a seven-week absence caused by a knee injury.

Playing with more width and purpose after the introduction of Tomasz Radzinski and Collins John, Fulham equalised after 76 minutes. Clark swung in a high cross and James, under pressure from Brian McBride, let the ball slip. It fell to Boa Morte, who swept it home from 12 yards for his third goal in three games.

The City goalkeeper clearly felt he had been impeded, and Pearce said: "I thought Fulham had sent on Tommy Lawton [Nat Lofthouse would have been a better comparison]. But we'll have to live with it. I never complain about refs."

Pearce will not know until the summer whether or not his trial period has been successful. If the reaction of City's players and supporters is anything to go by, he has already done enough.

Goals: Reyna (20) 0-1; Boa Morte (76) 1-1.

Fulham (4-4-2): Van der Sar; Volz, Knight, Goma, Rosenier; Boa Morte, Pembridge, Clark, Malbranque (Radzinski,66); Cole (John, 69), McBride. Substitutes not used: Crossley (gk), Bocanegra, Rehman.

Manchester City (4-4-2): James; Onuoha, Dunne, Distin, Jordan; Reyna, Barton, Bosvelt, Musampa (B Wright-Phillips, 86); Fowler (S Wright-Phillips, 62), Sibierski. Substitutes not used: Weaver (gk), Thatcher, Mills.

Referee: N Barry (Lancashire).

Man of the match: Sibierski.

Attendance: 21,996.

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