Coleman works hard in pursuit of survival of the fittest


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The Independent Football

Following the summer departure of proven Premiership performers in Andy Cole, Edwin van der Sar and Lee Clark, Fulham showed at Craven Cottage on Saturday that whatever they lack in quality they will not be left wanting physically. As the substitutes kept warmed up riding exercise bikes next to the dug-out, the work-rate of the 11 men on the pitch was formidable.

Their attitude was exemplified by Luis Boa Morte, whose willingness to run and tackle showed why he has been given the captaincy. Coleman insisted this had nothing to do with his desperation to keep the Portuguese winger, given Newcastle United's continued interest.

Fulham's fitness is in the demanding hands of Steve Nance, who has worked with the Brisbane Broncos rugby league team and Australia's 1999 rugby union World Cup winners.

"A lot of the training has been different," Coleman said. "There's more of a rugby theme. We're doing a lot of physical work, including weight training and boxing. We have to stay in this league, so we have got to have our players fitter than anybody else.

"The sessions have been longer and harder. At first the players were going nuts because they didn't like it. But we took pictures of their bodies and told them to watch for the change in their physique within six weeks. It's been miraculous. Now they're enjoying it. This is a lovely little club, down by the Thames. Everybody loves coming to Fulham. We've got to make it an unhappy place for teams to come. We didn't do that last year."

Whether Fulham have been able to recruit players of enough quality to survive is another matter. Tony Warner, on loan from Cardiff City, replaced Van der Sar, while Heidar Helguson, a striker signed from Watford for £1.3m, remained on the bench.

Fulham came closest to winning an error-strewn match. Boa Morte hit the bar, Brian McBride led the line intelligently and Claus Jensen pulled the strings in midfield.

Birmingham showed that defence is likely to remain their strength, with Kenny Cunningham and Matthew Upson a rock-solid pairing.

Their attack should also be more potent, particularly after the permanent signings of Walter Pandiani and Mikael Forssell.

The latter, his year wrecked by injury last season, immediately looked a threat after coming on as a substitute.

The other major reason for Birmingham's improved second-half display was Nicky Butt, who was a growing influence. The England midfielder has joined on a season's loan from Newcastle.

"He's been a top midfield player for 10 years," Steve Bruce, his manager, said. "He gives you that physical presence and does all the things a good midfield player should. He tackles, he breaks them down, he can score a goal."

Fulham (4-4-2): Warner; Volz, Knight, Rehman, N Jensen; Malbranque, Legwinski (Elrich, 90), C Jensen, Boa Morte; McBride, Radzinski (John, h-t). Substitutes not used: Batista (gk), Helguson, Leacock.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Melchiot, Cunningham, Upson, Clapham; Pennant, Butt, Clemence, Gray; Heskey (Morrison, 87), Pandiani (Forssell, 71). Substitutes not used: Vaesen (gk), Izzet, Lazaridis.

Referee: R Styles (Hampshire).

Booked: Fulham Legwinski; Birmingham City Clemence, Upson.

Man of the match: Cunningham.

Attendance: 16,550.