Coleman's men defy doubters again

Fulham 2 Manchester City 1
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The Independent Football

The air crackled with defiance around Craven Cottage and not just because Fulham had derailed the Manchester City express with the most vibrant of performances.

The home manager Chris Coleman talked of "jumping up" the table, leaving relegation worries behind, and how he does not give a hoot that he is "always going to be touted for the sack. I'm the youngest manager, we are Fulham, blah, blah, blah."

His belligerence is justified. It was because of his determination to hold on to his two star performers - the captain Luis Boa Morte and Steed Malbranque - that he can talk so confidently. "Everything good for us went through Boa and Steed," Coleman added.

The captain set up both goals, his midfield partner executed them. It added to Coleman's delight that Malbranque's first goals of the season came against the club that tried to prise him away in the summer - a bid of £5m was rejected.

Others may follow. City's manager Stuart Pearce made no secret that he still covets the player - "I know a good player when I see one," he said - while Boa Morte, who signed a new deal after rejecting Newcastle United, added: "He has a spark. He has been linked with Manchester City and Liverpool. I think Graeme Souness has said a few things about him." As have Aston Villa.

Fulham want Malbranque, who joined for £4.5m from Lyon in 2001, to sign a new contract - his current one runs out in 2007. He is resisting, although it is understood he wants to stay in London. "I committed myself to the club. It is up to Steed now," Boa Morte said. Coleman said it would take "a hell of a lot money" to buy him.

It helps, Boa Morte claimed, that Fulham are playing their best football in the six seasons since he joined. Until their last two home League games they have done so with little reward, although Coleman concurred, saying he remains unconcerned about their Premiership position because the performances have not been as "inconsistent and lacklustre" as they were last season.

This victory, however, owed much to City's defensive failings. Both goals were gifted through the centre with Richard Dunne, returning from injury, simply off the pace. For the first he failed to deal with a long punt, watching in horror as Boa Morte sped past to square for Malbranque. For the second Boa Morte simply cut through the middle to allow his team-mate to flick in calmly.

There were other errors - not least from Sylvain Distin and David James, although the latter also completed a wonderful double save - while City did, temporarily, draw level when Lee Croft drove home from Stephen Ireland's brilliantly incisive pass.

All the goals came in a first half that Pearce ranked as the worst, along with the display at Newcastle, since he took over. His players, he said - and it should not be forgotten just how young this City team is - were simply not "at it". Fulham's were and they reaped the reward.

Goals: Malbranque (6) 1-0; Croft (20) 1-1; Malbranque (44) 2-1.

Fulham (4-1-3-2): Warner; Volz, Bocanegra, Goma, N Jensen; Diop; Radzinski, Malbranque, Boa Morte; McBride (Helguson, 77), John. Substitutes not used: Batista (gk), Knight, Rosenior, Elrich.

Manchester City (4-4-2): James; Mills (Jihai, 68), Dunne, Distin, Jordan (Wright-Phillips, 80); Croft, Ireland, Barton, Musampa (Sibierski, 43); Cole, Vassell. Substitutes not used: Vlieger (gk), Thatcher.

Referee: R Styles (Hampshire)

Booked: Fulham Boa Morte; Manchester City Croft, Barton, Jordan.

Man of the match: Boa Morte.

Attendance: 22,241.