Fulham 1 Sheffield United 0: Hair-raising display from spiky Bullard

Relegation fears justified as the Blades are blunted
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The Independent Online

It is probably ludicrous on the second weekend of the season to speak of relegation six-pointers, but give it another couple of months and that is indisputably how this would have been described. This was dire, disjointed football, and while Fulham thoroughly deserved their victory that was down almost entirely to one man: Jimmy Bullard.

"I thought we had twins on the pitch he covered so much ground," his manager Chris Coleman said. "He was outstanding. We have to get him to slow down sometimes because he wants to do too much; we've got to get the reins on him."

It would be a shame if he did, though, for it is his energy, his enthusiasm, the endless running as wildly unpredictable as his hair, that make him the cult figure Coleman vowed he would be when he signed him. And Fulham certainly need a popular hero and an attacking fulcrum now that Steed Malbranque's time at the club seems to be drawing to a close.

The Frenchman has been strongly linked with a move to West Ham since making clear he would not be extending his contract, and although that deal seems to have stalled Coleman made clear there can be no way back for him at Craven Cottage. "It's time for Steed to move on - for his sake," he said. "Hopefully something will be done before [the transfer window closes on] Thursday."

Bullard's performance, though, should not be allowed to disguise the general poverty of both sides yesterday, and the game was essentially made up of long spells of scrappiness punctuated by long-range shots from the £2.5 million signing from Wigan. Two drew saves from Paddy Kenny; one deflected just wide off David Unsworth; his fourth - a swerving 25-yard free-kick - flew into the top corner to give Fulham the lead five minutes before the break; and his fifth rattled the angle of post and bar.

His influence off the pitch, though, may prove as significant as his contribution on it, particularly if Fulham continue the season as scratchily as they have begun it. "He's very bubbly," Coleman said, "non-stop, always larking about. You need somebody like that, especially after last week when Manchester United wiped the floor with us. He was lively as ever on Monday; it's the best two million we've ever spent."

Bafflingly, given the way his side were dominated by a fairly average side, Neil Warnock insisted he was satisfied with Sheffield United's performance. "They did all right," he said. "Fulham have a good home record and to see them hanging on was good." There was a certain edginess as United pumped long balls into the box late on, but as Coleman said it was only his side's failure to take their chances - Collins John hit a post in the first half, and Brian McBride wasted a late one-on-one - that created "a false sense" of closeness.

And this being Warnock, there had to be a complaint aimed at Graham Poll. The Blades manager was making his return to the touchline after a ban imposed following Poll's decision to send him to the stands after a spat with his Leeds counterpart Kevin Blackwell. He insisted that the contact between Chris Morgan and McBride that led to Bullard's free-kick "wasn't a foul in a million years", and then protested about what he saw as Fulham's time-wasting. He should have been grateful: it probably kept the score down.

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