Fulham 2 Charlton 1: Boa Morte excels as Fulham turn Cottage into fort

Click to follow
The Independent Football

The first was an effort which curled in at the near post from a free-kick and the second climaxed an exhilarating run. Charlton's manager, Alan Curbishley, was less than impressed, however, blaming both efforts on the waywardness of his defence. Curbishley was still downcast after Wednesday's FA Cup defeat at the Riverside which effectively ended Charlton's season, and his team may have been lacking sharpness, especially the fashion in which they conceded.

The first, after 14 minutes, came from a free-kick far out on the right which Boa Morte bent round the two-man wall and in at the unattended near post. "You don't see many goals like that," offered Curbishley with more than a touch of sarcasm.

The second, on the half-hour, came as Boa Morte latched on to a flicked header by Brian McBride and accelerated away from a retreating defence, finishing with a perfectly struck cross-shot which beat Thomas Myhre to his right. "You can't go past four defenders like that," complained the Charlton manager. "The two goals we lost today were both avoidable." Possibly so, but they were received with a mix of joy and relief at Fulham, where the return of Papa Bouba Diop after a long injury absence and having committed his future to the club, made a huge difference in midfield.

Another big name back in the side after injury, the goalkeeper Antti Niemi, redeemed a poor return with a stunning double save in the last minute as Charlton threw everything at Fulham, thrusting a Marcus Bent shot over the bar and then, when Herman Hreidarsson got a sharp header towards goal, he denied the visitors a merited equaliser with an outstretched left leg.

Niemi needed that after his nervousness nearly undid Fulham before they had scored. With Charlton offering Darren Bent the chance to beat the ageing Ian Pearce, Niemi mispunched one clearance and then hared yards outside his box to clear, colliding with Pearce.

Ten minutes after Boa Morte's first goal, Charlton's equaliser bore the mark of Niemi, whose weak punch from a corner kick sent the ball a few yards to Hreidarsson, whose shot was intelligently flicked on the bounce by the head of Jason Euell into the roof of the net.

Though Charlton were level for only five minutes they did enough either side of half-time to justify an equaliser, with Diop's head repelling a goalbound effort by Matt Holland. It was Holland who offered Boa Morte the chance of a hat-trick, bringing down Heidar Helguson close to the penalty line. The free-kick, took a huge deflection but Euell popped up to head off the line.

The card-free match, excellently refereed by Martin Atkinson, became heated in the last 10 minutes as Charlton attacked. Curbishley managed to duck any mention of the England managerial vacancy. "I just want to finish the season strongly, I am desperate for a top 10 place. If we had got something today, it would have set us up for Portsmouth on Monday."