Chris Coleman has often had to improvise during his time in charge of Fulham, but perhaps never as much as he had to last night.
Despite missing nine players, those who filled in somehow contrived to pick up just their second win in seven games, and this sets Fulham up nicely for their Christmas schedule. The festive season sees Fulham play all three teams in the relegation zone. Win a couple of those and they will quickly climb away from where the danger lies.
As for sympathy, that was in short supply. "I can't feel sorry for Gareth Southgate," Coleman said of his friend and former Crystal Palace team-mate. But neutrals might feel something for the Middlesbrough manager, who has a team unable to win away this season and which is only out of the relegation zone on goal difference.
Southgate was not hiding from the perilous position his team is in, and if Coleman was lacking key players, so were Boro, who were without his primary pair of centre-halves, which showed when Fulham scored their second goal.
Yet for the opening period, the visitors were more threatening. The front pair of Mark Viduka and Yakubu Aiyegbeni buzzed around the penalty box and the wide men Stewart Downing and James Morrison swarmed all over their opposing full-backs. But then came the stroke of luck, after 12 minutes, that Coleman probably thought he deserved. On Fulham's first attack, Moritz Volz, a right-back pressed into central midfield, dribbled into the area. George Boateng chased him down and clipped his heels, accidentally it seemed, but the referee, Mike Dean, gave a penalty. Heidar Helguson coolly slipped his spot-kick to Mark Schwarzer's left.
The hosts doubled their lead 10 minutes before the interval, when Tomasz Radzinski found Brian McBride in yards of space between Boro's unprepared centre-backs. The American had all the time he wanted to curl his shot low into the bottom corner. Despite all the injuries, Coleman had still told his players this was a "must-win" game and against all odds they fulfilled their manager's wish.
In keeping with the game, though, Boro scored during a spell when they had looked at their least threatening. From a poor kick by Antii Niemi, Yakubu headed the ball perfectly into the path of Viduka, who took it on before chipping his shot over the goalkeeper. However, Boro's failure to threaten thereafter exposed a team low on self-belief.
Goals: Helguson (pen 12) 1-0; McBride (35) 2-0; Viduka (74) 2-1.
Fulham (4-4-2): Niemi; Rosenior, Christanval, Knight, Queudrue; Routledge, Volz, Brown, Radzinski (Bocanegra, 71); McBride, Helguson. Substitutes not used: Lastuvka (gk), Runstrom, Zakuani, N Jensen.
Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Parnaby, Riggott, Davies, Taylor; Morrison (Johnson, 73), Boateng, Arca (Cattermole, h-t), Downing; Viduka, Yakubu. Substitutes not used: Jones (gk), Christie, Wheater.
Referee: M Dean (Merseyside).
Man of the match: Volz.
Attendance: 17,000.Reuse content