Fulham's impressive home record and Albion's fearfully bad one away combined to produce an even greater difference of quality than anyone could have expected. Quite simply, Albion were routed. Their manager Bryan Robson later used all the critical adjectives: "Embarrassing, shocking, dreadful... I can only apologise.".
Although safety from relegation was still a long way off, both clubs had reason to believe that victory yesterday would go some distance towards a new feeling of guarded confidence. Albion's win over Blackburn was a mighty boost and Fulham had beaten Newcastle and Tottenham in successive home games. But Albion have won only one match away all season while Fulham had won eight at home. There may have been only a three point gap between them at the start yesterday but the odds were much in favour of Fulham.
A gamble on Albion seemed money wasted when Fulham took the lead as early as the fourth minute. A fine goal it was too. A clearance was headed on by Brian McBride. The ball fell into the path of Heidar Helguson, who brushed away Thomas Gaardsoe and swept an almost instant, ruthless drive past Tomasz Kuszczak.
On the crest of such immediate encouragement, Fulham moved the ball about the field swiftly and confidently, with Steed Malbranque prominent and Luis Boa Morte vividly busy behind the attack. Albion, led again by the stalwart Kevin Campbell and the former Fulham man Geoff Horsfield were comparatively leaden but Nigel Quashie did extract an important tip over the bar by Antti Niemi.
The pace of the entire Fulham team constantly caused Albion to lose contact with them in midfield and it was not surprising, nor unjust, when they took a two-goal advantage shortly before half-time. A free-kick by Simon Elliott drifted over the Albion penalty area, and Helguson coolly headed it back and inside the far post.
In an attempt to add tempo to his strike force, Robson replaced Horsfield with Nathan Ellington, but after only two minutes of the second half his side were three down. A typically searching long ball by Malbranque came under the control of Tomasz Radzinski who placed his shot before Kuszczak could close him down. Again it was the speed at which Fulham built their attacking moves that totally distracted Albion.
The fourth goal was a direct result of the visitors' misfortune but the margin between the teams had already become substantial. Helguson might like to claim that the fourth actually completed his hat-trick, but his 58th-minute shot would probably have flown wide of the far post but instead hit Curtis Davies, flat-footed Kuszczak and went in.
If Helguson had caught the eye with his goal searching, the men who had built this considerable advantage were McBride, in the first half particularly, and Malbranque throughout. But this was an outstanding team performance.
Albion seemed too easily depressed by the early goal and did not have the defiance that must be rediscovered if they are to escape relegation. By the time Collins John, on for Helguson, tapped in Fulham's fifth and sixth yesterday, Albion's heads were down, their spirits flat, and Campbell's close-range flick-in was no compensation.Reuse content