Fulham give Bullard reasons to stay put

Fulham 3 Middlesbrough 0
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The Independent Online

Jimmy Bullard wants an improved deal to remain at Fulham and he may argue that a second successive Premier League goal at Craven Cottage and another eye-catching midfield performance have added to his value. Equally, though, Roy Hodgson's upwardly mobile team are building a pretty persuasive case for Bullard to stay.

Saturday's cakewalk was Fulham's seventh game unbeaten, their biggest win of the season lifting them to eighth in the table.

Furthermore, Bullard has broken into the England squad while at Fulham and the ground they are turning into something of a fortress – this was their sixth home triumph – is the closest one to Fabio Capello's house. He is a regular at the place.

Fulham suit this chirpy cockney down to the ground. The old club has never taken itself too seriously and has been home to a range of maverick talents down the years, including George Best and Rodney Marsh in the autumn of their careers.

Bullard is 30, has overcome a serious injury with his current employers and this is probably as good as it is going to get.

Hodgson has made it clear he wants his midfielder to stay but is realistic enough to acknowledge there are clubs willing to pay higher wages. Bullard's equal in Fulham's midfield on Saturday, Danny Murphy, is another fan. "I hope Jimmy can sort it out because we know what his qualities are and he is a great asset to us," Murphy said. "Like every negotiation, it's never easy. They have to find a balance with what he wants for his security.

"As it stands, his performances on the pitch are tremendous. He's a friend, I want him to stay, of course I do as he's a top player but, unfortunately, if a bigger and better club came calling I wouldn't stand here and say he would definitely stay, because everyone has ambition."

Bullard put Fulham ahead four minutes before the interval after Ross Turnbull could only parry substitute Bobby Zamora's shot. Bullard and Murphy took hold of the midfield and Fulham never lost their grip on the game, although Boro were awful.

Murphy scored the second from the penalty spot seven minutes after the restart, Tony McMahon unfortunate to handle as the ball cannoned up off Zamora. Boro fell apart after that and their defending was hapless for Fulham's third goal, the ball moving uncontested between Andrew Johnson, Zamora and Clint Dempsey before the American finished coolly from close range.

Johnson was lucky he was still able to walk after finding himself on the receiving end of a rash first-half challenge by Julio Arca that deserved a red card.

"It was one of our worst performances this season," said the Boro captain, Emanuel Pogatetz. "We have to pick ourselves up and we have to get some points as quick as possible. This performance was really, really disappointing for everyone. There were times in the second half when we couldn't get the ball and, no disrespect to Fulham, they are not Manchester United or Arsenal."

Just don't remind Bullard of that.

Goals: Bullard (41) 1-0; Murphy pen (54) 2-0; Dempsey (59) 3-0.

Fulham (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Hangeland, Hughes, Konchesky; Gera (Zamora, 30), Bullard (Andreasen, 85), Murphy (Etuhu, 79), Davies; Dempsey, Johnson. Substitutes not used: Zuberbühler (gk), Nevland, Stoor, Kallio.

Middlesbrough (4-5-1): Turnbull; McMahon, Riggott, Huth (Taylor, 85), Pogatetz; Johnson (Emnes, 80), Shawky, Arca (Mido, h-t), Tuncay, Downing; Aliadière. Substitutes not used: Jones (gk), Alves, Wheater, Walker.

Booked: Middlesbrough Arca, McMahon.

Referee: K Stroud (Hampshire).

Man of the match: Murphy.

Attendance: 23,722.

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