Malbranque responds to discipline

Blackburn Rovers 1 - Fulham 3
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The Independent Online

All was forgiveness at Ewood Park, where Chris Coleman welcomed back an apparently repentant Steed Malbranque and Mark Hughes happily excused a substandard performance from his team, even in their last home game of the season.

All was forgiveness at Ewood Park, where Chris Coleman welcomed back an apparently repentant Steed Malbranque and Mark Hughes happily excused a substandard performance from his team, even in their last home game of the season.

Dropped for the game with Everton last week, Malbranque left Craven Cottage before the kick-off, apparently in a towering rage, for which he was punished by being told he would not be required against Newcastle on Wednesday, either. It seemed his future with Fulham might be in serious doubt.

Beset by injuries before and during the season, the Frenchman had fallen short this year of the performance levels reached previously. But the gifted playmaker's reaction to his punishment impressed Coleman sufficiently to earn a recall on Saturday, where he put himself handsomely back in credit by scoring his side's first and third goals in a comfortable victory.

"I wasn't pleased with how he behaved after being left out against Everton but to be fair to the lad he trained on Monday and Tuesday and trained very well, even though he knew he was not playing against Newcastle," Coleman said.

"He has come back today with a perfect response, a gutsy performance. He has approached the game today as he should be approaching all games and he has capped it with two goals."

Lee Clark laid on both goals and while neither was spectacular, Malbranque expended the energy required to put himself in positions to score, which was what impressed Coleman.

Slack defending by Blackburn helped, although by the time his second and Fulham's third went in, a back four robbed by injuries of Andy Todd and Dominic Matteo had also lost Craig Short, sent off for shoving Luis Boa Morte following a late tackle on Ryan Nelsen.

"The last two games have been disappointing but we can't beat ourselves up too much," Blackburn's manager Hughes said. "We've given a huge effort to stay in this league and the players have found themselves in the situation where there is nothing more to give, not only physically but mentally too."

Lucas Neill put Blackburn ahead but after Malbranque had equalised, Brian McBride capitalised on more poor marking to give Fulham the lead early in the second half. Andy Cole and Collins John, both injured, were barely missed, although the outcome might have been different had Robbie Savage not had a penalty saved before Malbranque added Fulham's third.

Goals: Neill (6) 1-0; Malbranque (20) 1-1; McBride (53) 1-2; Malbranque (77) 1-3.

Blackburn Rovers (4-1-4-1): Friedel; Neill, Short, Nelsen, Johansson; Mokoena (Tugay, 67); Emerton, Savage, Reid (Thompson, 32), Pedersen (Derbyshire, 82); Stead. Substitutes not used: Enckelman (gk), Taylor.

Fulham (4-1-2-3): Van der Sar; Volz, Knight, Goma, Rosenior; Pembridge; Clark, Malbranque; Radzinski, McBride, Boa Morte. Substitutes not used: Bocanegra, Crossley (gk), Rehman, Timlin, Pearce.

Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire).

Booked: Blackburn Rovers Neill, Stead; Fulham Boa Morte, Pembridge.

Sent off: Blackburn Rovers Short (69); Fulham: Rosenior (70).

Man of the match: Malbranque.

Attendance: 18,991.

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