Louis who? Fulham may well miss Louis Saha in the long run, but yesterday it was his replacement who was making the headlines. Brian McBride must have barely had time to unpack his suitcases after his arrival from Columbus Crew earlier in the week, but that did not stop the striker from quickly feeling at home.
Nine minutes were all it took for the American international to open his Fulham account in this largely forgettable derby. "It was a dream debut," McBride said after the game. "I would have settled for the victory, but getting the winner was extra special."
The goal also gave the League's youngest manager, Chris Coleman, a huge amount of satisfaction. Having fought tooth and nail to stop Saha leaving, before relenting when Manchester United offered £12.825m, Coleman can allow himself a quiet chuckle. At £600,000, McBride cost five per cent of Saha's fee. "Brian can definitely do a job for us," Coleman said, "but I don't want to start comparing him to Louis. All I'm pleased about is that he is a natural finisher."
In contrast, David Pleat, whose team suffered their first defeat of 2004, was left ruing his strikers' missed chances. "We got ourselves in the right areas," he said, "but perhaps let ourselves down. We miss Freddie [Kanouté], but at least his value is rising every time he scores a goal [for his recently adopted country, Mali, at the African Cup of Nations]."
It had all begun so brightly for the visitors. Starting at left-back for the first time in the League for 13 months, Christian Ziege appears to have come through his injury hell. The German international almost had to have his left leg amputated after complications from a knock at Charlton on Boxing Day 2002. He returned last October, only to hobble off after an hour of the Carling Cup defeat of West Ham. No wonder he was "delighted to be back in action" yesterday.
Not that Ziege had much to do in the opening exchanges. Instead, it was the home defence that came under pressure on 17 minutes, as Robbie Keane was given too much space and unleashed a stinging left-foot drive from 25 yards. Only a spectacular finger-tip save on to the post from the Fulham goalkeeper, Edwin van der Sar, denied the Republic of Ireland international.
Fulham's reprieve was short-lived as their other central defender, the new boy Ian Pearce, handled inside the area. The referee, Matt Messias, had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and Keane, in turn, wasted no time dispatching the penalty past the diving Van der Sar.
Fulham tried to force their way back, giving the ball to their creative dynamo Steed Malbranque at every opportunity, but Spurs looked comfortable. Set pieces seemed to be Fulham's only hope and, seconds before the break, they were duly awarded their own penalty. Luis Boa Morte beat the entire Spurs midfield and defence for pace, forcing Michael Brown to bring him down just inside the area. With Saha gone, Malbranque stepped up to convert the spot-kick. "That changed the balance of the game," Pleat said.
Nine minutes after the restart, Spurs broke quickly through the excellent Stéphane Dalmat, who found Keane in an advanced position and then watched as the Irishman released Helder Postiga down the left flank. The Portuguese international, who has blossomed since Kanouté's departure for Tunisia, could not beat Van der Sar at the near post.
Sensing Fulham needed fresh impetus, Coleman threw on McBride after 59 minutes. The ploy worked almost immediately, as Moritz Volz played a clever ball over the top only for the American to misjudge his lob. No matter. Moments later, Pearce's header from Sean Davis' corner was parried on the line by Kasey Keller, but McBride was on hand to fire in the rebound past his international team-mate.
Fulham had their tails up now, and were unlucky not to extend their lead 12 minutes from time, as Lee Clark and Malbranque exchanged passes on the edge of the Tottenham area, only for the former to see his header sail just wide.
Fulham 2 Tottenham Hotspur 1
Malbranque pen 45, McBride 67; Keane pen 18
Half-time: 1-1 Attendance: 17,024Reuse content