Robson faces abyss after late strike by Fulham

Fulham 1 - West Bromwich Albion 0
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The Independent Online

Relegation was on the minds of these teams but Papa Bouba Diop's used his head in injury-time to make such thoughts almost certainly redundant for Fulham. For West Bromwich, however, it must seem likely. On a weekend when the teams just above them all lost, even a draw would have been progress. As it is, this demoralising late defeat for Bryan Robson's men means they still sit bottom and five points away from safety.

Relegation was on the minds of these teams but Papa Bouba Diop's used his head in injury-time to make such thoughts almost certainly redundant for Fulham. For West Bromwich, however, it must seem likely. On a weekend when the teams just above them all lost, even a draw would have been progress. As it is, this demoralising late defeat for Bryan Robson's men means they still sit bottom and five points away from safety.

The visitors must have thought a point was theirs, especially after drawing their previous three league games to prove they have gained some solidity under Robson's tutelage. However, they still lack a real cutting edge in attack which is costing them dear for they had plenty of chances. Most of those fell to Robert Earnshaw or Kevin Campbell but Edwin van der Sar's near-flawless performance denied them both on several occasions.

Robson was adamant that his team should have been awarded at least one penalty. "One was a good shout and the foul on Kevin Campbell in the second half was a certainty. I don't think it, I know it. I have seen three TV replays and we were robbed because it was a definite pen."

Prior to Diop's header, the pattern of hit and hope had been set with the game just a minute old when Earnshaw had his first shy, although he had no one to blame but himself for scooping his shot way over the crossbar. His next attempt showed why Van der Sar is coveted by the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United.

Zat Knight was the Fulham culprit with 21 minutes gone. Trying to chest the ball to his team-mate, his pass instead fell short and to Earnshaw, whose aim was true only to find Van der Sar in his way from six yards out.

Fulham's troubles this season have been partly due to Luis Boa Morte's long absence through injury but the Portuguese player is fit once more and has signed a new contract to 2008, warding off Newcastle's interest. But he was as wasteful as Earnshaw when it mattered.

Three times in 20 minutes the former Southampton winger faced up to Russell Hoult, but either shot at the goalkeeper or placed them high and wide.

While there was plenty wrong with these teams in terms of their finishing, there was no faulting their commitment, which came at a cost to two players. Andy Johnson's lunge on Steed Malbranque saw the Frenchman replaced and Johnson, in turn, was the victim of a similarly poor attempt to win the ball, leading to the Welshman's departure with twisted knee ligaments.

Yet the tone was more chase than cheat and the home side ran West Brom down to the very last, leading to their winner. In injury time, Mark Pembridge swung his corner to the penalty spot and from there Diop, running in unmarked, headed cleanly past Hoult.

Goals: Diop (90) 1-0.

Fulham (4-3-3): Van der Sar; Volz, Knight, Reh-man, Bocanegra; Malbranque (Clark, 22), Diop, Pembridge; John (McBride, 80), Radzinski,

Boa Morte. Substitutes not used: Crossley (gk), Legwinski, Rosenior.

West Bromwich (4-4-2): Hoult; Albrechtsen, Purse, Clement, Robinson; Gera, Johnson (Scimeca, 70), Wallwork, Greening; Campbell, Earnshaw. Substitutes not used: Kuszczak (gk), Koumas, Horsfield, Kanu.

Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).

Booked: Fulham Boa Morte, Bocanegra, Clark; West Bromwich Greening.

Man of the match: Van der Sar.

Attendance: 16,180.

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