Zajec fails to match Coleman's tactical overhaul

Fulham 3 Portsmouth 1
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The Independent Football

Of all the curious decisions made over a football season, few appear as inexplicable as Milan Mandaric forcing Harry Redknapp out of Portsmouth. Maybe Mandaric figured that Portsmouth were already safe. If so the club's chairman appears to have grievously miscalculated for this latest defeat, their eighth in 10 matches, leaves them 16th, just four points clear of the relegation places.

It can be argued that Velimir Zajec, the executive acting as caretaker manager, should not be blamed for the errors which undermined Portsmouth yesterday, but poor results sap players' confidence. So does instability and it remains unclear who will be manager at Fratton Park next season. Moreover Zajec's failure to respond to Chris Coleman's second-half switch to all-out attack left Pompey vulnerable.

Coleman, much criticised recently by supporters for his adherence to a 4-5-1 system, began with two up and moved to 4-4-2 with Tomasz Radzinski and Luis Boa Morte on the flanks. Were the Portsmouth midfield still staffed by Nigel Quashie and Amdy Faye this bold approach could have misfired but both have been sold and Fulham were allowed to dictate.

Trailing to Lomana LuaLua's beautifully taken first-half goal, they shook off Steed Malbranque's penalty miss to score three goals in the final half-hour. The result took Fulham above Portsmouth, reason enough for Coleman to bill the match as "the biggest of the season". The pressure on both teams should have been eased by the defeats on Saturday suffered by Norwich, Crystal Palace and Southampton but Fulham, whose form had been almost as poor as Portsmouth's, began timidly.

The visitors took advantage and only a smart save by Edwin van der Sar prevented Ayegbeni Yakubu heading Portsmouth into the lead. Yakubu next fed LuaLua on the left, he cut in past Zat Knight and Moritz Volz before curling a shot inside the far post.

A harsh injury-time penalty, given for handball against Dejan Stefanovic, offered Fulham a route back but Malbranque's weak kick was saved by Jamie Ashdown. Without a goal in four matches, Fulham might have folded but McBride's arrival changed the game. Boa Morte, now able to run at people from deep, soon rounded Steve Stone and pulled back for Andy Cole to stab in.

Arjan De Zeeuw then mis-judged Lee Clark's punt and McBride acrobatically hooked in. Finally, Boa Morte caught Linvoy Primus in possession, rounded Ashdown and scored.

"I'm relieved," said Coleman. "It was a nervy performance and missing the penalty put us on an even bigger downer. I had a few choice words at half-time." So did the fans and Coleman added: "I couldn't care less what people in the stands say, but I'd have had a go watching that."

Zajec ducked the press sending in Joe Jordan, the first-team coach, who insisted Portsmouth had been the better side and "deserved to win". He added: "There are a lot of teams in a more serious position than us."

Goals: LuaLua (32) 0-1; Cole (63) 1-1; McBride (81) 2-1; Boa Morte (90) 3-1.

Fulham (4-1-3-2): Van der Sar; Volz, Knight, Goma, Rosenior; Legwinski (Radzinski, 64); Malbranque, Clark (Bocanegra, 84), Jensen (McBride, 57); Boa Morte, Cole. Substitutes not used: Crossley (gk), John.

Portsmouth (4-4-2): Ashdown; Primus, Stefanovic, De Zeeuw, Taylor; Stone (O'Neil, 76), Skopelitis, Cissé, Berger (Kamara, 81); LuaLua, Yakubu (Fuller, 87). Substitutes not used: Chalkias (gk), Hughes.

Referee: M Clattenburg (Co Durham).

Booked: Fulham: Rosenior, Boa Morte. Portsmouth: Stefanovic, Skopelitis, O'Neil.

Man of the match: Boa Morte.

Attendance: 20,502.