Davis strikes from midfield to increase McClaren's misery

Fulham 1 Middlesbrough

Conrad Leach
Monday 20 January 2003 01:00
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Footballers may not be allowed to bet against their own side but there is nothing to say that football fans cannot. Right now, those Middlesbrough supporters who punt on their team to lose, and not score, when their team plays away, will be right in the money and the bookmakers on Teesside will be weeping into their betting slips.

All those amateur Michael Owens in the north-east would not have given very good odds that Boro would end their dreadful run away from home, as this turned out to be their eighth consecutive defeat on the road. Steve McClaren's side have now gone more than 12 and a half hours without scoring in the league away from the Riverside stadium.

Joseph-Desiré Job's goal last September at Tottenham was a season ago – in weather terms – but at this rate they are heading for almost an entire football season without finding the net.

Fulham serenely notched up this victory, courtesy of Sean Davis's first half effort, to take them closer to the 41 points that their manager Jean Tigana feels will eliminate any threat of relegation. Apart from a brief attempt at a comeback in the second half by Boro, the Cottagers coped easily with all that McClaren's men could chuck at them.

Knowing they were facing one of the weakest travelling attacks in the Premiership gave Fulham confidence to venture forward in numbers and early to the fore was Facundo Sava, who sent a header just wide of the post. The eccentric Sava, known for pulling a mask out of his sock when he scores, then almost pulled a rabbit out of the hat with a quarter of an hour gone. From nowhere firstly he saw a shot blocked from close range and then hit the rebound high and handsome.

Davis then began to emerge from midfield andm shortly after Sava's misses, he forced Mark Schwarzer into a diving save as his curling shot headed for goal.

Davis it was who, deservedly, gave Fulham the lead five minutes before the break. Sylvain Legwinski had dropped deep and hit a penetrating pass that caught Boro's defence unawares. First to react was Davis and the England Under-21 international ran through into the penalty area, finding the bottom corner.

Christian Damiano, the assistant manager at Fulham, was impressed with Davis's finish and input, saying: "He represents the great spirit in the club and I am happy for him. He has also improved a lot."

All that good work was so nearly undone with the first half all but finished. Maik Taylor misjudged a Gareth Southgate punt into Fulham's area and the ball sailed over his head. Noel Whelan was ready to pounce before Martin Djétou averted the possibility of one of the most comical goals of the season.

Fulham went close to doubling their lead within minutes of the restart when, from a corner, Steed Malbranque's shot was cleared off the line by Massimo Maccarone. That was nearly the catalyst for Boro's luck to change, for Steve McClaren's side then went straight back up the pitch and almost equalised when Job, a half-time substitute, scorched Taylor's gloves from 20 yards.

However, that was one of few chances that Boro created in the second half, as Fulham slowly reasserted their superiority. With 12 minutes remaining Maccarone broke free of Djétou but shot straight at Taylor. That had come after Sava had hit the crossbar with a header, but McClaren acknowledged his side's poor performance, saying: "As a team, when you keep losing, it erodes confidence. I can't defend my players or that performance. Fulham deserved to win."

He added: "You were looking at a team out there who have lost their last nine away games and have not scored a goal. We had a go in the second half and had a couple of half-chances. But I've got a team which hasn't won away for a long while – and it's bound to affect them.

"The players have to take responsibility. Generally they've been doing that, as you can see from our home form – but away from home we haven't quite got it."

McClaren said he is looking at bringing in reinforcements during the transfer window, acknowledging: "We need a couple of players, I think – that could easily turn the season around."

Goal: Davis (39) 1-0.

Fulham (4-4-2): Taylor 5; Finnan 6, Goma 5, Djétou 6, Brevett 5; Davis 6, Malbranque 6, Legwinski 6, Goldbaek 6; Marlet 5, Sava 5 (Boa Morte, 89). Substitutes not used: Herrera (gk), Melville, Collins, Hammond.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer 7; Queudrue 5, Southgate 5, Vidmar 5, Parnaby 5; Géremi 5, Greening 5, Wilson 5, Wilkshire 3 (Job 5, h-t); Whelan 4 (Nemeth 4, 64), Maccarone 5. Substitutes not used: Crossley (gk), Boksic, Cooper.

Referee: M Halsey (Welwyn Garden City) 6.

Booking: Middlesbrough: Southgate.

Man of the match: Schwarzer

Attendance: 14,253.

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