FULHAM 1 – 0 LEEDS UNITED
This was Fulham’s 17th League match of their first season as tenants at Loftus Road, although by then we had already played a further 16 cup games across the League Cup, Intertoto and UEFA Cup. Indeed we had clinched a European trophy at our temporary home when a Junichi Inamoto hat-trick saw off Bologna to help ease the pain of our enforced absence from the Cottage. A bright start to the League season had somewhat hit the buffers in recent weeks although the previous home game had seen us record an exciting 3-2 victory over Liverpool.
We went into the fixture in 14th place on 19 points, two points and two positions ahead of our opponents that day. Leeds had been Champions League semi-finalists in 2001 and had finished 5th in the season prior to this. However, they had sacked David O’Leary in the summer amid rumours they weren’t happy with the vast amounts he’d spent in the transfer market. It was clear there had been a serious tightening of the purse strings at Elland Road and Terry Venables had taken over a team that was now starting to sell its better players.
The Fulham Team
Edwin Van der Sar, Steve Finnan, Andy Melville, Pierre Wome, Rufus Brevett, Bjarne Goldbaek, Steed Malbranque, Sean Davis, Sylvain Legwinski, Luis Boa Morte, Martin Djetou.
Subs Not Used: Maik Taylor, Junichi Inamoto, Zat Knight, Andrejs Stolcers, Callum Willock.
The Fulham team was a cosmopolitan line-up which had held its own in their first season back in the top flight. A sprinkling of additions had been made in the close season including World Cup stars like Cameroonian Pierre Wome, the aforementioned Inamoto as well as the highly rated Martin Djetou who we’d acquired on loan from Italian club Parma.
The Leeds United Team
Robinson, Kelly, Woodgate, Duberry, Harte (Mills 73), Bakke, Okon, McPhail (Milner 57), Wilcox, Smith (Fowler 45), Bridges.
Subs Not Used: Martyn, Lucic.
The Match Report
Martin Djetou’s goal after 10 minutes was enough to secure a valuable Premiership win for Fulham and heap more misery on beleaguered Leeds boss Terry Venables.
Leeds were atrocious in the opening half and, despite improving after the break, there was little to suggest that they are on the verge of a much-needed improvement.
Venables’ team were up against a Fulham side who had collected just five points from a possible 24, and who were without their four first-choice strikers.
Fulham boss Jean Tigana selected Luis Boa Morte alongside Steed Malbranque in a makeshift forward formation, while midfielder Paul Okon made his full debut for Leeds.
Despite their injury problems, the home team settled quickly and were rewarded with an early goal.
Martin Djetou was not picked up in the Leeds area and headed Pierre Wome’s corner past Paul Robinson.
Boa Morte had almost scored before Djetou’s opener, but he dragged his shot wide of Robinson’s goal.
It’s a concern for everyone every time a game ticks by – and if you ask me if I’ve made mistakes, I’d say ‘yes’
Leeds United manager Terry Venables
Leeds struggled defensively throughout the opening period, showing no understanding whatsoever and inviting the opposition to push forward.
Bjarne Goldbaek blazed just wide of Robinson’s goal wide with a shot from the edge of the area and Sean Davis forced a good save with a flying header.
And Venables must have been hugely relieved that Malbranque hit the crossbar from six yards with the goal at his mercy.
With half-time looming, Robinson kept his team in touch with a superb double save, parrying Wome’s initial effort before blocking Malbranque’s follow-up.
But Tigana must have gone into the break wondering how his team had failed to add to their early goal.
Leeds improved considerably in the second-half.
Michael Bridges – making his first Premiership start in over two years – met Ian Harte’s cross but guided the ball wide of Edwin van der Sar’s post.
It was a great win with fantastic attitude and great quality
Fulham assistant manager Christian Damiano
Van der Sar came to his team’s rescue again, denying substitute Robbie Fowler after the striker had headed powerfully at goal after 74 minutes.
Seconds later Boa Morte was denied by Robinson as Fulham hit Leeds on the break.
And as the match wore on Fulham retained possession superbly, condemning Leeds to their fourth successive Premiership defeat.
Man of the match: Steed Malbranque.
Our very next game saw the end of our UEFA Cup run when Hertha Berlin (with a certain Mr Kiraly in goal) held us to a goalless draw. We may have been deflated by this as it took us until January 19th before we again saw victory in the League. The downturn in form saw Al Fayed terminate Jean Tigana’s reign that April with us still needing points to reach safety. It was a sour way for the mercurial Frenchman to finish and there was plenty of paper talk that the real reason for his dismissal was Al Fayed’s unhappiness with his role in the expensive signing of Steve Marlet. Fortunately, Cookie Coleman stepped in as caretaker and 10 points from his 5 games saw us finish 6 points clear of the drop.
Leeds meandered in a similar fashion to us and finished one point and one position below us. Venables left his post that March, no doubt frustrated at being hamstrung by the precarious finances of the club. Things went from bad to worse the following season as Leeds were relegated and by 2007 they had been relegated again and entered administration. Although they have since re-established themselves in the Championship they have still not managed to make it back to the game’s top table.