Rovers 2.v.0 Fulham
2nd December 2006. 15:00
Finally Rovers claim three points despite the best efforts of the referee.
It was a game that Rovers took control of early on thanks to goals from both forwards, Shabani Nonda and Benni McCarthy inside the opening half hour. It was a lead they never looked like relinquishing.
Fulham seemed to have let their superb victory over Arsenal catch up with them, as they looked disjointed and sluggish early. Rovers got the match underway and it wasn`t long before they were in the lead.
A long ball through the middle by Stephane Henchoz, who had come in to replace the injured Zurab Khizanishvili, caused panic in Fulham`s rearguard allowing Nonda to creep in and flick the ball past Fulham`s stranded debutant goalkeeper Jan Lastuvka.
It isn`t clear whether or not it is a wonderful piece of improvisation or a pure fluke from Nonda but he won`t mind, nor will the majority of the 16,799 crowd.
The goal seemed to relax Rovers and they continued to threaten with some sharp passing and excellent movement. A second was due and it arrived in almost identical circumstances.
The shaven headed McCarthy latched onto a long ball from Lucas Neill before aiming a curling effort at goal from the edge of the area in the 24th minute. His strike took a wicked deflection off former Rover Ian Pearce, which looped over Lastuvka and nestled into the net for the South African`s eighth of the season.
Rovers were firmly in control and continued to press. It was evident that confidence was surging through the squad again as Rovers continued to engineer chance after chance and should really have ended the half four up.
Firstly Brett Emerton, playing in the more advanced right wing position, was put through following a wonderful sweeping move but Lastuvka denied him.
Then came the turn of Morten Gamst Pedersen to add to his growing tally of awful misses. Liam Rosenior meekly headed the ball into his path and with the goal gaping he contrived to lash the ball embarrassingly wide. A little bit of composure and the game would have certainly been over.
Fulham finally generated an opening but Heidar Helgusson fired well wide a couple of minutes before half time.
Rovers went in after the opening forty-five comfortably and deservedly in front. The only disappointment was the decision made to book Robbie Savage for a strong challenge but let Papa Bouba Diop off the hook for a similar incident. Again it would appear as though the match official was taking a much harsher stance with the Rovers players.
As the second half got underway Rovers must have expected an onslaught from Fulham but it never materialised. In fact it was Rovers who continued to look the more threatening.
A wickedly curling free kick into the box by Gamst was just asking to be tucked away but no Rovers player could get the telling touch. Then some excellent link-up play from the two front men in the 55th minute almost saw McCarthy through on goal.
Rovers were dominant. Lucas Neill once again got forward well after linking up with fellow Aussie, Emerton but he too was denied by Lastuvka.
Chris Coleman felt that he needed to shake things up a little so he decided to bring on Tomasz Radzinski for the ineffectual Luis Boa Morte and then five minutes later in the 69th minute, Brian McBride for Helguson.
This made little difference to the dynamic of the contest. Rovers continued to control proceedings, generating presentable openings particularly for McCarthy, who despite scoring, appeared as though he had left his shooting boots at home.
He should have had his second in the 80th minute but he pulled Emerton`s perfect cross wide with just the 'keeper to beat.
Fulham finally created a chance of note. A low, drilled effort from Fulham`s star man, Claus Jenson stung the fingertips of Brad Friedel who ensured that he would gain his plaudits from the display.
Once the first goal went in the result was never in doubt. Rovers looked assured and composed on the ball and it was clear to see the confidence gained from the performance towards the end of the match. Every player played their part in ensuring Rovers winless streak came to an end.
Fortunate for his goal and should have had a hat-trick but he was the difference between the sides. His skill, vision and desire to succeed for Rovers was evident throughout.