By Joe Behan
The English Premier League took on a familiar look at the top of the table, barring, of course, Fulham in first place while we waited for the Newcastle vs. West Ham result. We have seen it all before, with teams coming from outstanding promotion feats to land at the top early on in the Premier. At one time it was Swansea that caught the imagination of football fans. But nowadays it’s extremely difficult to maintain the top flight, as Ipswich, Sunderland and the like have found out.
The more familiar look were the places behind Fulham: Leeds, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United. All the powerhouses grabbed three points and awaited Newcastle to beat West Ham to make the EPL a matter of prediction. However, thanks to Fulham, the spotlight for now is off the elite clubs.
Jean Tigana’s Fulham found themselves on top of the premier with a 4-1 victory over Sam Allardyce’s Bolton Wanderers. Within five minutes, Michael Ricketts put the Wanderers in front from the penalty spot. The 1-nil lead was short-lived, however, as Fulham’s Louis Saha equalized seven minutes later, also from a spot kick. Allardyce was furious at his team, claiming Bolton was “miles apart from Fulham.”
In the space of five minutes, 33 through 38, the contest was over when Sylvain Legwinski and Steve Marlet (another penalty) put the game away for Fulham. In the 79th minute, Legwinski finished the 4-1 triumph, the first time Fulham have scored four in the Premier.
Tigana was understandalby pleased with the performance but he immediately reminded his players, “We played very well, but must now forget that and focus on the next game.”
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Fulham has a special place in the hearts of many an Irish and soccer fan when one recalls the days of George Best and Rodney Marsh high-fiving after they combined for the Cottagers. Nowadays, it’s Limerick’s Steve Finnan who steals the headlines and keeps George’s Irish connection alive. Recovering from an ankle injury and shaking off a bug, Finnan was in the thick of it for the all-important second goal for Fulham. The World Cup Irish star reminded Bolton why he was selected on the Premier XI last year when his distribution resulted in Legwinski slicing inside with a clinical finish.
In the Bestie/Marsh days, it was about entertainment, then Keegan set up an attacking machine, which Tigana took over to lead into the premier. After last year’s respectful EPL season, the best sweeper of his time, Franco Baresi, came on board. The very wealthy chairman, Mohamed Fayed, is playing Baresi and Tigana as he masterminds a _70 million revamp at Craven Cottage while Fulham play at QPR’s Loftus Road.
Fulham drew 2-all with Bologna in the Intertoto Cup with 22-year-old Japanese and WC star Junichi Inamoto scoring superbly, which inspired Fulham’s comeback from 2-nil down. However, the game was destroyed when most of the players got involved in a field fight. If and when Fayed, Tigana and Baresi reach a consensus, matters may well indeed simmer down on the field. Fulham are now favorites to win the Intertoto Cup and make the UEFA for the first time with the club’s 123 years. It would serve Fulham well to remember that the game is about entertainment, and that they once had two of the best entertainers in the world playing for them in Best and Marsh. Fulham cannot afford to be distracted by conflicts on and off the field.
Keane summersaults Keegan
Kevin Keegan is not the only one that believes in attacking football. He walked briskly back to the dressing room after his Manchester City were beaten 3-nil by Leeds United. City never went away from their style and committed players in the attack, but King Kev’s back line did struggle on and off the ball. At 2-nil down the Blues were unlucky not to get a penalty. Regardless, on the day Leeds was by far the better side. The key difference in the game was the Leeds ability to string more passes than City. Nick Barmby and Mark Viduka tucked their chances away with poise as Leeds began to switch the ball.
The Whites’ central defenders, Lucas Radebe and Dominic Mattoe, looked comfortable at the back while Lee Bowyer was fluent in midfield. In the 70th minute Ireland’s World cup striker, Robbie Keane, entered the game and took only 10 minutes to stamp his arrival for the 2002-03 season. A glorious lob over City’s keeper Carlo Nash sent Keane into his trademark somersault celebration. Only Keane knew where he was putting the ball as it rolled down the back of City’s net. It was sheer entertainment. Even Terry Venables couldn’t get the smile of his face. No doubt Keegan will reconsider all out attacks, as his side was almost defenseless in the last 20 minutes of the game. Scoring goals in the Premier is far more difficult than scoring in Div. 1. Keegan has no choice now but to tighten up his back line and leave entertaining football to Robbie Keane and Leeds United, at least for the moment.
Arsenal’s World Cup flops, Thierry Henry and Sylvain Wiltord, made quick amends with a strike a piece for the Gunners against Birminham. Henry hit a cheeky free that crept into the corner while Wiltord finally finished off those continuous runs that never seem to go anywhere. He drove past the Birmingham defense and crashed home a superb effort.
Gianfranco Zola scored just before half time to bring Chelsea in 2-1 down against Charlton. In the final 6 minutes, Chelsea showed loads of character, with goals from Carlton Cole and Frank Lampard to steal a big 3-2 result.
Liverpool’s John Arne Riise played a smart strike inside the post to give the Reds a typical win over Villa. There was a horrible clash in colors for TV fans, which made the game even more boring. You’d think with all the money in TV these days they would make sure viewers could see who is who.
Ole Gunnar Solskj’r once again came off the bench to give Manchester United a 1-nil win over West Brom.