Darren Freeman headed the only goal of the game as Fulham just about saw off lowly Hartlepool United at Craven Cottage this afternoon.

The Cottagers were unable to play the fluent football that flowed through their London derby win at Leyton Orient last Sunday as struggling Pools made life difficult for the promotion contenders. The only goal arrived on the half hour when Freeman dropped deep to start the move that settled the contest. He played the ball back to centre back Mark Blake, who switched the play out to full back Matthew Lawrence. Lawrence surged along the right wing and whipped in a devilish cross that Freeman headed home from six yards out.

Hartlepool stuck to their task manfully, even after Chris Beech was shown a second yellow card midway through the second period, and stubbornly refused to buckle. Blake, Freeman, Christer Warren and Mike Conroy were denied by fine saves from visiting goalkeeper Paul O’Connor. The margin of victory might have been slender but Micky Adams’ are now just three wins away from clinching promotion.

FULHAM: M. Walton; Lawrence, Watson, Angus, Blake; Cusack, Carpenter (Thomas 89), Morgan, Freeman (Conroy 72); Scott (Brooker 62), Warren.

BOOKED: Blake, Conroy.

GOAL: Freeman (29).

HARTLEPOOL UNITED: O’Connor; Hislop, Bradley (Clegg 75), Ingram, Davies; Beech, Tait, Proctor, Hislop; Howard (Irvine 81), Halliday (P. Walton 81).

BOOKED: Beech, P. Walton.

SENT OFF: Beech.