Terry Phelan had a pair of trusty out boots to thank for ending Fulham’s goalscoring drought as the Whites kept their Division One play-off hopes with a hard earned victory over Walsall at Craven Cottage this afternoon.
The Irish full-back fired home Fulham’s first goal in open play in ten hours – and his first in five years – to ease the pressure on beleaguered boss Paul Bracewell and prove a point to Everton boss Walter Smith. The 32 year-old joined the Whites on loan earlier this month having fallen out with Walter Smith. Phelan, who had been on loan at Crystal Palace prior to linking up with the Cottagers, told the press after this victory that he had scored with a pair of boots he found his garage after two years of injury hell.
“Walter took my boots and locked them in his room. I was a childish thing to do. I was just running them in as well. There’s no way I’m going to ask Walter for my old ones back. I’m too proud of that. It’s nice proving people wrong after getting fit.”
Ex-Everton midfielder Bracewell would have been very glad of the pair’s bust-up. Phelan powered home a fine cross from Lee Clark eight minutes after half-time to break Walsall’s dogged resistance at Craven Cottage. Clark then settled the contest with a superbly-taken solo strike six minutes from time to keep Fulham in the promotion picture – but they will need to improve in front of goal.
The Saddlers seem doomed in their battle against the drop after a fourth successive defeat, but things could have been different had Darren Wrack not blasted over from fifteen yards at the end of the first half. Wrack also failed to find a finish after being played in by Mark Robins and then timidly shot into the side netting after more fine approach by the unselfish striker. When Wrack turned provider for substitute Andy Rammell, the ex-Southend striker somehow contrived to shoot over the bar from seven yards.
Jimmy Walker made a superb save to keep out Clark after an excellent move involving Bjarne Goldbaek and Geoff Horsfield, but the visiting keeper was helpless when the former Sunderland midfielder sauntered through the remnants of the visiting defence to make the points safe with a cool left-footed finish. Rammell, only just back in action after recovering from a calf strain, limped off after pulling his hamstring in the last minute to round off a miserable afternoon for the visitors.
FULHAM (5-3-2): Taylor; Finnan, Phelan, Melville, Morgan, Coleman; Ball, Clark, Goldbaek; Horsfield, Hayles. Subs (not used): Hahnemann, Symons, Davis, Hayward, Riedle.
GOALS: Phelan (53), Clark (84).
WALSALL (4-4-2): Walker; Viveash, Padula, Brightwell, Barras; Harper, Bukran (Larusson 60), Keates, Wrack; Ricketts (Rammell 60, Forrester 90), Robins. Subs (not used); Emberson, Gadsby.
REFEREE: Matt Messias (York).