Lee Clark’s double helped Fulham their Division One play-off hopes alive as Paul Bracewell’s side powered past Port Vale on a sunny afternoon at Craven Cottage.
Midfielder Clark, who has found the net with increasing regularity since being reunited with former team-mate Bracewell in west London, is going for a third promotion to the top flight after going up with his boyhood club Newcastle United and Sunderland, whom he left for just £3m following being caught with a derogatory t-shirt about the Mackems at Wembley.
The former England under-21 international has weighted in with vital goals for a Fulham side who have struggled to kill off opponents this season and his man-of-the-match display was vital in helping to restore below at the Cottage. Clark opened the scoring on eighteen minutes after swapping passes with Karl-Heinz Riedle before beating Kevin Pilkington with a comprehensive finish.
Another former Sunderland man – centre back Andy Melville – nodded in a second goal eleven minutes later. The Welsh international climbed highest to head home a free-kick from Bjarne Goldbaek. Clark made it three seven minutes after half-time when he tricked his way past two defenders and fired past Pilkington. On-loan Manchester United striker David Healy did claim a consolation for the visitors fifteen minutes from time when he rounded Maik Taylor to score, but this was Fulham’s day.
Clark even admitted that his old team-mate couldn’t berate him for a failure to find the net this season as he has in the past.
“When I was at Newcastle and we got promoted from the First Division I weighed in with my fair share of goals. But once we were in the Premier League the goals dried up. That’s when the gaffer started calling me `Jigsaw’. But he doesn’t get on at me to score more goals here. He shouldn’t do. I’ve known him for 10 years and I used to do all his running for him at Newcastle when I was 18 and he was an old man.”
FULHAM (5-4-1): Taylor; Finnan, Phelan, Morgan, Melville, Coleman; Ball, Hayward, Goldbaek, Clark; Riedle. Subs (not used): Hahnemann, Symons, Davis, Trollope, W. Collins.
GOALS: Clark (18, 52), Melville (29).
PRESTON NORTH END (4-4-2): Pilkington; Burton, Burns, Butler (Eyre 45), Donnelly; Bogie, Widdrington, Talbot, Minton; Naylor (Viljanen 68), Healy. Subs (not used): Musselwhite, Snijders, Smith.
BOOKED: Minton, Naylor.
GOAL: Healy (74).
REFEREE: Guy Stretton (Nottingham).