A brace from Louis Saha steered Fulham back to the First Division summit as the Cottagers cruised to a comfortable victory over Wimbledon at Selhurst Park this afternoon.

Jean Tigana’s side seized top spot with a derby victory that underlined their promotion credentials with another outstanding away display as Watford wobbled at Tranmere. Saha’s finesse had put the game beyond the hosts before Barry Hayles stepped off the substitutes’ bench to add a late third, which accurately reflected the gulf between these two sides.

Saha seemed a cut above Wimbledon’s ragged defenders throughout a contest where his athleticism and pure pace looked like the surest route to a Fulham opener. The fleet-footed French forward gave an early warning of his danger when a lovely run and pass teed up Luis Boa Morte, only for the Portuguese winger to blaze wastefully over the bar. It was a regular theme of the first half with the former Arsenal man shooting wide after flowing Fulham moves.

It was left to Saha to open the scoring shortly after the half hour mark. The former Newcastle forward struck his sixteenth goal of an already sensational season beyond Kelvin Davis having done all the hard work himself after picking up possession from Rufus Brevett’s throw in and shrugging off the attentions of two defenders. Wimbledon offered little in response, with John Hartson forcing Maik Taylor into three sharp reaction saves across the ninety minutes, and in truth were fortunate to be in the contest until the hour mark.

Any hopes of a home comeback were extinguished when Alan Kimble hauled down Boa Morte as he burst into the box and Saha calmly converted the ensuing penalty. The Frenchman continued to be a thorn in the hosts’ side after Hayles had replaced Boa Morte, linking up beautifully with the substitute shortly after the former Bristol Rovers forward had entered the fray, only for Sean Davis to shoot straight at his namesake in the Wimbledon goal.

Hayles finished off a flowing Fulham move with five minutes to play – turning home a pinpoint cross from Lee Clark, which was the cue for a chorus of boos from the home fans that had stayed with Terry Burton’s side completely outclassed by the Cottagers.

WIMBLEDON (4-4-2): K. Davis; Holloway, Kimble (Karlsson 63), Williams, Blackwell; Anderson (Ardley 45), Roberts, Francis (Euell 45), Harley; Hartson, Gayle. Subs (not used): Feuer, Gier.

BOOKED: Anderson.

FULHAM (4-4-2): Taylor; Finnan, Brevett, Melville, Coleman; Davis, Collins, Goldbaek (Fernandes 57), Clark; Saha (Trollope 88), Boa Morte (Hayles 67). Subs (not used): Hahnemann, Symons.

BOOKED: Brevett.

GOALS: Saha (32, pen 59), Hayles (85).

REFEREE: Chris Foy (St. Helens).