The redtops have suggested that Jean Tigana is casting around for a goalscorer to make sure Fulham make the most of their adventurous approach play. But the Frenchman remains confident that the solution to the Craven Cottage club’s woes in front of goal remains Steve Marlet, who has been frustrated by injuries and a lack of form in his first few months with the Whites. The club-record signing from Lyon followed up his FA Cup equaliser at Wycombe at the weekend with another goal here to condemn Middlesbrough to defeat and the sobering reality of a relegation battle.

Steve McClaren’s side couldn’t hold onto a precious early lead which arrived when Chris Cooper capitalised on a dreadful defensive mix-up between Edwin van der Sar and Sylvain Legwinski. Louis Saha buried a brilliant diving header just five minutes after arriving as a first-half substitute and Marlet sneaked the winner between Mark Crossley and the near post after racing onto a sumptuous through ball from his compatriot on the stroke of half time.

Fulham could have easily scored more but they had to do things the hard way after a poor piece of goalkeeping from van der Sar gifted their opponents the dream start. The Dutch international was happy to let a free-kick from returning Argentine midfielder Carlos Marinelli travel beyond the back post when he could have easily claimed it and slack marking from Legwinski allowed Cooper to head home one of the simplest goals of his career after he had been left unattended in the penalty area.

Steed Malbranque was, as ever, at the heart of Fulham’s response. The Frenchman supplied a superb pass for Marlet, whose early shot was pushed up into the air by a retreating Crossley only for Barry Hayles to head over the crossbar from close range. Marlet then headed only millimetres over the crossbar having climbed to reach a Legwinski cross as Fulham continued to pile the pressure on the Boro goal.

John Collins then went close with a long-range free-kick before an attack-minded substitution from Tigana turned the contest on its head. With Legwinski struggling with a thigh problem, the Fulham boss sent on Saha to play just behind Marlet and Hayles in a front three. Within five minutes, it had worked – although the change certainly made an already open game more end-to-end. Hayles quickly drew a spectacular save from Crossley after heading Steve Finnan’s floated cross goalwards, whilst at the other end van der Sar denied Paul Ince and Noel Whelan in swift succession.

Fulham were level in the 40th minute through a stunning Saha header after the Frenchman got a thumping connection to Malbranque’s free-kick. Middlesbrough were rocked by the equaliser and worse to follow right on the cusp of half-time. Saha spotted Marlet moving away from his marker and prodded a pass towards the French international. A deflection took the ball into an even better position for the former Lyon forward, who surprised Crossley by guiding his finish under the goalkeeper and in at the near post.

Marlet made have added a third right at the start of the second period but he directed a header just wide of the Hammersmith End goal after more excellent work from the lively Malbranque. Robbie Mustoe then came to Middlesbrough’s rescue – somehow scrambling clearance from underneath his own crossbar after Marlet had turned a Saha header goalwards. The visitors tried to rouse themselves with Whelan coming closest to an equaliser after leaving Andy Melville for dead in the Fulham box with a brilliant bit of skill before shooting wide, but they were indebted to Crossley for keeping them in the game late on when he athletically tipped over the midfielder’s rising drive.

FULHAM (4-4-2): van der Sar; Finnan, Brevett, Melville, Goma; Davis, Collins, Legwinski (Saha 36), Malbranque; Marlet, Hayles (Knight 73). Subs (not used): Taylor, Harley, Stolcers.

BOOKED: Hayles.

GOALS: Saha (40), Marlet (45).

MIDDLESBROUGH (4-5-1): Crossley; Stockdale, Cooper, Southgate, Festa; Ince, Mustoe, Greening (Windass 67), Marinelli (Nemeth 78), Whelan; Ricard (Stamp 50). Subs (not used): Jones, Gavin.

BOOKED: Ince, Windass.

GOAL: Cooper (8).

REFEREE: Mike Dean (The Wirral).