A late volley from Sean Davis – created by debutant Junichi Inamoto – delivered a precious winner as Fulham inched closer to competing in the UEFA Cup by beating Sochaux by a single goal in the first leg of their InterToto Cup semi-final at Loftus Road.

Jean Tigana’s men missed a catalogue full of chances, which is becoming par for the course in their first taste of continental competition this summer, but were able to take the narrowest of leads to France for the second leg thanks to Davis’ stoppage-time heroics. The midfielder, who last year became the first player to represent Fulham in all four divisions of English football, left his mark on the European stage by lashing home from Inamoto’s corner as the ninety minutes elapsed.

Fulham again struggled to turn their possession and territory into goals, which must be a concern for Tigana ahead of the new domestic campaign. The French boss named five compatriots to face Sochaux, who had beaten the Whites in a mid-season friendly last term, and one of them Sylvain Legwinski could easily have had a first half hat trick. The former Monaco midfielder hit the bar with a header from a corner, missed an open goal and was then denied by Teddy Richert from long range.

Sochaux, eighth in the French top flight last season, saw their plans disrupted by an early injury to striker Pierre-Alain Frau but the forward’s replacement, Moroccan midfielder Jaouad Zairi, fashioned the clearest chance of the first period with a lovely pass that caught Fulham’s defence flat-footed. It was fortunate that Tunisian front man Francileudo Santos, who scored only a single league goal last term, fluffed his lines – allowing Edwin van der Sar to save a shot that lacked any real conviction.

Tigana has brushed off concerns that Fulham’s InterToto Cup exertions could imperil their Premiership status – suggesting that the early return to competitive football should actually help their sharpness in the early weeks of the domestic season. There was evidence of that here as the Whites seemed stronger the longer this game went on, with Davis and Legwinski driving wide from distance.

Inamoto looked eager to impress on his first appearance since signing on loan from Gamba Osaka after his impressive World Cup, and the midfielder’s every touch was cheered by hundreds of Japanese fans. The ex-Arsenal man’s most telling contribution came right at the death when his far-post corner was hammered home by Davis to set up an intriguing second leg at Stade Bounal next week.

FULHAM (4-4-2): van der Sar; Ouaddoh (Knight 63), Brevett, Goma, Melville; Davis, Legwinski (Inamoto 45), Malbranque (Hayles 68), Boa Morte; Saha, Marlet. Subs (not used): Herrera, Hayles, Collins, Sava.

BOOKED: Marlet, Davis.

GOAL: Davis (90).

SOUCHAX (5-3-2): Richert; Raschke, Monsoreau, Savelji?, Mathieu, Flachez; Lonfat (Chedli 85), Boudaréne, Pedretti; Frau (Zairi 12), Santos (de Carvalho 75). Subs (not used): Daguet, Tall, Daff, Isabey.

BOOKED: Savelji?, Richert.

REFEREE: Sorin Corpodean (Romania).


This report initially appeared in the 1 August 2002 edition of Sportscene