Darren Moore’s downward header delivered West Bromwich Albion’s first Premier League win as a fragile Fulham folded at the Hawthorns this afternoon.
The centre back headed in Neil Clement’s corner at the second time of asking as Albion took advantage of some slack defending to register their first Premiership points. The visitors suffered something of a post-European hangover after the euphoria of reaching the UEFA Cup with a midweek win over Bologna.
The points were particularly precious to Gary Megson after the Baggies had been beaten by Manchester United, Leeds and Arsenal in a tough baptism of fire to life back in the top flight. The hosts thoroughly deserved their victory after a high tempo approach unsettled their opponents from the outset. Lee Hughes might have marked his second Hawthorns debut with a gaol as early as the eleventh minute had he not been denied by a superb save from Edwin van der Sar.
Quality in the final third was scarce, but the Baggies looked the likeliest to open the scoring. Andy Johnson wasted a glorious chance when he shot straight at the Dutch goalkeeper after finding himself through on goal and Albion would have considered themselves unfortunate not to lead at the interval. It took only three minutes to rectify that after the restart. Moore rose to head home a Clement corner after his first effort had been clawed out by van der Sar and Megson’s men would have had more breathing space had Jason Roberts not blazed Johnson’s ball high over the bar.
Fulham looked a pale imitation of the team that had ruthlessly taken Bologna apart on Wednesday night. Russell Hoult was a virtual spectator in the Albion goal and the European hat-trick hero Junichi Inamoto found the heat of a feisty engine room battle too hot for his taste. The Japanese midfielder was replaced by Zat Knight but Tigana’s introduction of Louis Saha and Steed Malbranque belated added some guile to proceedings.
Malbranque produced the visitors only effort of note despite Fulham laying siege to the West Brom goal late on. Despite the Londoners’ pressure, it was Albion who came closest to finding the net when Bob Taylor went for goal from halfway, only for van der Sar to back peddle and push the substitute’s shot over the bar.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION (4-4-2): Hoult; Moore, Gilchrist, Wallwork, Balis; Clement, Johnson, Gregan, Marshall (Koumas 52); Roberts (James Chambers 88), Hughes (Taylor 77). Subs (not used): Jensen, Dichio.
BOOKED: Hughes, Moore, Wallwork, Johnson.
FULHAM (4-4-2): van der Sar; Finnan, Brevett, Melville (Malbranque 59), Goma; Davis, Legwinski, Inamoto (Knight 60), Boa Morte; Sava (Saha 60), Marlet. Subs (not used): Taylor, Hayles.
BOOKED: Boa Morte, Davis, Finnan.
REFEREE: Rob Styles (Hamphsire).