Three minutes into the new season and Fulham’s uneasy exile at Loftus Road appeared to heading for a shaky start. After Alain Goma crudely cut down Youri Djorkaeff as the midfield maestro danced into the penalty area and Michael Ricketts rolled in the penalty, there were problems on the pitch as well as off it for Jean Tigana. But Fulham responded well to adversity as well as adjusting to unfamiliar surroundings. Louis Saha converted an emphatic penalty of his own eight minutes later before Sylvain Legwinski leathered the Whites in front and Steve Marlet added a third from the spot. By the time, Legwinski added his second of the afternoon eleven minutes from time, Bolton were a spent force.
Fulham’s French revolution began under Tigana at Craven Cottage and it was no surprise to see three of the manager’s compatriots on the scoresheet in Shepherd’s Bush. The Whites looked fitter than their opponents – perhaps owing to their exertions in the InterToto Cup over the summer – but there was certainly something in Steve Finnan’s post-match assertion that Wanderers appeared to take their foot off the gas after their electric start was rewarded with Ricketts’ early penalty.
If that was indeed the case, Fulham were ruthless in punishing a naivete that wouldn’t sit well with Sam Allardyce. Marlet looked like he was picking up from a forgettable first season in England when he somehow headed wide from three yards with the goal gaping but Saha soon made up for his strike partner’s miss by finding the bottom corner with a spot-kick after he had been caught whilst rounding Jussi Jaaskelainen.
Steed Malbranque then provided Marlet with another straightforward chance just after the half hour but Fulham’s record signing shot straight at Jaaskelainen’s feet. Legwinski provided a firm left-footed finish from a fine Finnan cross to put Tigana’s men ahead and it was no surprise when Luis Boa Morte, who had the beating of Bernard Mendy all afternoon, had another promising run ended by the beleaguered full back – this time inside the penalty area. Saha stepped aside from taking this one, allowing Marlet to shoot high into the net.
Fulham were rampant now and they started the second half in similar fashion. Legwinski leapt higher than two Bolton centre halves to flick a forward ball into the path of Saha, who drifted onto his right foot and curled an effort just wide of the far post. Junichi Inamoto’s introduction from the substitutes’ bench excited a sizeable Japanese contingent in the crowd – and the midfielder almost had an immediate impact, with Marlet heading his corner just over the crossbar.
Bolton were largely on the back foot but substitute Henrik Pedersen came close to grabbing a consolation with his audacious 20-yarder dipped just too late to nestle under Edwin van der Sar’s crossbar. Instead, Fulham added a fourth as the visitors’ legs tired with Legwinski lashing home from the edge of the box to complete an impressive comeback from the Cottagers.
FULHAM (4-4-2): van der Sar; Finnan, Brevett, Melville, Goma; Davis, Legwinski, Malbranque (Inamoto 69), Boa Morte; Saha (Sava 79), Marlet. Subs (not used): Taylor, Ouaddoh, Collins.
GOALS: Saha (pen 11), Legwinski (33, 80), Marlet (pen 38).
BOLTON WANDERERS (4-5-1): Jaaskelainen; Mendy (Whitlow 45), Charlton, Ngotty, Bergsson; Nolan (Warhurst 71), Frandsen, Okocha (Pedersen 45), Djorkaeff, Garnder; Ricketts. Subs (not used): Poole, Holdsworth.
BOOKED: Mendy, Ngotty.
GOAL: Ricketts (pen 3)
REFEREE: Alan Wiley (Staffordshire).