A superb strike from Steed Malbranque sealed victory for Fulham in their first-ever UEFA Cup tie – but the excellent result was marred by racist abuse aimed at the Whites’ black players by Hajduk Split fans.

Fulham left back Rufus Brevett was subjected to horrific monkey chants from the Croatian crowd – just days after Emile Heskey had to endure the same in Valencia earlier this week. Brevett’s replacement Pierre Wome was also disgracefully barracked by the home fans on account of his skin colour. On the field, Fulham delivered the sort of professional performance that suggested Jean Tigana’s side had been competing on the continent for years. The visitors soaked up the early home pressure, with Edwin van der Sar making a couple of superb saves, and grew gradually into the game before Malbranque cracked home a precious away goal five minutes after the interval.

It was a classic counter-attacking goal that would have had Tigana purring in delight. Junichi Inamoto rolled a clever ball into Steve Marlet, 30 yards from goal, and the French forward laid it off to Malbranque, who was arriving in the box from the left wing. The midfielder found the bottom corner with a lovely low shot from fourteen yards. Fulham could easily have added to their advantage but Stipe Pletikosa superbly thwarted Marlet and substitute Facundo Sava was also denied by the home goalkeeper after producing sublime control to almost convert a fine pass from Sean Davis.

The win was all the more encouraging when you consider that the Whites were without winger Luis Boa Morte, first choice centre forward Louis Saha and right back Steve Finnan due to injury. A capacity crowd at one of the fiercest venues in European football roared their team forward from the outset but Fulham stood firm. The excellent Edwin van der Sar made a fine reaction save from Mario Carevic before flinging himself full length to keep out Dario Srna’s header from Vlatko Dolonga’s cross before the wing-back rattled the woodwork with the follow-up.

Hajduk Split became increasingly perturbed that their bright start had not rattled their English visitors. Carevic threw himself to the floor seeking a penalty but the referee recognised Alain Goma’s great defending and booked the home midfielder for diving. It was Fulham who began to take charge of the midfield, through the hard graft of Sylvain Legwinski and Davis, whilst there was the encouragement of a late substitute appearance for Lee Clark – who had not featured since April, owing to an injured Achilles.

Fulham did survive a little scare towards the end when Zvonimir Deranja somehow managed to shoot wide of goal from close range with eight minutes remaining. For the most parts, the Londoners defended diligently and definitely deserved to take the slenderest of leads onto the second leg in Shepherd’s Bush.

HNK HAJDUK SPLIT (3-3-3-1): Pletikosa; Vejic, Neretljak; Vukovic (Piric 85); Djolonga, Andric, Miladin; Srna (Brgles 84), Racunica (Bule 69), Carevic; Deranja. Subs (not used): Runje, Butorovic, Radeljic, Gudelj.

FULHAM (4-4-2): van der Sar; Ouaddoh, Brevett (Wome 63), Melville, Goma; Davis, Legwinski, Inamoto (Clark 78), Boa Morte; Hayles, Marlet (Sava 84). Subs (not used): Taylor, Knight, Collins, Stolcers.

GOAL: Malbranque (50).

REFEREE: F. C. Mendez (Spain)