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After all the pessimistic pre-season predictions from the press, Fulham began the new Premier League campaign with a bright and encouraging performance against Middlesbrough. Chris Coleman would have been greatly encouraged with their invention and ambition as well as their fortitude as his side recovered from an early setback to claim an entertaining opening day winner, surviving a late onslaught from their visitors.

Steve Marlet, excellent in a right-wing role, quickly cancelled out Carlos Marinelli’s opener and the energetic Japanese midfielder Junichi Inamoto fired Fulham in front. Louis Saha extended the home side’s lead with twenty minutes to go, although the Whites had to hold on during a frenetic finale after Szilard Nemeth reduced Middlesbrough’s arrears to just a single goal with nine minutes left.

Coleman had spoken in the build up to the season about the importance of getting off to a good start and maintaining the momentum that had secured him the manager’s job on a permanent basis. His team began brightly with plenty of purposeful passing but they failed to profit with Steed Malbranque, Marlet and Saha all spurning presentable chances in a bright opening. They were made to pay when a mistake from Martin Djetou gifted Marinelli possession and the Argentine midfielder drove in from the right flank and curled a clever finish beyond Edwin van der Sar.

Fulham restored parity within seven minutes. Marlet ended a seventeen match scoreless streak at the far post prodding home after Saha had flicked on summer signing Jerome Bonnissel’s cross. The French full back was enjoying an excellent debut and nearly provided a second shortly afterwards. His adventurous forward ball was helped on by Saha for Marlet, whose clever lob had Mark Schwarzer scrambling to claw the ball away from underneath his own crossbar.

The Australian goalkeeper made an excellent save to stop a stinging volley from Malbranque just before the half-time whistle. Fulham started the second period in the same vein and Inamoto made a horrible hash of a simple chance in front of goal when played in by Malbranque just after the restart, failing to connect altogether from eight yards out. The former Arsenal midfielder made almost immediate amends, however, firing home from ten yards after an intelligent lay-off from Saha.

Marlet went close to extending Fulham’s lead narrowly failing to convert an inviting Malbranque cross from the left. Fulham’s advantage was quickly in jeopardy when Inamoto needlessly handled a cross from Joseph Desire-Job and gave away a penalty. Van der Sar produced a brilliant diving save – flinging himself full length to his right to deny Malcolm Christie from twelve yards.

You sensed Fulham needed a third and it arrived with twenty minutes to go. Saha produced a predatory piece of finishing to smash home on the angle of the six-yard box after a loose ball bounced up off the luckless Stuart Parnaby. The Fulham faithful endured an anxious last ten minutes after substitute Nemeth nipped in ahead of van der Sar to give Boro hope of an unlikely comeback. Schwarzer made an excellent save from Luis Boa Morte in stoppage time – and, at the end of a pulsating afternoon, Coleman was finally able to reflect on an excellent afternoon’s work.

FULHAM (4-3-3): van der Sar; Volz, Bonnissel, Djetou, Goma; Legwinski, Inamoto, Clark; Malbranque, Marlet (Boa Morte 90), Saha (Hayles 71). Subs (not used): Crossley, Knight, Buari.

BOOKED: Legwinski.

GOALS: Marlet (17), Inamoto (56), Saha (70).

MIDDLESBROUGH (4-3-3): Schwarzer; Parnaby, Riggott, Southgate, Wright; Greening, Juninho (Nemeth 73), Boateng (Cooper 78); Doriva, Christie, Marinelli (Job 55). Subs (not used): Nash, Downing.

BOOKED:
Southgate.

GOALS: Marinelli (10), Nemeth (81).

REFEREE: Graham Poll (Hertfordshire).

ATTENDANCE: 14,546.