A quickfire double from Louis Saha turned this match on its end as Fulham moved into fifth place in the Premiership table despite being outplayed by their visitors prior to the French striker’s intervention.
Saha grabbed two goals in three minutes after the visitors had totally bossed the first half an hour at Loftus Road in front of the Sky TV cameras. The French forward had been a peripheral presence until some characteristically predatory finishing established an advantage that Chris Coleman’s side never looked like relinquishing. The late sending off of midfielder Patrik Berger for dissent against referee Alan Wiley rounded off a thoroughly frustrating evening for the south coast side.
It had began far more promisingly for Portsmouth, who have yet to win an away game this season. They looked particularly dangerous at set plays with Dejan Stefanovic coming close to breaking the deadlock when his header from a corner was scrambled off his own goal line by Jerome Bonnissel. Fulham looked far from assured at corners, something only underlined when Edwin van der Sar completely missed Berger’s inswinging delivery and the home side luckily remained unscathed.
Yakubu also posed real problems for the Fulham centre backs, serving only notice of his danger by outmuscling Zat Knight and crossing dangerously for Steve Stone, only for the former Nottingham Forest winger to be unable to convert the ball in. Only a lack of conviction in his own finishing ability prevented Yakubu from finishing off a lovely pass from Stone, with Moritz Volz and van der Sar managing to smother the ball clear between them.
At this point, it was all Portsmouth and Fulham had barely got a foothold in the contest. Everything changed when lone forward Saha imposed himself on proceedings after the half hour mark. He punished a terrible clearing header from Hayden Foxe with a majestic half volley off his left foot that left poor Harald Wapenaar no chance. Just three minutes later, the French front man left Foxe trailing in his wake again – this time he climbed to power Lee Clark’s cross home with an impressive header. Saha could even have had a hat trick in the second half but Steed Malbranque dallied on the ball at the crucial moment, allowing Portsmouth defenders to get back into position.
Portsmouth lost their composure in the second period with several players going into Wiley’s notebook and Teddy Sheringham squaring up to Moritz Volz. Berger was incensed by the referee’s failure to give the visitors a penalty when Yakubu went down after a challenge from Knight and the Czech international was shown a second yellow card. Fulham kept pressing forward and should have made the scoreline more convincing. Substitute Facundo Sava struck the bar with a header and Junichi Inamoto drove wide, but Coleman could be happy with another three points.
FULHAM (4-3-1-2): van der Sar; Volz, Bonnissel, Melville, Knight; Legwinski, Davis, Clark; Malbranque;Saha (Sava 70), Hayles (Inamoto 68). Subs (not used): Crossley, Djetou, Pratley.
GOALS: Saha (30, 33).
PORTSMOUTH (4-4-2): Wapenaar; Stefanovic, Foxe (Taylor 60), De Zeeuw, Schemmel; Sherwood, Stone (Burton 73), Berger, O’Neil (Smertin 60); Sheringham, Yakubu. Subs (not used): Srnicek, Zivkovic.
BOOKED: Stone, Schemmel, Sherwood.
SENT OFF: Berger.
REFEREE: Alan Wiley (Staffordshire).