Middlesbrough made amends for their opening-day defeat at the hands of Fulham with Joseph-Desire Job and Szilard Nemeth – but teenage winger Stewart Downing stole the show with a superb display.
The home side were rewarded for a sprightly start when Job stabbed into the net from close range after Edwin van der Sar had pushed away a shot from Ugo Ehiogu. Lee Clark wasted Fulham’s clearest opener of the first half when he fired straight at Brad Jones, who was making his debut in the Middlesbrough goal.
Boro made sure of all three points when van der Sar spilled Downing’s free-kick and Ehiogu squared the ball for Southampton, who put a simple finish on a plate for Nemeth. Barry Hayles pulled a goal back for Fulham but Chris Coleman’s side were unable to force an equaliser.
The home side should have settled matters much earlier when Juninho headed straight at van der Sar from Nemeth’s excellent cross and full back Franck Quedrue somehow missed an open goal at the far post after being found by another fine Downing delivery. The teenager eventually provided the telling second goal from his deep free-kick, although van der Sar will not want to relive his uncharacteristic error.
The big Dutch goalkeeper partially redeemed himself with a superb save to prevent Juninho making it three, whilst at the other end Malbranque – comfortably Fulham’s best performer on the night – saw his deflected shot smothered by Jones. Louis Saha, who was embroiled in a furious row with chairman Mohamed Al-Fayed about his aspirations to join Manchester United earlier this week, sent his only clear chance over the bar from twelve yards and Hayles’ intervention – which came when the Jamaican international forced home a loose ball after Danny Mills had blocked Sean Davis’ goalbound effort – arrived too late to deny Boro a deserved win.
MIDDLESBROUGH (4-5-1): Jones; Mills, Queudrue, Ehiogu, Southgate; Downing, Nemeth, Boateng, Zenden, Juninho; Job. Subs (not used): Turnbull, Riggott, Maccarone, Doriva, Parnaby.
GOALS: Job (14), Nemeth (67).
FULHAM (4-3-3): van der Sar; Djetou, Green, Knight, Melville; Davis, Legwinski (Hayles 69), Clark; Malbranque, Boa Morte, Saha. Subs (not used): Crossley, Hudson, Inamoto, Petta.
BOOKED: Davis, Djetou.
GOAL: Hayles (90).
REFEREE: Paul Durkin (Dorset).