Louis Saha set aside his simmering transfer row aside to fire Fulham to victory over Everton this afternoon.
The French forward has gone public with his desire to join Manchester United as the English champions’ protracted pursuit of the in-form striker continues. Fulham have refused to yield to United’s interest or Saha’s demands and, despite some trenchant comments in the French media this week, the former Newcastle forward shrugged off the speculation to tuck home a first half penalty and put his current employers on the way to an important win.
David Moyes was disappointed Everton couldn’t build on an excellent start at Loftus Road. They attacked with gusto after the manager had opted to leave injury doubt Wayne Rooney on the bench and spurned several good chances to take the lead. Francis Jeffers drove over the bar after outsprinting the Fulham defence before Kevin Kilbane wasted another good opportunity.
The hosts fashioned several decent changes but were just as profligate in front of goal. Saha nodded a Malbranque cross wide of goal before the midfielder went close himself, failing to find the target after a brilliant jinking run took him past several Everton defenders. The French midfielder was Fulham’s creative hub throughout the afternoon and when Gary Naysmith tripped him as he bore down on goal, Graham Poll had little alternative put to point to the spot. Saha stepped forward and confidently converted the penalty to score his fifteenth goal of an outstanding season.
Coleman’s men doubled their advantage right at the start of the second half. Malbranque teased the Everton defence again and threaded a low drive past Nigel Martyn and inside the far post. Moyes immediately introduced Rooney from the substitutes bench and Everton carried a far greater threat. The teenager was denied by a brilliant reaction save from van der Sar and, after Luis Boa Morte wasted a great chance to make the game safe, Kilbane offered Everton a lifeline with a fantastic strike from 30 yards.
But Fulham held on to claim a valuable victory in their pursuit of the European places, much to Coleman’s clear relief.
FULHAM (4-3-3): van der Sar; Djetou, Green, Melville, Knight; Legwinski, Clark, Davis; Malbranque, Boa Morte (Petta 83), Saha. Subs (not used): Crossley, Inamoto, Sava, Hayles.
GOALS: Saha (pen 45), Malbranque (46).
EVERTON (4-4-2): Martyn; Hibbert, Unsworth, Weir, Naysmith; Linderoth, Carsley (Rooney 56), Radzinski (McFadden 57), Kilbane; Campbell (Ferguson 57), Jeffers. Subs (not used): Simonsen, Pistone.
GOAL: Kilbane (81).
REFEREE: Graham Poll (Hertfordshire).