Steed Malbranque and Sean Davis steered Fulham to a win over Charlton Athletic at Loftus Road this afternoon that keeps Chris Coleman’s side in European contention.
French midfielder Malbranque kept his cool to convert a first-half penalty after Dean Kiely had brought down Luis Boa Morte. Davis put the disciplinary issues of the past week – he was dropped for the trip to Anfield after breaching a club curfew – behind him by smashing home the decisive second goal from 20 yards after coming on as a substitute to ensure he was back in his manager’s good books.
Both sides had plenty of chances in a very watchable London derby that was played at a frenetic pace. The hosts could have had a penalty within the opening ten seconds when Collins John tumbled in the area under a challenge from Luke Young but referee Matt Messias waved play on. Charlton almost opened the scoring from their very first attack when Paul Konchesky’s cross found its way to Claus Jensen but Edwin van der Sar saved at the Danish midfielder’s feet.
Fulham put together a couple more dangerous attacks as Boa Morte shot wildly high and wide after raiding down the left and Jon Fortune nipped in to nick the ball away from John as the Dutch teenager was lining up an effort. Up at the other end, Graham Stuart and Jensen went close for Alan Curbishley’s outfit before Malbranque converted the spot-kick after Kiely clumsily felled Boa Morte after the Portuguese winger had sped away from Herman Hreidarsson.
Charlton were furious when their own strong claims for a spot-kick were rebuffed six minutes later after Martin Djetou appeared to handle Young’s cross, with referee Matt Messias signalling that he believed the contact was accidental. Malbranque nearly rubbed salt into the Addicks’ by almost conjuring up a superb second on the half. The prodigiously talented French midfield bamboozled three defenders making space where there seemed to be none for a shot that was well saved by Kiely.
The away fans were up in arms again when Messias ignored their pleas for a penalty after Alain Goma had tangled with Jason Euell in the box and although the visitors finished the first half the stronger they had nothing to show for a prolonged period of possession. They weathered a strong Fulham spell at the start of the second half as Sylvain Legwinski nearly scored a piledriver from twenty yards, but the cruical second goal arrived from another long-distance drive.
Boa Morte was involved again as he beat Matt Holland far too easily on the halfway line and sprinted into the space available on the left flank. He rolled the ball into the path of Davis, whose initial failure to control send the ball spinning into the air but the midfielder produced a majestic strike from outside the area that arrowed into the bottom corner.
To their great credit, Charlton didn’t give up. They had a succession of attacks but couldn’t find a route back into the game. Euell lifted an ambitious effort over the crossbar from the edge of the area and sent a headed opportunity wide. Fortune twice tested van der Sar in the dying embers of the contest – firstly with a glancing header and then with a snapshot that the Fulham goalkeeper did brilliantly to keep out.
FULHAM (4-3-3): van der Sar; Volz, Bocanegra, Goma, Pearce; Legwinski, Djetou, Malbranque; Petta (Davis 45), Boa Morte (Inamoto 76), John (McBride 69). Subs (not used): Crossley, Knight.
GOALS: Malbranque (pen 18), Davis (64).
CHARLTON ATHLETIC (4-4-2): Kiely; Young, Powell (Perry 72), Fortune, Hreidarsson; Holland, Jensen, Stuart (Di Canio 72), Konchesky; Euell, Cole (Johansson 72). Subs (not used): Royce, Kishishev.
REFEREE: Matt Messias (North Yorkshire).