Fulham were denied a valuable victory at Middlesbrough by referee Rob Styles’ ridiculous decision to award the home side a penalty when Edwin van der Sar’s foul on Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink clearly occurred outside the penalty area. Bolo Zenden converted the spot-kick to keep Boro’s hopes of European football next season alive – but a raging Chris Coleman couldn’t be becalmed after his side were dealt a damaging blow in their battle against the drop.
A brilliant strike from Brian McBride looked to have secured all three points for the Londoners but, with time ticking away, Styles pointed to the spot after van der Sar had brought down Hasselbaink as the former Chelsea forward bore down on goal. The foul looked to be at least a yard outside the area but the referee stuck to his guns and awarded the spot-kick, which Zenden drilled past a furious van der Sar. Coleman had to be restrained from confronting the referee in the centre circle by his own players after the final whistle.
Such an outcome was harsh on Fulham, who were on the front foot from the outset and did more than enough to merit the victory. Mark Pembridge almost provided an early opener for the visitors but Brian McBride, having majestically outjumped the Middlesbrough defence at a free kick, couldn’t quite direct his header on target. Collins John then drove disappointingly over from twelve yards after the hosts failed to convincingly clear another Pembridge set play and, to the chagrin of the Riverside faithful, Boro’s most threatening moment saw Hasselbaink fall theatrically to ground in the box seeking a penalty against Liam Rosenior.
McBride failed to hit the target with a header just moments before half time and Fulham continued to make the running after the interval as well. Luis Boa Morte, lively down the left wing all evening, clipped the top of the crossbar with a fine free-kick before Boro belatedly posed a threat with Hasselbaink heading wide of goal after George Boateng had drilled an effort narrowly off target.
Fulham looked as if they had pinched a precious victory when McBride fired Tomasz Radzinski’s cross low past Brad Jones and into the far corner with eight minutes to play. But they were denied victory by Styles’ error – much to Coleman’s consternation.
MIDDLESBROUGH (4-4-2): Jones, Cooper (Kennedy 86), Southgate, Ehiogu, Queudrue, Parlour, Boateng, Zenden, Downing, Hasselbaink, Nemeth. Subs (not used): A. Knight, Wheater, Davies, Doriva.
GOAL: Zenden (pen 90).
FULHAM (4-4-2): van der Sar; Volz, Rosenior, Goma, Z. Knight; Pembridge, Clark, Radzinski, Boa Morte; McBride, John (Malbranque 82). Subs (not used): Crossley, Bocanegra, Rehman, Jensen.
GOAL: McBride (82).
REFEREE: Rob Styles (Hampshire).