Steve McClaren left Middlesbrough with a tantalising glimpse of their future as his last league game before taking over as England manager ended in a narrow defeat at Fulham.
McClaren selected a virtual youth team with Wednesday’s UEFA Cup final firmly on his mind but Boro’s young talents did brilliantly to more than match Chris Coleman’s side for most of this contest. Danny Graham had a second-strike disallowed for handball, but the young Teessiders were eventually beaten by Heidar Helguson’s late penalty.
Fulham squandered early chances through Carlos Bocaengra and Collins John before Graham completely miskicked in front of goal when played in by James Morrison. Steed Malbranque and Michael Brown had efforts blocked and John was released by a fine pass from Bridge, who lined up on the left wing, but fired wastefully wide. Ross Turnbull made an excellent save from Brian McBride just before the break as the hosts began to get on top but Boro’s youngsters, ten of whom were under 20, stuck to their task admirably.
After Graham’s goal was ruled out for handball, he brought a fine save from Antti Niemi with a fierce drive and Boro’s youngest-ever captain, Lee Cattermole, who battled valiantly in central midfield all afternoon, lashed an optimistic effort just wide. It looked as though the youthful visitors might hold out for a draw but Helguson, who had replaced John, was clumsily upended by Andrew Davies six minutes from time. The Icelandic international took the spot-kick himself, calmly beating Turnbull from twelve yards.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Niemi, Volz, Rosenior, Christanval, Bocanegra; Diop, Brown, Malbranque, Bridge; McBride (Radzinski 70), John (Helguson 54). Subs (not used): Crossley, Goma, Elliott.
MIDDLESBROUGH (4-4-2): Turnbull, Davies, Bates, Wheater, Taylor, Morrison, Kennedy (Cooper 85), Cattermole, Christie (Walker 62), Graham (Craddock 81), Johnson. Subs (not used): Knight, McMahon.
REFEREE: Mark Halsey (Lancashire).