Heidar Helguson and Brian McBride grabbed the goals as Fulham moved four places up the Premiership table with an entertaining victory over fellow strugglers Middlesbrough at Craven Cottage.
Chris Coleman’s side ended a miserable run of four defeats in their last five games as his first choice forwards fired to pile more pressure on beleaguered Boro boss Gareth Southgate. The visitors actually made the brighter start but went behind after Helguson coolly converted a penalty after George Boateng brought down Moritz Volz. McBride made it two before the break with a curling effort that deflected in off Chris Riggott.
Middlesbrough made it a nervy finale for Fulham after Mark Viduka punished a poor goal kick from Antti Niemi to give the visitors a lifeline but Southgate’s side couldn’t force a late leveller. The Middlesbrough boss, who has taken just six points from a possible 27, might reflect on their failure to capitalise on a lightning start that saw Stewart Downing’s fourth-minute free kick clip the crossbar and James Morrison test Niemi after a mistake from Frank Quedrue.
Instead, Fulham took the lead from virtually their first attack when Volz ventured infield from the left flank and was caught by Boateng. Mike Dean gave the penalty instantly and Helguson converted a trademark spot-kick by waiting for Mark Schwarzer to commit himself and rolling his finish into the other corner. Radzinski spurned a great chance to extend Fulham’s lead by shooting straight at Schwarzer when clean through before McBride added a second ten minutes before the interval.
Radzinski found the American with an incisive pass to the edge of the area and McBride curled a lovely finish around Schwarzer into the bottom corner – although he was aided by a slight nick off Riggott. The veteran striker could have quickly doubled his tally but he shot fractionally wide after another rampaging run by Volz, who had a brilliant game in midfield.
Radzinski did the initial damage with a precision pass to McBride on the edge of the area and the USA striker’s shot took a slight deflection off Riggott before finding the bottom right corner. Fulham dominated the second half with Schwarzer clawing away a looping header from Helguson, but a terrible blunder from Niemi allowed Viduka to fire Boro back into the contest. The Finnish goalkeeper – just back from a knee operation – redeemed himself with a splendid save to deny Adam Johnson as Fulham saw out four minutes of stoppage time to leave Southgate only sitting above the relegation zone on goal difference.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Niemi; Rosenior, Queudrue, Christanval, Knight; Volz, Brown, Routledge, Radzinski (Bocanegra 70); McBride, Helguson. Subs (not used): Lastuvka, Zakuani, N. Jensen, Runstrom.
GOALS: Helguson (pen 12), McBride (35).
MIDDLESBROUGH (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Parnaby (Wheater 88), Davies, Taylor, Arca (Cattermole 46); Riggott, Morrison (Johnson 73), Downing, Boateng; Yakubu, Viduka. Subs (not used): Jones, Christie.
GOAL: Viduka (74).
REFEREE: Mike Dean (Wirral).