Mark Viduka scored twice on what could prove to be his last appearance for Middlesbrough as Gareth Southgate’s side eased past Fulham at the Riverside Stadium this afternoon.
The Australian striker, whose contract comes to an end this summer, put the hosts ahead on 34 minutes and notched his nineteenth goal of the season within a minute of the restart. He was only denied a hat-trick by a superb late save from Antti Niemi.
The Teessiders were briefly pegged back when Simon Davies seized on an error by David Wheater to equalise, but the centre back put things right by powering home a header in injury time to ensure Boro led at the break. Southgate’s side finished the campaign a point and two places ahead of where Steve McClaren led the club last term. Fulham, safe from relegation following last week’s win over Liverpool, battled but were well beaten with Viduka and Stewart Downing proving unplayable.
Only Niemi kept the Londoners in the contest before half-time. The former Southampton goalkeeper was busy from the start making fine stops to deny Dong-Gook Lee and Emmanuel Pogagetz within the first five minutes. He then palmed away a powerful drive from George Boateng’s fierce drive and also got his hands to a screamer from Fabio Rochemback.
Lee was one of a number of Middlesbrough men to miss a succession of guilt-edged chances but Viduka’s predatory instincts have never been in front. The former Leeds striker showed everyone else how to finish when Jonathan Woodgate opened up the Fulham defence, taking a touch to set up a firm right-footed finish. Two woeful pieces of defending from Wheater let in Davies for a surprise leveller, with the Welsh midfielder lifting a lovely finish over Mark Schwarzer. But the centre back quickly made a more positive impact impact at the other end heading home Rochemback’s corner to the delight of the home crowd.
Fulham were further adrift a minute after the interval when Viduka outmuscled Zat Knight and struck an angled drive beyond Niemi and the Australian was unlucky not to secure his hat trick as Boro dominated from that point on. There was a senior debut for Fulham’s highly rated young full back Matthew Briggs, who became the youngest player in Premier League history when Lawrie Sanchez sent him on in place of Moritz Volz.
MIDDLESBROUGH (4-4-2): Schwarzer, Davies, Woodgate, Wheater, Pogatetz, Downing, Boateng (Morrison 68), Rochemback, Arca, Lee (Yakubu 68), Viduka (Johnson 90). Subs (not used): Jones, Euell.
GOALS: Viduka (34, 47), Wheater (45).
FULHAM (4-4-2): Niemi, Rosenior, Bocanegra, Christanval (Queudrue 50); Volz (Briggs 77), Dempsey, Davies, Radzinski; Helguson (John 64), McBride. Subs (not used): Lastuvka, Jensen.
GOAL: Davies (42).
REFEREE: Mike Riley (West Yorkshire).