Fulham were left furious tonight having lost their lead, their influential captain and a new signing to injury, but they were most furious about Andy D’Urso’s decision to disallow a late David Healy effort. Television replays showed the Northern Ireland striker’s shot had clearly crossed the line before Mark Schwarzer pulled it back but neither the assistant referee or D’Urso, thrust into this game as a replacement for injured Lee Mason early in the afternoon, saw it.
Despite Lawrie Sanchez’s understandable anger afterwards, Fulham only have themselves to blame for letting this one slip away. Another dreadful error from Tony Warner allowed Middlesbrough back into the game. Warner, who dropped a clanger in midweek when his ill-advised throw allowed Heidar Helguson to score, didn’t get his body behind Mido’s tame effort from the angle and the ball bounced in off his chest.
Gareth Southgate’s side, utterly rudderless in the first half, grabbed the lifeline and went on to take all three points thanks to a cool finish from Lee Cattermole. Played in by Jeremie Aliadiere, who had spurned a golden opportunity moments earlier when he rounded Warner and dwelt on the ball for what seemed like an age before fouling Zat Knight, the homegrown midfielder guided his shot beyond Warner without taking a touch and, aside from the late furore after Healy’s ‘goal,’ Fulham’s misery was complete.
Their captain, Brian McBride, was injured in putting them ahead after 16 minutes. A sweeping move saw Simon Davies release Alexei Smertin and McBride rifled his cut-back into the net from eight yards but immediately collapsed in a heap as his knee gave way. He was given a rousing reception as he left the field on the stretcher – the fact that the American, in obvious agony, applauded the fans as he was carried off, shows just what kind of a character he is – but it is likely that Fulham will be without their talisman for a long while.
Shortly after losing McBride, Hameur Bouazza’s dislocated shoulder meant he had to be substituted but Fulham should still have wrapped up the three points before half time. Healy could have picked a spot either side of Schwarzer as he bore down on goal but smacked his shot straight at the Australian goalkeeper’s face. As if to highlight the costly nature of that miss, Middlesbrough went down the other end and carved out their best chance of the half. Downing looked destined to score but a great block from Chris Baird bailed Fulham out.
Sadly, there was no such saving intervention once the home side had fallen behind. Clint Dempsey contrived to miss the target completely with the goalkeeper grounded and, despite throwing Papa Bouba Diop forward as a makeshift striker, Fulham’s frustration had to be directed at the officials who waved play on after Healy’s last-gasp strike.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Warner; Baird, Konchesky, Knight, Bocanegra; Smertin, Davis (Diop 90), Davies, Bouazza (Dempsey 35); McBride (Kamara 20), Healy. Subs (not used): Batista, Volz.
GOAL: McBride (16).
MIDDLESBROUGH: Schwarzer; Davies, Taylor, Wheater, Riggott; Cattermole, Boateng, Arca, Downing; Tuncay (Aliadiere 45), Mido (Lee 69, Hines 90). Subs (not used): Jones, Johnson.
BOOKED: Boateng, Aliadiere, Schwarzer.
GOALS: Mido (55), Cattermole (88).
REFEREE: Lee Mason (Lancashire).