An early strike from Jeremie Aliadiere was enough to ease Middlesbrough’s relegation fears as they secured a crucial win over struggling Fulham at the Riverside Stadium.
The French forward latched onto a Gary O’Neill ball and fired underneath Antti Niemi to give Boro the perfect start. Aliadiere saw too long-distance strikes saved by Niemi before the club’s record signing Afonso Alves came off the bench to make his debut. The longer the home side only held a slender lead, the more Fulham came into the contest. Simon Davies had their best chance, with Mark Schwarzer blocking his close-range drive, but Danny Murphy and Paul Konchesky went close from further out.
Boro’s defence stood firm, ably marshalled by the excellent Robert Huth, and although Alves didn’t trouble Fulham in quite the same way as Aliadiere, he received a warm reception from the Riverside crowd. As Roy Hodgson admitted afterwards, the hosts didn’t need to come and out play in the second period, holding the cushion of a one goal lead. Niemi did claw away a Huth header from a corner and the Finnish goalkeeper grabbed an unconvincing shot from Gary O’Neill, but there wasn’t the urgency in Boro’s attacks from the first half.
It was easy to see why Fulham are in such trouble. They have won just two of their last fifty away games – something that will just have to improve – if Hodgson is to drag them out of this mess. Clint Dempsey offered energy and invention as a second half substitute. The American won a free-kick that saw Schwarzer deny Konchesky from distance and wasn’t too far away with his own long-range strike. Leon Andreasen also tested the Australian from 25 yards, but Hodgson will need to keep searching for a formula to banish Fulham’s away day hoodoo.
MIDDLESBROUGH (4-4-2): Schwarzer, Young, Wheater, Huth, Pogatetz, O’Neil, Rochemback, Arca, Downing, Aliadiere (Boateng 76), Lee (Alves 57). Subs (not used): Turnbull, Mido, Grounds.
GOAL: Aliadiere (11).
FULHAM (4-5-1): Niemi; Stalteri, Konchesky, Baird, Hangeland; Andreasen Murphy, Bullard, Davies, Kamara; Nevland (McBride 64). Subs (not used): Keller, Volz, Bocanegra.
BOOKED: Kamara, Nevland.
REFEREE: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire).