Archive for December, 2009

Fulham 3-0 Manchester United

December 20, 2009

In March of this year, Fulham put in an excellent display against a 10-man Utd to earn a hard-fought victory that helped propel us into 7th in the league. Who would have thought a famous victory could be replicated a mere 9 months later? Before the match pundits were predicting a Man Utd win or at the most a draw, usually backing up their comments with lazy nods towards the results of previous seasons. For me, United were in line for a beating like this. How they escaped with a win against Wolfsburg astounded me but they have been fairly average this season and with the injury list at such a length things were going to get worse before they started to get better.

However, Fulham played out of their skins and completely dominated Utd all over the pitch. Even with their defensive frailties, Utd still had a very potent attack but this was neutralised by an excellent Baird and the usual suspects in the back 5.  Utd were limited to speculative long-range efforts, embarrassing considering the riches they have going forward.  Fulham were unstoppable going forward with Zoltan Gera playing ‘in the hole’ behind the rejuvenated Bobby Zamora, and Duff and Dempsey making dangerous runs forward.

The first goal came just after Kuszczak pulled off an outstanding save to deny Gera after Zamora nonchalantly chested the ball to Gera who looked to apply the finish with an accurate side foot. I have to admit, with Kuszczak apparently on form I was fearing another Vito Mannone performance against us. Luckily this wasn’t to be. Murphy robbed a poor Paul Scholes in midfield, took a few strides, set himself and then blasted home from 2o yards out. As Rich over at CCN has pointed out, this was due to a clever piece of deception by Murphy. This sent Fulham fans into a state o Euphoria and the match ebbed and flowed until half time with Fulham very much in the ascendency.

As the second half kicked off I was wondering whether our lack of ruthlessness in not putting away Utd in the first half would come back bite us a la Burnley.  My fears were allayed as duff swung an excellent right footed (!!) cross deep for Dempsey to head back across goal and Zamora to apply the finish. Utd were left in shambles and the win was sealed. Alex Ferguson changed things around, bringing on Wellbeck and Berbatov. This made for a brief Utd resurgence before Damien Duff killed the match. A free kick from the half way line was swung into the box, Zamora again chested it down expertly for Duff to power home on the volley.  Three quality goals to top off an excellent performance.

Overall an excellent team performance. Stand-out players were Zamora (again), Duff, Dempsey (who defended as well as he attacked), Murphy and Gera. I think we have finally found the position Gera revels in and I whilst I do not believe he should oust a fit Andy Johnson from the team, I think we may have found a new formation to make us more potent on the road. What really stands out for me from this game is that Utd did not score. I thought that Owen was awful and should not be going to South Africa and Rooney cut a frustrated figure, running all over the pitch and collecting the ball from left back and central defence. Credit to Hodgson’s defensive solidity that was derided by some as too negative for much of last year.

Fulham now go into next weeks clash full of confidence and with a full week of rest and uninterrupted training behind them. Tottenham did not play particularly well against Blackburn this weekend so Fulham should be confident of getting a result. The match will be tough but Fulham are at home and players are returning from injury, so there is every reason to be optimistic.

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Fulham through to the last 32!!

December 16, 2009

Well, who’d have thought it? After the poor second half display against CSKA Sofia at the cottage and Basel seemingly unbeatable at home Fulham have pulled of an excellent win to get into the knockout stages. Of course I was stuck on a train as the game was being played (damn 6pm kickoffs), hoping that we could pull of a victory, but the rational part of my brain was preparing myself for bad news. I am going to have to see about going away to Europe now against our next opponents (Juventus please!) and the knockout factor will give it that extra bit of oomph.

Since I was unable to see the game, I will have to make do theorising about Fulham in Europe ( For extensive coverage of the game head over to CCN and HammyEnd).  Roy Hodgson makes me laugh. His pre-game comments about not playing the strongest team were jumped upon by many journo’s but we all knew him better than that. With the injuries we have had and the suspensions incurred we were always going to put out a mixed bag of a team, not that anyone outside the Fulham fans were ready to do a bit of research or acknowledge these facts. Roy has stuck with several “second team” players in the Europa league including Zoltan Gera and Bjorne Helge Riise and they have flourished. I really think we are almost designed to play in a style befitting European competition and the experience of Roy helps us no end. What disappoints me is the fact that the media have not picked up on the fact that despite the many setbacks we have had this season in Europe (and in the league, to be fair) through injuries and poor refereeing decisions, we have made a good show for ourselves in Europe. We have had a ‘never say die’ attitude that has really pleased me and reminds me of why I love Fulham so much.

I have always liked the UEFA Cup/Europa League as a competition, enjoying th progress of English teams and of Inter, my Italian team. It is nice to catch a glimpse of some of the ‘lesser’ clubs in European football and the unpredictability of the competition adds another dimension that I feel the Champions League is missing. People label the Europa League a ‘Mickey Mouse’ competition and I think that not only is this unfair, but goes to show how ignorant people can be about football. I am excited about the next round and it will probably be the highlight of Fulham’s season, regardless of who we draw.

Now for a prediction. I think Fulham have an outside chance of doing something in this competition. Whilst expecting to get to the final is a bit much, I can see a victory over a big side or reaching an advanced stage of the competition. Feel free to come and laugh when Fulham get knocked out by Salzburg after an inept performance, but if we can come through a tough group (one which we arguably should have won) then anything is possible. For now, lets hope for a good draw in the next round and an easing of the injuries we have suffered so far. Bring on Manchester United this weekend!

Question Time

December 11, 2009

Question Time this week was excellent. Often prone to political grandstanding and bickering in equal measure, QT is a great format for getting the difficult questions asked. This weeks panel featured former head of the British Army General Sir Richard Dannatt, the Minister of State for the Armed Forces Bill Rammall MP, the shadow foreign secretary William Hague MP, the former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown, the former newspaper editor Piers Morgan and the Respect Party’s Salma Yaqoob. The debate focused on Afghanistan with views from across the political spectrum.

Of the panelists there both Paddy Ashdown and Salma Yaqoob came across very well despite representing diametrically oposing viewpoints.  The discussion about Afghanistan focused on why we are there and how this has changed over the last 8 years. Afghanistan is an incredibly complex issue and the public have been kept in the dark regarding strategy and what exactly is happening on the ground. Paddy Ashdown was arguing that the reason that any progress had stagnated was because of a lack of a coherent plan by the NATO forces based there. It is amazing that there has been no overall structure to the invasion in Afghanistan and subsequent occupation. Yes, the goal posts have moved but the lack of planning is both worrying and distressing. I am a great believer in stepping back and taking an overall view of a situation before taking action  but until now this has simply not happened. When Obama attempted to do this over the last few months he was called weak and unsure, whilst he was in actual fact assessing all of the options to come out with the best one for the US, NATO and Aghanistan itself. In the past everyone had a separate agenda and now we have been there 8 years with a countless number of deaths, both civilian and military, without achieving a stable country.

On QT, the government were described putting ‘amatuers’ in crucial positions, and whilst this may seem harsh, from where I am standing it is simply true. The foreign policy of this government and the previous US administration has been an unmitigated disaster and we need answers and people to hold accountable. The Iraq inquiry that is going on at the moment is a complete joke. Firstly it has no legal basis to take any action about its findings and secondly most of what they discovered I could have told you from the research that I did for my university dissertation. There needs to be more accountability, and until this occurs leaders will not have a second thought about committing troops to new wars and going off on ego trips with foreign leaders (here’s to you Mr.Blair).

The Misunderstanding of Jonathan Greening

December 9, 2009

Taking a moment to sidestep the Zamora debate, lets look at Jonathan Greening. Well not just him, but Fulham’s signings under Hodgson.

It is a Football fans duty to be impulsive, this is what creates atmosphere at grounds, makes people lose it when their team scores and makes football (and sport in general) so goddam interesting. However, acting on impulse is not something that should be done when it comes to transfers. In the words of Lloyd Grossman, ‘Lets look at the evidence’:

Jonathan Greening— He has come in for some stick lately from the Fulham faithful. For me this is a case of misunderstanding. I don’t think many Fulham fans would claim to have extensively followed the career of Greening. As Rich has shown over at CCN his role in the team passing wise,  is not that of  a Danny Murphy player, but like his role at West Brom, a recycler of the ball. However when he was pursued and then purchased by Roy, many (myself included) thought he was to be a cover for DM. He is cover, but not like for like cover. Despite Fulham having an excellent run of form with him in the team he is being dismissed as a waste of money. For me this is impulsive. He is settling into a team in the place of the captain- of course he is not going to have the same impact. What he has done is be solid and passed well (ie. not giving away the ball). The other reason he is misunderstood is because of the formation that Fulham play. Whilst watching the Sunderland game at the weekend the commentator kept banging on about how Duff and Dempsey cutting inside was confusing the Sunderland defence. This got me thinking. I think that at the moment, with Fulham’s major creator and influential captain out of the picture Roy is playing a fluid 4-4-2 formation that almost ends up 4-2-2-2. Duff and Dempsey are taking the creative strain both out wide and in the middle, changing Greening’s role and almost forcing him to sit deeper. This coupled with Roy’s instructions to maintain shape in the middle and not go running off like a Jimmy Bullard limits what Greening can do. Impulsively, on first glance, he looks sluggish and nervous. I believe he is fulfilling his role almost to perfection. He could add a few more forward passes down the middle into his repertoire but he is doing fine.

Dickson Etuhu— Again, many Fulham fans impulsively labelled him ‘rubbish’ early doors.  Rumours of his nickname at Sunderland ‘Two touch Etuhu’ spread and he came in for a lot of criticism. But after a bedding in period and some of Roy’s tried and trusted training, he became first choice to partner Murphy. His goal at Man City appeared to win over the rest of his critics and now people miss his presence in the midfield.

Chris Baird–Possibly the best example of impulsive criticism. When he arrived he had just been voted player of the year at Southampton. Within a few weeks he was being derided as Fulham’s worst ever signing. Impulsively we took one look at him, playing at right back, and thought we understood what he was all about. When Roy did not ship him out with the other dead wood, we should have cottoned on. Fast forward to this year and he has become central to recent success. His performances in the Europa league alongside Smalling have been excellent. His deputising in the centre of midfield crucial. Yes he cannot play right back, but a little more digging shows that he is a good utility player who is a perfect fit for Fulham; he will sit on the bench and not complain, but has the confidence to come in and stake a claim for a permanent place in the team.

Bobby Zamora— I didn’t want to mention him but oh well. Similar pattern to above, but he is still divisive. Impulsively we saw a striker who could not finish the most simple of chances. But with time we came to recognise his overall contribution to the team, why Roy stuck with him and his consistently high work rate. Personally, I love the guy. I have even started to warm to his mistakes and inability to be a consistent finisher. If his form keeps up I will happily jump on the ‘Bobby for England’ bandwagon.

Basically all I have said is that Football fans are by their nature impulsive and therefore are too quick to judge something that is a bit more nuanced than first believed. I have been liable to be impulsive as the next fan, especially in the case of Baird, but I am trying to take a more holistic and relaxed approach to my support of Fulham. As the transfer window pulls into view we should bear this impulsiveness in mind as new signings come and bed in to Fulham FC, especially if they are slow starters.

Great Moments in Advertising: The Most Interesting Man In The World

December 6, 2009

Unfortunately you cannot get hold of Dos Equis in the UK particuluarly easily as it is a tasty lager. But you can get hold of the adverts which are fantastic. I personally enjoy good advertising ( I know most people hate adverts) even if they represent an affront to established culture. Dos Equis had a fantastic advertising campaign this year:

and

Both great adverts. The whole series is very amusing with him offering his thoughts on Life, Careers and even Rollerblading.

Sunday Update 2: Fulham 1-0 Sunderland

December 6, 2009

Another home match, another 1-0. It wasn’t only the scoreline that was oddly similar but the performance as well. Fulham started brightly, passing the ball with ease around a struggling Sunderland side who were forced to field Kieran Richardson as a makeshift left back. I had commented before the game on TIFF when I found out that Richardson was playing left back that Zamora may come wide and assert his dominance over him. This certainly happened, but Zamora also dominated the entire Sunderland back four in a majestic performance. But is was a Richardson failing that was to aid with the Fulham goal. Not pressurising Duff, meant that he could lay the ball back to Paintsil who delivered an inch perfect cross for Zamora, ghosting in between the Sunderland central pairing, to head home. A well worked pleasing goal which reminded me of the one Man City scored here last season, a Zabaleyta cross met by a Benjani header.

As the first half wore on, more chances came and went. Zamora hit the bar with a good effort and Fulop beaten,  and Nevland should have done better when the ball dropped for him the six yard box, but he hit it tamely at Fulop in the Sunderland goal. The rest of Fulham’s chances were limited to speculative long range efforts from Dempsey and Duff, both of whom could not hit the target.

At half time, one wondered how Fulham were only 1 up. As the second half got under way, Fulham reverted to Hoof ball and ceceeded the midfield to Sunderland in a fashion similar to that on wednesday night.  A poor Konchesky back pass nearly resulted in a goal for Kenywe Jones but Schwarzer stifled his toe poke. This rejuvinated Sunderland and as the pressure mounted, Fulham got off scott-free as Bent (who I think is a top player) contrived to miss two excellent chances. The second of the aforementioned chances should really have been put away as the ball dropped to his feet in the penalty area only for him to blaze over. But Fulham held firm. Sunderland bombarded the box with cross after cross for Hangeland to imperiously head clear. The second half performance was not quite as poor as on Wednesday and Fulham won, even if it was squeaky bum time as the game wore on.

The stats told an interesting tale. Fulham had 13 shots to Sunderlands 7, but only got 2 on target to Sunderland’s 4. All of the long range shots that come to nothing are reflected here. Dempsey again proving he should perhaps stick to running at defences, playing others in and finishing from inside the area. All in all, I feel that Fulam deserved the win with Bobby Zamora the standout MoM. Calls for him to be included in the England squad may be far fetched at this point in time, but if this form keeps up till the end of the season and he bags upwards of 10 goals, he should be in consideration. Especially if Heskey is not playing regularly. With the tough games coming up over Christmas, Fulham better sort out their inability to play solidly for 90 minutes, otherwise our points tally and goal difference will suffer.

Sunday update 1: Fulham 1-0 CSKA Sofia

December 6, 2009

I enjoy going to watch Fulham with friends who do not support them as it gives me the chance to get a different take on the team without loyalty getting in the way. This is one of the many things that is great about the Europa league (my non-fulham supporting friends actually want to come). I also enjoy the fact that whilst it would be good to progress through the group stages, it is not as ‘do or die’ as the premier league.

I begin with this sentiment because one of my friends who came offered an excellent insight during the match. On one of the counter attacks Fulham had, Bobby Zamora, instead of simply laying it across goal for an onrushing Gera,  lost possession and Fulham were denied a goal scoring opportunity. This lead to several negative comments from the fans seated around me, including ‘Zamora has has a stinker’. At this my friend and I looked at each other in bemusement and he said ‘ I guess it depends whether or not you understand the game as to how you think Zamora played tonight’. Whilst it might have been a slightly harsh comment it really struck me as true. In the first half Zamora had played an absolute blinder, with excellent touches and flick ons, and generally harassing the CSKA defence.  The second was not so good, but I put this down to a combination of tiredness and poor service and suport from the midfield.Zamora has been the most divisive Fulham player over the last 18 months, but this season he is flourishing. He may not be able to finish on a consistent basis but he is a damn good player.

As for the match itself, the trend of Fulham only putting in 45 mins of good play worryingly continued.  After Murphy missing a penalty ( I know, when does that happen?) Fulham pressed hard against a very poor CSKA side.  When Riise picked up a loose ball on the edge of the area, burst wide and lashed in an excellent cross, Gera popped up amongst a crowd of defenders to head home. A well worked goal and smooth finish. Things were looking up.  For the remainder of the half Fulham attacked relentlessly with Davies and Gera going close, both perhaps should have done better.

Then the second half. CSKA came out and looked a much better side. Fulham could not get the ball. When Michel Platini was brought on to many a laugh I had flashbacks to his goal in sofia. Suddenly Fulham looked hurried in possession and nervous. CSKA were looking the more dangerous side, but lacked a cutting edge. Several chances came and went and it looked as though Fulham would survive. Nerves could have been settled had Fulham put away one of the many counter attacking chances that presented themselves in the second half but it wasn’t to be. But in the end, defensive solidity shone through and Fulham survived to hold on to a crucial 1-0 victory.

I thought that Smalling looked assured in the first half but not so good after the break. This must be partly down to him switching sides to the left and struggling as he has a weak left foot.  Next time we see him I think it will be against Swindon and I am sure he will put in a good performance. After Bobby Z, the best player on the pitch for me was Riise. He was everywhere and looked very assured. An astute pickup for the europa league by Roy.

All in all a ground out win, but a win none the less. Basel will be very interesting!