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!

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