Archive for January, 2010

Fulham 0-2 Aston Villa: The Losing Streak Continues.

January 31, 2010

Another game, another loss. 2010 is starting poorly for Fulham. I have not dusted off the keyboard in a while and expressed my thoughts due to a combination of work and very little to positively talk about with regards to Fulham.

Whilst Fulham had lost their last four games, we were all able to hide behind the ‘poor away from home’ excuse. Not so anymore. Villa did not do much, but walked away with an easy win. Gabriel Agbonlahor is a very good player, and a promising young English star. Two goals from him, one a bullet header, the other sweetly turning Hangleland before curling the ball into the far corner, silenced the Fulham crowd and left Roy Hodgson wondering how we had become so porous in defence. Fulham put in a weak performance, obviously missing two bombarding full backs and Clint Dempsey, the tireless and attack minded midfielder out for several months courtesy of a forceful Blackburn challenge.

The difference in the fullback position had been the one that has interested me the most. So often we have heard the mantra that if you stop Danny Murphy, you stop Fulham. Yet against Villa, Murphy had lots of space in both halves, and whilst he created a few chances, we still looked impotent up front. The lack of confident full backs has been crucial. Fulham are a team that play a very narrow game, especially away from home. They force the ball into wide positions which are theoretically less dangerous; and this usually works with the towering Hangeland heading away any aerial threats, and Hughes sweeping up any leftovers. But for all the defensive solidity playing narrow affords Fulham, it poses challenges in attack. The usual remedy is to use the overlapping fullbacks as an ‘out ball’ or to pull the opposing fullbacks out wide allowing Duff and Dempsey to cut inside into space. Without the fullbacks we have little width and teams find us easy to defend against, with the opposing midfield simply dropping deep to stifle our creativity.

So should we be worried? Not really. Fulham have been struggling with injuries and this will get better. Upcoming games are also all very winnable (not that it guarantees anything) with lots of home games. Fulham only need 13 points to reach safety, or in other words four and a bit wins, which with so much of the season remaining is extremely possible. Finally, the teams below us are not very good. Hull, Pompey and Burnley look the most likely to go down, and will probably all sabotage their own seasons with a combination of poor defending and turgid displays.

Wednesday will be interesting. Pompey are struggling on and off the field and have lost their best player. Fulham are looking to end their losing streak. The bookies will favour Fulham, but I am worried about Avram Grant. There is no doubt that he is a good manager, lets just hope Roy can outclass him in a tactical battle.  On Saturday we will face a resurgent (sort of) Bolton under the guidance of Owen Coyle. This will be a tough test, and whilst I dont think Fulham have much of a chance, you never know.

Ultimately, injuries have forced our season off track in terms of the league. I for one hope that we go all out in the cup competitions as our premier league status is fairly secure and finishing 16-10 is certainly not the end of the world when you consider where we were a mere two years ago.

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Some Quick Transfer Thoughts

January 7, 2010

I love the January transfer window.  I know it makes little sense and can be dangerous for a team like Fulham, but I love the crazy speculation and overflowing BBC gossip column that awaits me each day.

Fulham have been linked with many names already this window, but the one that keeps popping up is Stefano Okaka. He is of course the promising young striker playing for Roma who is looking to move due to the recent arrival of one Luca Toni. We have already been able to catch a glimpse of him in the Europa league, and whilst he didn’t overly impress me at the cottage, he did score Roma’s second goal at the Stadio Olimpico in our highly controversial match in Rome.

I think Okaka would be a good addition on loan, especially if we have an inbuilt extension clause in the deal. He is definitely raw, but not only would he offer some competition to the excellent Bobby Zamora, he may also flourish under Roy’s tutelage. This seems very low risk and financially viable. Okaka would join compatriot Marcelo Trotta who joined us this summer so he might be able to adjust to life here more easily. My one reservation is that coming into the premier league, especially at his age, he would either struggle or not make a huge immediate impact and could receive criticism from the fans. I am certainly not expecting him to be some magical wonderkid, I just hope people temper their expectations. Extra points go to this potential transfer because Okaka is a bit of a football manager legend of previous years.

Other stories include the recent on featuring Jamie O’hara on the radar again. The stumbling block here would be the fact we seem to have tons of midfield options and a possible 3 club rule restriction. I personally would rather see us get some cover at the back as injuries have limited our options and whilst I think Kelly will settle in and start playing confidently sooner rather than later, I would like some cover/competition for Konchesky who is carrying an injury.

One final word, not so much to do with transfers: Brede Hangeland and his knee injury. I may be being overly pessimistic but I feel there is a hidden story in this. His knee appears to have flared up/got infected and there were mutterings that he has been plying through the pain for a while now. I don’t want to be alarmist, but so often with taller players these kind of injuries can become a problem. Having recently signed a new contract lets hope that he doesn’t become a player who spends more time on the physio’s table than on the pitch. I mention this because I follow the Boston Celtics and Kevin Garnett (an outsanding player) has been struggling with knee issues of his own. I know he is both older and plays a sport that is more demanding on the knees, but his recent struggles got us thinking about our very own big man Brede who does a lot of jumping himself.

Stoke 3-2 Fulham

January 5, 2010

Unfortunately for Fulham the two goals clawed back against Stoke very much flattered an inept Fulham performance.  Many Fulham fans, myself included, fancied this match as some rare points on the road. At the weekend I saw this game as ‘make or break’ in terms of our season, but on the way home after work I realised that was a stupid snap judgement to make. Even if we lost the game (which of course we eventually did)  we wouldn’t have changed position so no danger of slipping down the table. Of course full credit to Stoke for taking advantage, they played well and wanted it much, much more. I like Pulis and his honest approach to the game so good luck to them for the rest of the season.

Now, the fun part, recounting the game. 3-0 down in the first half hour, all from terrible defensive mistakes and organisation. The first goal was simple. Corner swung in, Huth with the flick, finished by an unmarked (!!!) Tuncay on the line. Things only got worse as a foolish and hot headed Konchesky challenge resulted in a free kick in a dangerous are (where have we heard that before). Again, free kick swung in, no one there, Faye taps in at the back post.  Final goal, Etherington the creator, flicked on by Higgenbottom (who appeared to be offside bu wasn’t) and volley in off the ground by Sidibe. Game over. What was the most shocking was how dire the defending in the lead-up to the goals was. 2 years of Roy Hodgson have made us feel safe and almost impenetrable at the back, but tonight we got a nasty reminder that we are not Chelsea/United/Birmingham. We are fallible.

So where did it all go wrong? Firstly, Hangeland was obvious seriously unfit as he was consistently out of position and missing headers that are usually his bread and butter. It would be easy to blame the coaching staff for letting him play, but to be honest, before the match I was hoping he would start. I just did not know how injured he was. Secondly, we just played badly and Stoke played well. They were first to every challenge and pressed us off the ball in a similar fashion to Wolves a few months ago. Particularly poor performers include: Baird, Konchesky, Murphy, Kelly and Hangeland.  Thirdly, we did what we always seem to do when pressed or against more physical teams; hit the ball long. This for me was the worst part of the performance tonight. We were never going to win an aerial battle with Stoke yet time and time again it was back to the fullbacks and hoofed up field for Zamora who was chewed and spat out by the Stoke defence. I can see why we hoofed it under pressure but why did we not even attempt to pass round them? Our movement was poor and  there were hardly any through balls on the ground for AJ to chase. The key to beating the Stoke defence is pace, and rather than using BZ as a target man he should have been running the channels with AJ as he arguably has more pace.

The other option and one I am keen  on is to play 4-4-2 at home but revert to 4-4-1-1 away. This means Gera gives extra protection to Murphy and we have more possession to play with. It will be interesting to see what Roy does in future.

Other worrying things about tonight?: BZ injured. Lets hope it is not serious or it is a serious blow to our season. Hangeland struggling- lets hope he returns to full fitness, although Smalling played extremely well when he came on. Our full-backs, I think this was more of a blip than a trend but not easy to watch nonetheless.

Good Omens: Nevland came on and looked sharp. Smalling was excellent when he came on and even won some good headers in attack in the dying embers of the game. Gera played well considering he was back on the wing and everyone around him was poor. Clint came on and was a game changer-what a great goal and good performance from the subs bench. Once we started attacking more we actually looked dangerous away from home and could have snatched an unlikely draw. We play a severely depleted and demoralised pompey next (not that I am going to take anything for granted!)

In a few weeks/months this will be remembered as another away loss as we are poor away from home. Lets put things back on track this weekend!