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!

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