Archive for February, 2010

Why Bobby Zamora has to be seriously considered for England.

February 22, 2010

I wasn’t going to write a post about this topic but the ignorant comments of one Alan Hansen irritated me, so I felt I should say something.  Hansen’s rather smug ‘Zamora is not an international player’ comment was almost a carbon copy of Geordie buffoon Alan Shearer’s comments a few months ago. Both dismissed Zamora without saying why and both had a very smug attitude about it. In my book, whenever Shearer says anything about football, I tend to believe the exact opposite, such is his insight into the game. There can be no doubting that he was an excellent player but he is as intelligent as Sarah Palin.

Rant over, here are a few reasons why Zamora should be considered for the England squad:

1) He offers something different. Roy has alluded to this many times, and it is hard to argue with him. Can anyone name another English forward with the same skill set as Bobby Zamora? He is faster than Heskey, holds the ball up better than crouch and is more of a handful for defenders physically than Defoe. When I sat in the riverside whilst watching Fulham outplay CSKA Sofia, Zamora had several absolute world-class touches and flick-ons that some of the best strikers in the world would be proud of. Even my non-Fulham supporting friend who is super critical of players was mightily impressed.  I would be intrigued to see Zamora line up alongside Rooney, they would be one of the most bizarre/interesting front lines in the world, and I am sure really confuse and challenge defenders in different ways. England have not made a significant mark in International football for over 40 years, why not at least try something different?

2) He is on fire. For some reason people look at Rooney and say that his form is excellent therefore he will singlehandedly win the world cup for England. But when you mention the form of Bobby Zamora people say that it will dip and it has only been ‘alright’. Hmm, whilst it is very possible that his form will dip towards the end of the season, I think the fact he is in such excellent form at the moment has to put him in contention. Play him against Egypt. I can only see his confidence increasing yet further.  He is certainly in better form than Crouch, Heskey and Carlton Cole, the latter being in contention despite missing most of the season through injury.

3) He is a team player who brings others into play. What is the most important thing that Fabio Capello has done with England? He has made them start playing as a team. This is why Heskey has been so successful. Imagine an England team where Zamora can play in the likes of Gerrard, Lampard and Rooney like he does with Dempsey, Gera and Duff at Fulham. Again an intriguing scenario. England have a lot of attacking talent going forward but it can be under utilised exactly because there are so many attacking players. Bobby’s hold up play brings these players in and removes another attacker who wants to do it all themselves.

4) He works hard. Last season whilst he was struggling to get goals and being derided as a donkey he still put in a shift ever match. I have not witnessed one Zamora appearance for Fulham where he has not tried, even when fans have been on his back and he could have simply removed effort from his game. Pair him alongside Rooney and you would have the two hardest working forwards in world football.

One final word about Zamora. I think he has found the same situation with  Roy Hodgson that Hodgson himself has found at Fulham. They are perfect for each other. Roy has kept faith in Zamora like few other managers would. He has always championed what he has brought to the team when the goals were not flowing and I am sure Zamora is grateful for this. If anyone is worried about him leaving in the summer, I just cannot see it happening unless a really big side comes in for him, which won’t happen.

Fulham 2-1 Birmingham

February 21, 2010

I enjoyed this match from the screen of my mobile via a series of updates, so I will keep this short.  I have to admit that seeing Fulham 0-1 down after 3 minutes made me give up on this game. In my head I saw a carbon copy of the game at St.Andrews with Birmingham shutting up shop, but it appears this did not happen.

Fulham were poor first half, looking jaded from midweek exertions and rightly so. Birmingham could have put the game away bar some solid defending and some excellent keeping. I have to say I agree totally with Alex McLeish:

We lost because of two pieces of inspiration from Fulham, the finishes were brilliant. That is the difference in quality that we have to aspire to.

Bang on. Duff’s goal was a real piledriver, but one with pinpoint precision. Zamora’s was an excellent curling free kick which had all the hallmarks of a man on form.

One final word for Alex McLeish. What a true gentleman post match, a hard loss for him to take but took it with grace and continued with his praise of Fulham from previous weeks. I would love to see him at Fulham in the future and if Birmingham spend, underachieve and get restless with McLeish, you never know. Speculation alert: A replacement for Roy in a few years time??

That Bobby Zamora Goal Again

February 19, 2010

Watching the highlights almost gets better every time.

I just keep thinking back to that Alan Patridge classic:

Shit! Did you see that? He must have a foot like a traction engine!

Always enjoyable.

Fulham 2-1 Shakhtar Donetsk

February 19, 2010

What. A. Game. This is what the Europa League is all about and why it is ridiculous that so many people dismiss it as a ‘mickey mouse’ competition.

I had previously struggled to concentrate at work in the hours building up to the game, viewing TIFF and getting excited. The pre-match pints calmed me to a certain extent but I was sure the game was going to be a cracker and I was not disappointed. Fulham got off to an excellent start throwing men forward and could have taken the lead seconds into the game when Brede Hangeland peeled away at the back post and hit a bullet header at goal, only for the Shakhtar keeper to pull off a fantastic fingertip save. This early incisive action lifted the Fulham crowd and within minutes the pressure had paid off. Danny Murphy fed the ball to the feet of Bobby Zamora who in turn flicked to ball into the path of a rampaging Zoltan Gera to slide beneath the keeper from the left hand side of the box. Yes, the keeper should have done better, but it was a nice move finished off decisively, and you could not begrudge Fulham the lead.

Then the match started to change. Shakhtar found their feet and soon their midfield were zipping the ball about and Fulham were left chasing shadows.  The Brazilian midfielders were technically excellent and they teased Fulham by passing the ball around the edge of the area, looking for an opening. When Fulham did get the ball, the lack of width from the fullbacks was crippling (even though Stephen Kelly put in one hell of a defensive performance) and Fulham reverted to knocking it long. This would have been fine but Zamora is not the best in the air and he struggled to assert his dominance. Fulham were looking shaky with long periods spent chasing Shakhtar. Eventually the equaliser came. Funnily enough not from lots of patient buildup play but courtesy of a turnover in the midfield and some quick thinking by Ilsinho who slotted an inch perfect pass into the path of Luis Adriano, the prolific striker rounded a floundering Mark Schwarzer and passed the ball into the empty net – deadly and decisive. I dont like to lay blame at players doors for goals but I did wonder why Schwarzer raced off his line as Adriano was being forced wide by a combo of the speed of the ball and the covering Aaron Hughes.

The goal quieted the crowd and soon it looked like Fulham just needed to get to half time. I will admit to fearing the worst as the half time whistle blew and prayed for a ‘Roy Hodgson special’ teamtalk which would motivate the players and get things going in the second half. And I wasn’t disappointed. Fulham came out with much more purpose and actually played the ball along the floor. The crowd started singing and suddenly it was an even contest once again. Fulham were probing and it was the outstanding Zamora who would create a piece of magic to lift everyone inside Craven Cottage. Hangeland slid through an excellent pass to the feet of Gera, who repaid Bobby’s assist from the first half with a marvellous backheel into the path of Zamora, this season brimming with confidence, who powered a stunning Tony-Yeboahesq screamer off the underside of the bar and into the net. This lifted to roof off of the Cottage and a rather bemused appearing Zamora looked as though he didn’t really know what to do with himself.

Two more Fulham chances shortly followed, firstly Gera testing the keeper with a decent header and then Bobby Zamora flicking the ball wide having lost his man at the far post. The game then swung back Shakhtars way in the final 10 minutes. Fulham seemed content to sit back and prevent being hit on the break, a la the Roma game, and Shakhtar took advantage again spraying excellent passes both short and long about the pitch. Mark Schwarzer came to Fulham’s rescue at the death as he produced a fine save, palming to ball wide of the post to deny Costa. Cue me jumping out of my seat and screaming like a wildman a good second before everyone else, much to the amusement of my friends.

Lots of talk after the game was of how good Shakhtar were and what a tough match the second leg will be. However, and perhaps this is my continued sense of elation from the result, I am quietly confident that we can get a result in Ukraine. A few reasons:

1) Whilst they were excellent passers of the ball, they went sideways a lot of the time and for me, did not have too many good chances or even many shots on target. Whilst at home they will no doubt be good,  we have a very good defence that will have more than a chance of strangling their creativity.

2) The Full Back Situation- If we can get Konch back for the trip next week then I think it will transform Fulham. Not that Kelly played badly, just that because he was on the wrong side he struggled to get  forward. I would even consider putting him on the right for the return leg ahead of Baird.

3) We are not a physical team, yet we won the physical battle in the midfield by a mile. By the end of the game they didn’t want to put the ball into the box in the air and this limited what they could do. In Donetsk, we can hustle and unsettle them and attempt to hit them on the break.

Whatever the result next Thursday, Fulham v Shakhtar Donetsk will definitely go down as a great game in the history of Fulham F.C.

Fulham 3-0 Burnley

February 10, 2010

It was before christmas the last time I could legitimately enjoy a Fulham performance. That game was Fulham’s 3-0 battering of Manchester United, which was followed by a good draw with Spurs then a terrible run of away form. The Portsmouth match last week was more nerve-racking than enjoyable and the game at Bolton on Saturday pretty dire, only the result softening the blow of another fairly poor performance. Not that I am complaining, Fulham have been crippled both by injuries and an extensive fixture list which pitted them against their most disliked adversaries in the form of both midweek games on cold nights and northern teams who are not afraid to put the boot in.

Alas, last night Fulham stumbled upon a northern team who tried to play football. I have a lot of admiration for Burnley, they play football in an aesthetically pleasing fashion and are attempting to stay in a league well known for fiscal excess with a plan of prudence and measured spending on a shoe-string budget. Maybe it was because Fulham won, but I found myself liking Burnley and their fervent away support, the voices not subdued by a poor away performance. The television cameras kept cutting to jubilant Burnley fans trying to stay warm by dancing around with smiles on faces. They join the list of teams that I never thought I’d like, alongside Hull and Stoke (the latter because I like the fact they have shown no fear of the premier league and have a manager who seems honest into the bargain).

As for the football, Fulham were excellent last night. Something seemed to click; was it the return of some steel in our midfield in the form of Etuhu? Was it the return of the excellent Bobby Zamora? Whatever it was, it is certainly welcome. The game had a fairly quiet start, with both sides determined to play nice passing football. Burnley looked lively when in full flow but ultimately not particularly threatening. Fulham upped a gear and the first goal came. After a good spell of passing, Nicky Shorey fired an excellent diagonal ball onto the head of David Elm, who cushioned the ball into the path of Murphy in the Burnley area. Murphy held off a challenge form a Burnley defender and calmly slotted home. Murphy’s composure in front of goal is a part of his game that I feel has been underrated by Fulham fans (incl. myself) because he doesnt make as many forward runs as he used to, but as with his penalties he seems to have ice running through his veins.

Unfortunately for Burnley fans, the goal was an unfair one. Elm had strayed a good half yard offside before setting up the goal. Fulham’s luck was in and this featured again in the second goal. With Burnley’s Cort struggling with what appeared to be a hip injury, Bobby Zamora capitalised by cutting inside when one-on-one with the defender and firing low and hard at the bottom corner. Jensen did well to parry but Elm pounced on the rebound to record his first goal for Fulham. 2-0, game over. Zamora did appear to be offside in the buildup but the linesman missed the call yet again. Lets hope Fulham have not used up all the luck in one game.

Half time came and went and it wasn’t long before Fulham were 3 up. Zamora was fouled on the edge of the area and took the free kick, passing the ball into the bottom left hand corner of the goal leaving Jensen stretching. A malaise seemed to come over all the players at this point, Fulham realising the game was won and Burnley that it was lost. Fulham began to save energy for the weekend encounter with Notts County and it wasn’t long before Roy rung the changes with Okaka, Greening and Riise replacing Zamora, Simon Davies and Duff. Fulham looked dangerous on the break with Okaka’s pace and Riise recognised this fact, threading a good ball through for Okaka to run on to. Unfortunately Okaka’s shot was a rather tame effort with his right foot when he could have used his left, leading me to assume that maybe he is not so confident on his left side.

As the final whistle blew it was refreshing to know that the three points had been earned off the back of an excellent team performance. I fear for Burnley in the premier league as we were able to control the game all to easily, and as one Burnley fan put it on an internet forum “look like Brazil”.  From here Fulham have an interesting FA Cup encounter with Notts County at the weekend, and I fully expect to see the regulars rested. I have a feeling that Roy may start with Elm and Okaka up top with Riise on the wing which should be both entertaining and enlightening. Whatever happens, at least it now appears that Fulham have confirmed their place in the premier league for at least on more season, and I hope Burnley can do the same.

Bolton 0-0 Fulham: Fortunate, Fortunate Fulham

February 7, 2010

This match will certainly not feature in the pantheon of footballing history but it was a good result nonetheless.  Bobby Zamora joined the ranks of the injured with a 48hr flu virus meaning the Fulham frontline looked especially weak.  Whilst David Elm put in a good performance up top, showing off his excellent first touch, Erik Nevland easily had his worst game in a Fulham shirt.  I don’t usually question the wisdom of Roy Hodgson, but if I had the choice between a 32 yr old 5’9″ poacher or a 6’1″ powerhouse to play against Bolton I would certainly choose the latter. I would hope that this signals the end of Nevland as a starter, but I doubt it.

The game itself was scrappy. Bolton were certainly not scintillating but Fulham had decided that a point was enough, and they did not want to go for any more. Jonathan Greening nipped at the heels of any Bolton player who got near him, producing a large number of niggly fouls that went largely unpunished, creating an disjointed performance from the hosts. Bolton seemed happy to hoof it long to Davies (who had an excellent match) and go from there.  Schwarzer was the Fulham saviour, pulling off several excellent saves and generally controlling the box. When a Kevin Davies flick led to Mark Davies firing hard and low from around the penalty spot I was sure that it was all over for Fulham, only for Schwazer to get down and block with his legs and send the ball spinning up and off the bar to safety. His second super-human save was arguably better. As Chung-Yong Lee burst into the Fulham penalty area, Schwarzer stuck out an arm and diverted the ball away from goal and Lee to be cleared by Baird.

Fulham brought on Chris Smalling and Okaka up front for Elm and the ineffective Nevaland. I spent the remainder of the match daydreaming about a possible Smalling goal ( I think he has one in him before he leaves Fulham) and enjoyed Okakas energy and willingness to run at the opponents defence, one of which resulted in a free kick in a dangerous position (a la Dio Kamara against Villa in the great escape season). In truth Bolton should have won, first when Elmander was one on one with Schwarzer but contrived to screw it wide, and then more legitimately when Davies put the ball in the back of the net, only to have it ruled out for a push only Mark Clattenburg could see.

I get the feeling this was a big point for a squad that is being stretched to its limit, a bit of luck came Fulham’s way and is greatly received. If Fulham can continue their fine home form against Burnley on Tuesday night this will have been a great few weeks and should allow us the luxury of focusing on the various cup competitions we are still competing in.

Relief: Fulham 1-0 Portsmouth

February 4, 2010

Going into this game, Fulham had one of the worst form records in the league having lost the last five games. Roy Hodgson’s threadbare squad was being pushed to the limit and even with a few deadline day additions there was a great deal of nervousness from the fans prior to kickoff. Were Fulham going to be dragged into a relegation battle? For many, this match was going to be a litmus test.

Fulham passed the test, but certainly not with flying colours. The first 45 minutes were a very nervy affair, with wave after wave of Portsmouth attack being repelled by the now restored duo of Brede Hangeland and Aaron Hughes. Fulham could not get hold of the ball and Portsmouth went close on several occasions, most notably with Piquionne firing at Schwarzer from a tight angle after “beating” the offside trap.  O’Hara and Prince Boateng ( Both of whom I would love to see at the cottage in the summer) peppered the Fulham goal from range and the atmosphere in the ground was tense; it felt like it was going to be a long night.

However, Fulham gradually got themselves back into the match with Okaka missing a glaring opportunity to head Fulham in front from point blank range. Better passing returned and once half time rolled around you fancied Fulham to get something from the match. The second half was really all Fulham.  Kelly was hauled off by Hodgson, having had a pretty awful game, and Kagisho Dikacoi brought on with Baird moving to right back. I feel for Kelly, he was really trying but nothing was coming off. With the added steel of KD in the midfield, Murphy came to the fore and was able to get his passing game back up to nearer his usual high standards. With the time ticking away, Fulham got the goal they needed.  Belhadj dwelled on the ball and Duff was there to challenge, fire a low hard cross across the face of goal which was deflected into the path of Greening who passed it into a practically unguarded net. Fulham got a bit nervy as they tried to maintain their one goal lead, but in the end there was little to worry about and a crucial win was in the bag.

Observations:

Duff– What a match he had. For some reason this was the first time I could really appreciate what he brings to the team. He was everywhere and by far the most dangerous Fulham player on the pitch.  He has been an excellent signing and he looks to be really enjoying his football despite looking like the worlds angriest Irishman whenever the camera focused on his face.

Shorey– Fantastic debut by the left back. Composed both in defence and attack with some solid crossing mixed in, it looks like we have the ideal replacement for Konch. I don’t know what Martin O’Neill did to him at villa but hopefully he will continue to regain his form with us.

Okaka– Soild debut from the youngster. He didn’t know the definition of giving up last night, preferring to charge around the pitch and run with the ball whenever possible. Once he gets acclimatized to the English game fully (there were a few examples of him going to ground a bit easily and looking for the foul) he will be a huge benefit to the team. I like the idea of him and Zamora softening up the oppo defense before Nevland is unleashed in the last 20mins to work some magic.

Baird/Dikacoi– Baird was very good last night. He started in central mid before moving to right back. He is simply a player transformed. I think he will now get a run at right back (his forward runs were hilarious last night as he overlapped Duff; he seemed to be absolutely busting a gut, and his crossing good too). Dikacoi impressed me yet again. I think that his presence really allows Murphy to concentrate on being the playmaker, much like Etuhu. He has really long legs and when he goes into tackles always either disrupts the other player or steals the ball. Against Bolton on saturday his presence could be crucial.

January Transfer Roundup Pt. II: Goodbyes

February 1, 2010

Chris Smalling, well what can we say about that? Comes from Maidstone Utd as a promising youngster 18 months ago, makes a few appearances both in the Prem and Europe and then signs for Man Utd for somewhere between £7m and £12m incl. add ons. To describe this as a meteoric rise would be an understatement. For Fulham this represents fantastic business. Will he be worth it? For me, I think he will. He will be at Fulham for the rest of the season before joining Utd in the summer. When he does go, good luck to him. For now, it is good to have solid backup for Hangeland.

I have dealt with Dio already below, good luck to him.

Kallio, had fallen out of favour and could not even make it on the pitch despite Fulham’s problems at left back. I think this may be the last we see of him in a Fulham shirt.

Eddie Johnson, off to Greek team Aris FC. As above, I would be very surprised to see him in a Fulham shirt again. He came and did little for Fulham, but good luck to him. Maybe he will refind form alongside fellow compatriot and former FM wonderkid Freddy Adu.

And the rest (on short term loans): Stockdale (Plymouth), Matthew Briggs (Leyton Orient), Wayne Brown (Bristol Rovers), Matt Saunders and Uwezu (Lincoln). Of those it is only sad to see Wayne Brown go, I was hoping he might start to play a part in the first team. For the rest, it will surely be good experience.

January Transfer Roundup: Three is the Magic Number

February 1, 2010

So, according to the Fulham website, business has ended in terms of transfers. Time to look at who has been brought in.

1) Stefano Okaka: This one has been on the back burner throughout January, and whilst I was not holding my breath, there is little surprise that this has come to pass. It appears to be a six month loan deal, although both player and agent are making noises that it may be extended for another year if things go well. This seems to be good business for Fulham, who get a proven (well, sort of) Serie A player with lots of potential. After watching his farewell goal for Roma against Siena, I feel that we may have a replacement for the creative yet inconsistent Kamara. I hope Roy puts him in the starting line up against Pompey (heres to hoping) as he will help to freshen up a jaded squad.

2) Nicky Shorey: Finally, the left back we were all hoping for. Whilst he is unlikely to set the world alight, it is great to get some cover for Konch in a position that we really needed. I assume he will definitely go into the starting line-up for Wednesday’s game with Kelly moving back to the right and the usual suspects returning in the centre. This move gives us the stability that we have been craving at the back at what is probably a very reasonable price. Whilst there have been some doubts over his ability due to the fact villa were very reluctant to play him, I have a feeling that he may be a ‘Roy’ player who, after a bit of training and guidance, will slot in and do a good job.

3) Christopher Buchtmann: Unexpected but gratefully received. One of the players that Malcolm Elias brought to Liverpool, Buchtmann looks to have a bright future after being named one of Uefa’s top ten stars of the future in May 2009. Certainly he looks quite the prospect when you watch the Uefa U17 champs highlights. Add to this that Liverpool fans are, for the most part, pissing blood over this and we seem to have ourselves one for the future. It is great to see some investment in youth and there are further rumours that we offered £1m for Dalle Valle, the finnish striker, also. One to keep and eye on.

Overall, I would say this has been a successful window for Fulham who have brought in a small number of players and avoided any panic buys (read James Beattie). I look forward to seeing all three of them in action over the upcoming weeks, months and years.

A rundown of the player who have left will come after the deadline has passed.

Deadline Day: Goodbye Dio

February 1, 2010

Goodbye Dio.  You will always be remembered for your goals against Man City and your outrageous overhead kick against spurs.

This is a strange one for me. Great for Kamara who gets to play regularly in a league that he will probably dominate, but interesting for Fulham for whom Kamara added just that little bit of difference and spice in games. If you break down the reasons for him leaving however, a pretty clear picture emerges:

Positives: Pace, creativity, good cover

Negatives: inconsistent form, nearly 30 and injury prone, not as pacy as people like to think, defensive liability, angling for a move for a while because he was not starting, high wages.

Add to the list  the fact that we appear to have signed Okaka ( who for me has more than a little Dio in him, especially after his goal against siena) and this makes more sense than not. I guess the only real question is why this is only a loan? I suspect the answer is that Celtic are pretty potless, like most scottish clubs.

Goodbye and Good luck Dio, it has been exciting having you.