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.

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