Archive for March, 2010

The Post-Juventus Comedown

March 28, 2010

There can be no doubt that Fulham’s amazing comeback against Juventus will go down as one of the best games in the history of Fulham FC. It was a truly magical night that I was proud to witness first hand. When the season draws to a close, people will look back and consider the Juventus game a truly great night in a pretty special season. Right now, however, it looks a little different.

Three games after Fulham inserted themselves into European folklore,  things are not looking so rosy. A defeat to Man City may have been expected, but this was followed with two results which are more difficult to simply laugh off. Being knocked out of the FA cup by Tottenham is not something to be ashamed of, yet it still stung, especially since Fulham had effectively played them off the park at their own stadium in the first half. The loss to Hull on saturday stung also, but in a different way. This time Fulham had lost to a team struggling to perform with one of Football’s worst managers in charge. To add more misery, one of the goals was scored by former Fulham fan favourite and all round ‘cheeky chappy’ Jimmy Bullard.

But to look at the results in the above way neglects the subtleties of the recent run of poor results. Fulham could have drawn against City if Okaka had scored when through one on one. Fulham were undone against Tottenham by a decent delivery and a slice of luck. And against Hull, many key first teamers were rested for the upcoming clash with Wolfsburg on thursday night. The myopia of some fans is truly amazing. Before I get harassed as someone who won’t criticise Hodgson I would just like to point out a few things. Before the Man City game, fans were screaming for a full 2nd team to be played in order for the heroes from the Juventus game to be rested for the midweek FA Cup clash with Spurs. When this didn’t happen and Fulham subsequently lost both games, the message boards were full of ‘I would have liked to see Riise, he has always looked fantastic when brought on’ or ‘why is Roy so hesitant with his subs’ or ‘why is Kelly still playing’. A week after the Man City loss and some fans have produced a Fox News-like turnaround in opinion. When I logged on to one fan message board I was greeted with ‘Dikgacoi, Riise, (insert player name here) not good enough’ etc etc etc.  For me, the Hull game was almost a Hodgson riposte to the naysayers. I know that he would never select a team to prove people wrong and that the changes were with the Wolfsburg game in mind, but to me they seemed to make a statement. Don’t like Kelly? Lets see how you like Shorey on the right. Riise the best thing since sliced bread? Lets see how you like him in the premier league.

It is a fans job to be highly critical ( and I am as unreasonable as most at games) but I think we need to take a deep breath and look forward. This week we have a European Quarter Final against the reigning Bundesliga champions. If all does not go to plan and we are knocked out we still have some winnable games to look forward too and the fact that our premier league status is all but assured. Add to this that we might sneak into the Europa next season under the fair play banner and it is all looking a bit better.  This summer should be very interesting. I do not think that massive investment is needed. Fulham are in a funny position for a club of its size. There is a good squad that is full of players who have been here a few seasons and there is the feeling of stability that has perhaps not been here since Fulham’s entry into the top flight. If we can add a few smart signings then the squad will improve as former first teamers who are perhaps getting on a bit move into the squad (such as Danny Murphy)  and younger players arrive to take their place and strengthen the first team. Success (read: the victory over juventus)does a funny things to people. I have been as disappointed about the last week as the next man, but we need to ask ourselves why we follow Fulham keep our feet on the ground and try to enjoy what has been one of the most enjoyable and successful periods in the clubs history.

Spurs 3-1 Fulham: Close, but no cigar…

March 24, 2010

Well, that is the joy of cup competitions. It is all or nothing, and unfortunately Fulham have walked away with nothing.  I felt that the scoreline flattered Spurs to be honest. Fulham had won the first half and were looking to consolidate in the second, but Spurs took their chances and here we are.

The game started fairly anonymously with both sides feeling each other out. Fulham looked very comfortable hustling a sleepy Spurs side off the ball and putting together some very good passing moves. The WHL crowd was silent and all that was coming through on the TV was the noise of the Fulham fans singing their hearts out, tucked away in the corner.  And it was Fulham who took the lead after a good spell of play. With Duff running through the centre at the defence, Zamora cut inside from the right hand side, pointed to where he wanted the ball and received a slide rule pass from Duff. If anyone had any remaining worries about Zamora’s composure in front of goal they were swept aside as he took the ball in his step and hit a beautiful curling finish into the bottom left hand corner around the outstretched Gomes. A very well worked move against one of the best defences in the premier league and Fulham were in front. This seemed to galvanise Spurs who started attacking with more purpose with Schwarzer saving a good backheeled effort from Eidur GudJohnsen at his near post.

Half time came and went and it was obvious that Redknapp was not going to let his team produce another fairly insipid performance in the second half. They came out fired up and with added impetus from the two new additions at half time in the form of Huddlestone and Bentley. And it was Bentley who was going to have the decisive impact on the match. Kelly gave away a foul near the touchline as he upended Bale, and Bentley stepped up and curled a cross in that avoided the crowded area and found itself in the net. There were questions of offside as Corluka looked to be distracting Schwarzer but the goal stood and Spurs were off and running. It was fairly obvious that Fulham were in for a battering for the remainder of the half, and it was a question on whether Fulham could nick a goal on the break. When Corluka went off with an ankle injury I thought that Fulham might have a chance, but on came Roman Pavlyuchenko and he was to be the real difference.

Spurs started dominating and with the improvement in the quality of the crossing, it was only a matter of time before another chance fell spurs way. Bentley crossed deep to the back post, Pavlyuchenko peeled off of Kelly, who missed his header by inches, and powered home a fierce left foot volley.  Before Fulham could settle and try to regroup, Spurs struck again. Modric poked a ball through to Gudjohnsen who took it round a flailing Schwarzer and passed it into an empty net. Game Over. Roy made changes, bringing on Okaka and Dempsey but it was too late. The game petered out with no real meaningful chances at either end and Spurs progress.

Fulham haven’t really had the rub of the green against Spurs this season, but Spurs deserved to win as they took their chances and controlled the game when it mattered.

A few other thoughts from the game:

1) Bentley was never man of the match. His first goal was almost as fortuitous as the one against Fulham in the league and whilst his assist for the second goal was decent, it was Pavlyuchenko who turned it into an excellent goal. Other than that he looked very average, mainly because he had absolutely no pace.

2) I hope Spurs go on and win the damn trophy now. If they lose to Chelsea in the Final then I don’t think I could forgive them. I will certainly now be throwing the weight of my support behind them now.

3) Kelly should not be scapegoated. Yes he did not play outstandingly, but if Baird had played at right back then Bale would have had even more of a field day.

4) I generally don’t believe that the media is out to get us, but the commentary in the second half with the commentators drooling over Spurs was quite offputting. There was none of the same for Fulham in the first half, just ‘that was a good passing move’ etc. etc.

Anyway, onwards and upwards, A win away at Hull would be nice, and then the real fun against Wolfsburg.

Fulham 1-2 Man City

March 21, 2010

In the context of Fulham’s season, games do not get any more irrelevant than this.  Two pieces of good counter attacking football meant that Man City were 2-0 up and cruising before half time.  Man City looked like they wanted it more and much like against Wolves earlier in the season Fulham did not start playing until the 70th minute.  Fulham dominated the closing stages and were rewarded a very generous penalty by Stuart Probert when Barry was adjudged to handle the ball in the area. Murphy calmly slotted the ball away and it looked like Fulham might salvage something from the game. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. The best chance fell to Stefano Okaka who fired wide with only the keeper to beat and Dempsey arriving late in the area. Perhaps this will go some way to silencing the critics of Hodgson who believe that Okaka should have more of a prominent role. When the TV camera cut to an irate Hodgson after the miss, it perhaps gave us a slight insight into why he doesn’t think Okaka is quite ready yet.

More worryingly for Fulham was the form of Danny Murhpy. He looked off the pace all game, with pretty much everything he attempted bar the penalty, failing to come off. Murphy has been outstanding in general for Fulham, but it might be time to be seriously looking for a replacement this summer.

Up next is the important match against Spurs in the FA  Cup quarter-final replay. After the highs of Juventus, I fancy Fulham to at least give it a go at White Hart Lane. At least Zamora and Gera should be relatively fresh as they were both brought off during the course of the Man City game.

Fulham 4-1 Juventus

March 20, 2010

Unbelievable. I have only gotten round to writing up a match report now because I still can’t quite believe it. I keep finding myself thinking, wait a minute, we did beat Juventus and we did overturn a 3 goal deficit. Phenomenal.

The match itself was somewhat bizarre. Firstly, kickoff was at six meaning that there was a rush to get to the game itself. Having gotten there early, I sat with my brother soaking up what I thought would be our final European experience for who knows how long. As the clock ticked towards six and the stadium slowly filled, the anticipation amongst the fans built to a peak. By the time the players ran out, I was raring to go. Game on.

Or not. It is not easy to deflate an entire stadium during supposedly the biggest game of Fulham’s history, but Juventus did just that. A Salihamidzic cross was not cleared and Trezeguet applied a simple finish. Bugger. Oh well, I told myself, it has been fun.

But this is Fulham under Roy Hodgson, so there was no need to worry that Fulham would not at least put up a fight. With the crowd now beginning to rise from the deflation of the first Juve goal, that man Bobby Zamora struck. Shrugging off Cannavaro, he cushioned a ball suppied by Koncheksy off his chest, and powered it into the left hand corner of the net leaving Chimenti with no chance. Now it was game on.

With Craven Cottage rocking, the pressure appeared to be getting to even the most experienced of the Juve players. A smart flick-on by Bobby Zamora put Gera through, only for him to be pulled down by Cannavaro. A red card swiftly followed (slightly controversially) and all of a sudden hopes of a result gained momentum. Juventus were now without their talismanic skipper and their already patched up defence became even more shaky. Antonio Candreva, who had looked dangerous up until this point, was hauled off for Zdenek Grygera and it was advantage Fulham.  Zamora hit a peach of a free kick with his left foot but Chimenti was equal to the challenge and palmed the ball round the post for a corner. Two more chances followed in quick succession with Davies hitting the post from a free kick and Etuhu doing the same with a header. I have to admit, with both of these chanced gone I started to feel that this might be one of those days.

As half time approached, it was an excellent team move that secured a crucial second goal. Bobby Zamora (again) chipped the ball over a static Juve defence, Simon Davies hit a low cross into the six yard box and Zoltan Gera arrived with impeccable timing to apply the finish. It now seemed to me as though Fulham had all of the momentum and were going to do the unthinkable. I guess the best way to describe it is as if ‘the weight of history’ ( the arguement the Communists used to justify their movement) was behind Fulham. The guy next to me turned and said ‘we only need one more!’, ‘we can get two, C’mon Fulham!’ was my response.

As the second half started the crowd were really having an influence on the game. The Juventus players looked rattled and Fulham were taking control. It wasn’t long before another breakthrough came. Duff was released into the right hand side of the penalty area but his cross came off the arm of Diego. The referee pointed to the spot and Gera dutifully stepped up to take the kick. As the crowd held their breath, Gera dispatched the penalty, sending Chimenti the wrong way. The crowd erupted Fulham were suddenly very much favourites to win the tie. Whether this could happen in normal time was another matter.

After Gera’s goal, the game settled once again as Juventus struggled to hold on in order to force penalties. Hodgson then made the substitution which changed the match. With Juventus pinned in their own half, Hodgson brought off Stephen Kelly, who had an excellent match, for Clint Dempsey and shifted Simon Davies to right back. This gave Duff more attacking support and helped to really apply pressure to the left flank of Juventus.

But is was Clint Dempsey who was to make the difference with what can only be described as an outrageous goal.  Having controlled a pass from Etuhu with his back to goal, Dempsey turned and let fly with an angled chip from the edge of the 18 yard box.  The ball hung in the air for what seemed like an eternity before nestling into the top corner, over the head of an exasperated Chimenti. UNBELIEVABLE. The crowd erupted as Dempsey charged behind the goal, celebrating like a man possessed. With that goal, Dempsey had just inserted himself in Fulham folklore.

Nervous moments followed as a Juventus goal would have knocked Fulham out, but it was the visitors who lost their heads. Zebina saw red for a petulant kick on Duff in the corner and Felipe Melo was booked for a similar infringement . A succession of free kicks killed the game and as the whistle blew it hit home, Fulham were through.

Amazing, Fulham had not only beaten Juventus over two legs, but had done so by overcoming a 3 goal deficit. As I walked back to the station, tired and drunk on emotion, I passed an older couple who had been to the match. As I walked by, I overheard them saying ‘March 18th 2010, the night Fulham beat Juventus 4-1, and WE were there’. I turned round and shot them a huge smile, which was generously reciprocated. I too had been there. What a night.

Alex Manninger’s “Dirty Goal”

March 12, 2010

Alex Manninger was not impressed with the Fulham goal last night:

Asked about Dickson Etuhu’s effort which took a huge deflection off Nicola Legrottaglie, Manninger toldJuventus Channel: “It was a bad situation, a dirty goal. It’s a loose ball, your opponent shoots, it hits something, a knee or an ankle, and it goes into the corner.

This is one way of describing Fulham’s goal last night, but it rather cunjours up images of fouling and unfair play. Still, it made me smile!

Juventus 3-1 Fulham

March 12, 2010

It may be the rose tinted glasses that I can often be found to be wearing but I really don’t think that Juve were two goals better than Fulham last night. Yes, Juve probably deserved to win, but we certainly weren’t pinned back a la Shakhtar, and the game had more of an away game to a mid-table premier league side than last rounds of the Europa league feel to it. Fulham had lots of the ball, particularly in the second half, and if the defence had been up to their usual standards we would definitely still be very much in the tie.  As it is, Fulham have a mountain to climb, but we are at home and we might have Juve right where we want them, overconfident.

For an excellent match report here and here and highlights, if you can bear to watch, here.

Juventus are a huge team. The most successful team in Italian footballing history, with the largest support in Italy (not that you could tell from the crowd las night). Yet Fulham put in a battling display, even if the result was not particularly fantastic. Considering that Fulham were missing their captain and heartbeat of the midfield in Danny Murphy, our regular right back in John Paintsil, our regular striker in Andy Johnson and of course Clint Dempsey (who did make an appearance but has been out for a significant amount of time) this was a solid display. Add to this our left back only just returning from injury and it is quite impressive that we managed to go to Torino and get a goal. Two years ago we could never have dreamt of playing Juventus in the last 16 of the Europa Leauge, never mind doing it with half a squad of backup and reserve players. This is how far we have come.

I would almost say that it is a damning indictment of how far Juve have fallen in recent years, that a mid-level premier league club struggling with fatigue and injuries, could come to Torino and give a good account for themselves.

As for Fulham, the result could have been worse. We now have to go back to the Cottage and put in the display of a lifetime to go through, but hey, this is what cup competitions are for! No one thought that Fulham could beat Basel away from home, but they did, no one thought that Fulham could beat reigning champions Shakhtar Donetsk, but they did. In fact no one really gave Fulham too much of a chance of getting out of the group stages, but here we are. 2-0 is not a scoreline that is ridiculous, however if they score, it is probably all over. I for one cannot wait for the return leg, the Cottage will be jumping and knowing that two goals have to be scored, Roy might just take off the shackles a bit more than usual. Whatever happens it should be a memorable night!

Player Ratings:

Schwarzer – 8    Excellent in goal, could do nothing about all three of the goals

Baird – 5    Not his best game, struggled to add much to the game

Hughes – 6     Solid as usual, but not amazing

Hangeland – 6   Again, solid, but at fault for a couple of the goals

Konchesky – 5  Looked like a man returning from injury, and couldn’t find his rhythm.

Duff – 7  Industrious as ever, looked dangerous and if the man marking of him by Juventus is anything to go by, they were worried about him too.

Greening – 5  An easy scapegoat, but had a very average performance in the middle of the park and picked up a yellow.

Etuhu – 6    Better than people give him credit for and played one great pass out to Zamora on the wing that made me smile. Oh, and he scored!

Davies – 5  A poor game. He really struggles on the left which is fair enough considering he is a right winger. Would still like to see him play centre mid though!

Gera – 6  Buzzed about and looked dangerous, but couldn’t grab hold of the game.

Zamora – 7  Worked his socks off, was persistently fouled (as per) and continuously called offside, even when clearly on. Look for him to take it to Juventus in the return leg.

A New Place for Statistics

March 8, 2010

I stumbled across an interesting new stats website today called TransferMarkt. It documents all kinds of interesting stats, from players to managers, clubs to league.

TransferMarkt gives some interesting player values, and a good summary of transfers and how much they cost. Supposedly Fulham paid £155,750 for the loan of Okaka, not that I have any idea how they worked that out (wages?).

It is an easy way to waste some serious time!

Fulham 0-0 Tottenham Hotspur

March 7, 2010

On  the face of it a decent result, but I found it frustrating to say the least. The last thing we need is more games, but that is what we have got, and hopefully Fulham can pull something out of the bag at WHL.

The first half felt a bit too much like playing Shakthar away. We gave Tottenham too much respect, ceded possesion and after an initial bright start to the game let Tottenham take over. Now, Tottenham are a good team, but they are not as good as Shakthar going forwardand we should have pressed them harder further up the pitch, especially without Jermain Defoe offering them a pacy outlet. Defensively we were phenomenal once again, but it was worrying that at home, we were not slightly more adventurous.  Much of this was down to the absence of the heartbeat of the midfield, Danny Murphy. Greening came in and whilst he retained possession well, was too timid in pushing forward. Dickson Etuhu had a barnstorming game defensively, denying Modric the time and space he craved, which probably was the reason Modric really failed to have an influence. On the other side, Palacios was dominant, perfoming the Etuhu role better and with more attacking spirit. Zamora was excellent once again, but was too often isolated with only Gera in support.

The second half was an improvement, with Fulham and Tottenham both attacking with more vigour and the game  opening up. Gera had a good header saved by Gomes from point blank range, and a Duff shot from outside the area was turned around the post by that man Gomes again. Other than that it was a relatively quiet day for both keepers. I would question why Roy brought on Elm when Okaka was ready and waiting. The Swedish giant had little/no impact as a sub and I would have fancied Okaka to give Bassong a bit of trouble with his direct running and extra flair.

For me, the reason Fulham struggled to get men forward was as much about Greening’s lack of through balls and forward passes as Gareth Bale. Redknapp removed any defensive responsibilities by putting Bale in midfield and this seemed to make him an increasingly dangerous prospect. I like Chris Baird, but time and time again Duff had to really help him out with Bale meaning that one of our most forward minded and creative players was stuck in defensive mode. I believe that a fit John Paintsil would have shackled Bale much like he has both Christiano Ronaldo and Didier Drogba over the last few seasons. Special mention should go to both Bassong and Dawson, both of whom were in fantastic form, leading me to question why Dawson is not ahead of Matthew Upson for England. Dawson is the captain of spurs and has held the fort admirably whilst both Woodgate and King have been injured, he is simply a different player this season.

So 0-0 a frustrating result for Fulham, Spurs must now be comfortable favourites to go through. But hey, this is the FA Cup and this team is managed by Roy Hodgson. If we can get a result in Basel and Donetsk, why not across London? A trip to Wembley and a game against struggling Portsmouth awaits the victor.

Roy Hodgson and Mark Schwarzer Make Fulham Proud

March 5, 2010

Well done to both Roy Hodgson and Mark Schwarzer who won the Premier league manager of the month and player of the month respectively.

It is good to see both getting the recognition they deserve for their part in what has been a frankly phenomenal month for Fulham FC.

Here is to another great month, starting tomorrow!

Well Done Stephen Kelly

March 4, 2010

I watched the Brazil-Ireland game on Tuesday night and other than flinching every time Damien Duff went in for a challenge, I kept a close eye on the much maligned Stephen Kelly.

Kelly has come in for a lot of stick this year, and much of it has been justified. He has struggled in defence consistently, to such an extent that Roy has preferred to play Baird there over the last few games. However, despite his struggles, I have never got irritated with him as I did with Baird when he first played there. I am not sure why, but I guess it is the fact that he never gives up, even when things are not going well. Accusations that he is ‘not a premiership player’ I feel are wide of the mark and Tuesday nights game went some way to helping me back up my argument.

Ireland’s defensive setup was somewhat similar to Fulham’s, which should come as no surprise as Hodgson and Trappatoni have similar coaching styles.  This meant that they played a very narrow defence with both fullbacks tucking in. This gave us a chance to watch Kelly’s defensive skills against a very good attacking side (even if under Dunga they have been more defensive than previous Brazilian sides). I thought that Kelly effectively neutralised the Brazilian attack down their left hand side, shackling Robinho and making a couple of goal-saving blocks (much like some of his recent ones at Fulham). It was most noticeable in the second half when Brazil attacked almost solely down the right hand side of the pitch, against Kevin Kilbane, with the marauding Maicon and others bombarding that flank. Great credit should go to Kelly for neutralizing this threat.

I think that Kelly’s recent Europa League exploits have been good as well. He has been played out of position for two of the most defensively intensive Fulham performances of the season, and perhaps even of all time. Although some may say Shakhtar’s goal in Donetsk was his fault as Douglas Costa glided past him on the wing to get the assist, I think this is harsh and not even our usual full backs would have been able to do much about that. Here is to hoping he can build on his recent better form and challenge for the starting spot at Fulham once again.