Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Kelly’

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.

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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.

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.

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.