Monday, 21 December 2009

Fulham 3 - 0 Manchester United

Ish has excelled himself in my absence and written his first match report:

The reigning champions and current challengers for the title came down to London for what many thought would be a foregone conclusion of 3 points to add to their xmas stockings and push for the title. This mentality was further backed up by the team that Ferguson had chosen for the match. For what was really an important game for Utd, was certainly not reflected in the team that Sir Alex had picked. A chance to go top, and score psychological points over Chelsea and the chasing pack was not reflected in the managers approach to the game.  On a day of sub zero temperatures, Manchester Utd froze like a deer in the headlights. Many look at the injury ravaged defense line on Manchester Utd's current problems, certainly Fletcher's unseen pass to Scholes certainly the cause of the first goal, but what was apparent (on Saturday anyway) was the lack of fight in the United team. A team and squad with many titles under their belt certainly didn't react the way you would expect, upping the tempo, more direct routes to goal, more aggressive approach were certainly missing from after the first goal. Indeed, many of their shots were from outside the box, a sure sign of a lack of imagination on Saturday.
After an expected hairdryer session from Ferguson you would think it would have been Utd that would have drawn level with minutes of the restart, but instead it was calm assured fulham that went 2 nil up instead. Let's not forget Fulham's approach.  Many times Fulham start slowly in matches in days gone by, but on Saturday they came out running. Many times, when the big clubs have come down to Craven Cottage in the past, Fulham have been intimidated by the aura of the big clubs, especially when they go a goal behind. Hodgson has instilled a more fluid approach to their game which has brought on more self confidence within the squad, which not only look attractive to the eye (even though it still needs to be more direct, effective and carried out in the right part of the pitch), but more importantly keeps the ball away from the opposing team for longer eradicating the old issues of giving the ball away too easily. With the likes of Murphy, Duff and an in-form Zamora, there is quality in Fulham now that not only bring other players into the game much better, but can also pose the threat of scoring goals from nothing. 
Even though everyone will say Fulham were brilliant because of the scoreline, they have played better, and will get better throughout the season. On Saturday that did what they had to. Man Utd came down to Craven cottage with no ambition and drive, and given they lost to Fulham at Craven Cottage last season, it was inexcusable. If they take that approach against non big 4 teams, they will hand the title over to Chelsea (or even Arsenal now). Titles are not based on good defence only, it's based on beating the so called easy teams consistently as well. Despite all this, Man Utd supporters were singing their hearts out at the end. Undying faith in a team that that didn't reward them for their long journeys down south on one of the coldest days in the year. Let's hope they will be rewarded at the end of the season.

Chants of the match:
Man Utd: "Feed the scousers, let them know its chirstmas time!"
 Fulham: Afrter the third goals went in - "You're going to be sacked in the morning, you;re going to be sacked in the moooorrrnning!" - to Sir Alex - very funny.

A view from the other side from another United fan with a Fulham season ticket  has been provided by Nikki:
The ball was never on the pitch, it was always in the air, which is not good for Owen at all, especially against Brede. Pantsill played a stormer - got every ball. All in all everything went right for Fulham they were all well up for it and worked well as a unit. (unlike United who looked like headless chickens most of the game.)
The only players for United that wanted it was Rooney (when doesn't he?) and Anderson. Berbs made a difference when he came on and if he had started it could have been different he was the only one who created anything. Didn't get a corner until nearly the 90th minute! Grrrr. Valencia is no where near good enough. I felt for the back 4 as it wasnt their fault. You can't expect midfielders to play in defence like that.
Fulham-wise I think it was one of the best games I have seen as they played well the whole 90 rather than just the second half like normal.

Some Basle pics

And a really poor quality video
Original Video - More videos at TinyPic

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Basle faulty as Fulham go through

Alles wir fahren zum Europäisch Reise! Or as they say in SW6 - We're all going on a European Tour.
In a complete turnaround from the usual away form, Fulham impressed in a multi-goal thriller and edged past Basle to make it to the last 32 of the Europa League. But boy did they make it hard work.
The trip to Switzerland began a little bizarrely as Basle airport is actually in France. Getting off the plane you are given the option of French or Swiss passport control, which given that they both lead to the same baggage hall seems more than a little pointless. Getting in at nine pm it also seems like one of the quietest airports in the world. But the same could be said of Basle the city - it seems to big for its population, although that might just be the perspective of someone living in London. It was certainly a nice change to not be constantly under people's feet.
Anyway a snowy city awaited us on the Wednesday and every fifth person wandering around seemed to be a Fulham fan, which again was a little surreal. We went to St Jacob's Park by 5 o'clock and while the ground is nothing to look at, the hat-trick bar was very accomodating for both sets of fans. In the corner end of the ground, the Fulham fans started camping out and early days it felt like they would be drowned by the opposition in this 40,000 seater stadium. In truth half the seats were empty so the 2,000 or so Fulham fans were not overwhelmed. Well it could have been worse. The home fans behind the opposite goal were immense with the biggest flags and longest chants and constant jumping. To be honest, I don't think many of them were watching the match, but it was a bravura performance.
In contrast, the Fulham fans were a little slow to start. Maybe it was the -5 degrees temperature. Maybe it was the fact they were effective split between tiers. There was even the predicatble complaining between those that wanted to sit and those who wanted to stand, but a happy medium was eventually reached.
From the start Bobby Zamora was making a nuisance of himself and Smalling was looking very assured at the back. Etuhu less so, although he came back with gusto in the second half. We couldn't believe that Zamora's first goal was chalked off for offside. In fact the linesman flagged so often that there was talk of a conspiracy again, despite the fact that it was all happening down the other end of the pitch. Then, when Zamora scored and it did count, all the fans were temporarily stunned by the fact that a) it had gone in and b) that there was no flag. Then joy erupted.
It was quite incredible when Zamora linked up with Riise again a few moments later to make it 2-0 just before half time. This wasn't Fulham away. There was a comfotr zone all of a sudden. Half time came and Basle made two attacking substitutions and the early pressure paid when they were awarded a dodgy pen. I thought the ref had awarded a corner so when I realised it was a pen I was astounded. Frei put it away majestically and squeaky bum time returned. Until about 15 minutes later when Fulham scored one of the best goals I'd seen them put together. Some neat interplay in midfield saw substitute Dempsey create space by running back. Kelly used the space and Murphy put him through. The full back could have crossed early for a heavily marked Zamora but cleverly pulled it back for Gera to sweetly strike into the corner. We couldn't believe it and it seems Gera couldn't either. Time to hold on to what we've got. But that's not the Fulham way. A simple header from the corner brought basle back into and could have led to a very tense last five minutes. But it was only slightly tense as Basle didn't seem to threaten again. Fulham had won! Away from home! In Europe! And qualified from the group stages. So this is what Europe is all about, is it? More please.

PS Forgive any typos. This was written on a German keyboard.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Absence makes the heart grow fondue

I've just been looking at the schedule for this month and have come to realise that I will miss four home games on the trot, starting from Sunderland and taking in Man United, Tottenham and most probably Swindon Town. However I feel all these can be traded in for the fact that this week I will be attending the away Europa League match in Basel. That should get me some kudos points.
Not that Roy cares. The distractions of the UEFA cup has already cost him one English job (Blackburn December - 1998) and he's buggered if that will happen again, despite the hopes and wishes of the fans. Roy's just too pragmatic at times. He's far too experienced to let idle hope permeate where it doesn't belong. That's why he was so angry at the coverage of him suggesting Zamora for England. That's why he says things like:
To be frank we didn’t enter this competition to win it.
Which is disappointing. When the manager doesn't want his team to win a competition, what should the fans do? Had Hodgson said he was going for it in a win or bust tie in Switzerland then I'm sure that the Fulham Flyer seats to the game would have been snapped up. But as it stands there are still plenty on offer. I think the fans that are going out there probably sense the end is near, so will have a bit of a carnival atmosphere no matter what happens, which is a good way to view it.
Truth is, it will be a hard match. Only league leaders Young Boys have beaten Basle at home in the league and the Swiss side were fairly hard done by to lose at the Cottage. However Fulham's odds have been shortening in the last couple of weeks and are now far closer than I'd expect them to be. Had they won at Burnley I would have thought that would give Fulham enough confidence to squeeze a result in Basle.
However, Hodgson has said that with Man United on the horizon, it will be very much a second string in Switzerland. Odd though that the second string will feature three of last season's main midfield: Etuhu, Gera and Murphy. Kelly will no doubt start as probably with Paintsil and Smalling. Riise will play too. Is Davies fit? Physioroom suggests he's not until Boxing Day.
Hodgson has said that Johnson will play a part, but that usually means off the bench. Will he risk Zamora? He's not exactly got many options up front, so he probably will. The regular centre halves may share a half again or Baird could play the game there if he is not being rested for the United game (who would have predicted that at the start of the season?). It's going to be a very similar set up to the CSKA Sofia home match, which was astounding for 15 minutes. It could feel like a long game if that's the case.
Basle only need a draw, but that might be their downfall. If they sit back then they invite teams onto them. Fulham's 'second string' have also been surprisingly effective this season and a good thing too considering the injuries experienced. Still - I'm looking forward to my first European away match and now have a shiny '130 years' Fulham shirt to wear because my mum's bought me one for this match for Christmas. I've not been sure whether I should wear a Fulham shirt before, but I reckon this trip should be a justifiable right of passage to do so.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

The win over Sunderland and Bobby Zamora

Unfortunately I missed this game, as I was back home in Manchester for my Christmas visit and as tends to be the case, if I'm not there then Ish & Jarrod aren't either. However I made sure I avoided all mention of the scores in order to watch the highlights fresh on MOTD2, so it was a pleasant surprise to see a solid Fulham edge out the Wearsiders with an early goal from the enigmatic Bobby Zamora.
My thoughts from the coverage of the game were that a) Nevland & Bent didn't have their shooting boots on,  b) Konchesky was a wee bit shaky and c) why the hell is Zamora disrespecting the Hammersmith End in that way.
After several revisits of his 'celebration', it's probably true that he was referring to just one portly fan (with the burger eating mime before the invective) but how was the Hammy End meant to know this?
The last couple of games Bobby's played, the Hammy End has cheered him onto the pitch, something he has appreciated by clapping the fans as he runs on, so it's something he has to be careful about. He's got previous of course. His goal against West Brom last season saw him yelling at a fan in the front of the Hammy End (wonder if it's the same one) and the strike against Liverpool had him baiting the media who had widely derided him for his miss at Man City.
It seems that his 'shut the fuck up' celebration didn't register with those in the Hammy End at the time, possibly because he was down the other end of the pitch, but it's subsequent broadcasting has upset a lot of fans. Armchair fans? Possibly.
There are discussions that Bobby might need to feel slighted to perform well, here for example, but maybe it's one of the foibles that Fulham fans will have to take on the chin. It might be the idiosyncracy that makes the fans grow to love him - Angry Bobby Z - although he should choose his targets with more care.
Truth is he is making most of his arguments on the pitch this season. He is now more vital to the team than AJ. He's doubled his number of league goals already (okay that's pretty easy) and is currently scoring at a rate higher than his personal best in the top division. So while there may be some debate over his actual quality, the work rate and application cannot be faulted and would be revered at other clubs. There is also a passion which is strangely absent from most of his teammates.
One of the strange consequences of the incident is that suddenly Fulham are attracting a lot of column inches. That doesn't happen very often and and favourite bit of coverage has come from the guardian's Fiver:
To be fair to Bobby, he does ship a lot of abuse from a vocal minority in Craven Cottage's Hammersmith End who fail to appreciate the grunt work he puts in, running about a lot, holding up the ball as team-mates come into play, then passing it to the opposition.
Unfair but very funny. As for Hodgson's Zamora for England suggestion, I can't help wondering if this was a ploy to sidetrack the issue arising from his celebration, but the more I think about it, the more sense it appears to make. He will need a few timely injuries to players like Emile Heskey, Carlton Cole, Peter Crouch and probably Kevin Davies, but you could see how Zamora fits into the England set-up. Unlikely? Yes. Impossible? Nope. The injury he got meaning that he couldn't play a World Cup Qualifier for Trinidad in August may be a blessing in disguise.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Fulham 1 - 0 CSKA Sofia

They should call this match the 100 years game because that's how long it felt it went on for. Being pushed back into their own half by one of Europe's backwater teams at Craven Cottage in the freezing cold, this felt like what hell would be like for a Fulham fan.
And it all started so brightly too. The three patched up players, Zamora, Murphy and Davies were all welcome presences and from the start Fulham looked very dangerous. There was one aberration - when one of the Sofia players floated the ball into the area and it bounced off the crossbar - but other than that it was a ll the home team attacking.
Gera slipped onto a through ball and was brought down in the area, with some fans calling for a red from the defender, but it was hard to tell from my seat. Up steps Danny Murphy. 1-0. Or so you'd think. Bizarrely he spooned it over the bar. The Fulham fans laughed incredulously.
I think the problem was that it was too soon into his comeback match. He'd only been on the pitch for 8 minutes after more than a month out and was probably still rusty. Had the penalty been five or ten minutes later, I believe he'd have put it away like clockwork, as usual. Maybe this game will actually be remembered as 'the one where Danny missed that penalty'. Just as long as he doesn't miss any more.
Fortunately it didn't matter as soon afterwards Riise floated in a cross that evaded everyone but Zoltan Gera coming in at the back and the Hungarian nodded home. All well and good and a positive base to press on from. Except we didn't Zamora blasted over from a decent chance and then the game seem to evaporate away. It felt like CSKA brought Fulham down to their level and then started playing better then tham.
It has to be said that had the game been refereed by the same official who took charge of the Roma v Fulham game, then CSKA would have been lucky to have seven still on the pitch. Getting back home I'm amazed to see they only had three players booked. It felt like double that. And poor Chris Baird got booked for being fouled it seemed.
Of the fringe players who got a game I thought Smalling looked composed after a few early wobbles. Riise didn't impress and Kelly looked thoroughly uncomfortable at left back. Gera operating as a supporting striker was pretty accomplished too.
Considering it's his first game back I thought Bobby Z was pretty decent, but the crowd were double quick to get on his back whenever he did something wrong even when half the time it was because he was a lone striker with three players on him. The other half were him being rusty.
Certainly when Murphy departed, Fulham lost their shape a little and at one point had two wingers playing in centre midfield in Riise and Duff, before Duff decided to be the support striker. This was not before he cleared a CSKA shot off his own line though. In truth an equaliser wouldn't have been unfair, but Fulham got away with it and now have an humdinger, winner takes all tie in Basle to look forward to. I'm pleased the final game of the group isn;t going to be a dead rubber, as I'm going to it. I can't shake the nagging feeling that I care more than Roy though.
Attendance: Me, Jarrod and Kat

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Fulham 1 - 1 Bolton Wanderers

A game very reminisicent of Wednesday's game against Blackburn, the main difference being that Bolton took their chances and were a lot dirtier. The tactic was set as early as the second minute when Kavin Davies was given a yellow card for booting Hangeland. I think another six Bolton players were booked during the game making them by far the worst team to visit the Cottage - and that inlcudes Liverpool who picked up two reds!
Fulham had a bit more of the first half than they did against Blackburn, but not much. Nevland had a shot blocked off the line by a Bolton defender but there wasn't much else. Down the other end Bolton took advantage of pressure from a free kick (and Greening losing two headers) with Krasnic sweeping the ball past the helpess Schwarzer. Picking the ball out of the net was practically the last thing the Aussie keeper had to do in the game.
Once again, the second half saw Fulham start brightly and continue to apply pressure although it really looked like it wouldn't be their day. Dempsey had a header cleared off the line, Jaaskelainen tipped over a cracking Nevland strike and Bolton's centre halves provided several important tackles.
It wasn't long before Gary Megson decided his team should stick with what they had and took his goal scorer off for Muamba - a very defensive substitution. Hodgson surprisingly reacted in kind by switching Johnny Paintsil with Simon Davies to add weight to the attack. It eventually paid off with Duff cutting in from the right and seeing a slightly deflected shot fit snugly into the net next to the far post. A much deserved equaliser and the Fulham fans were keen to see a second. Only Bolton suddenly decided that they wanted to play after all and the game was pretty even but with no real chances for the rest of the game.
It is easy to see why the Bolton fans don't particularly like Megson. His team's football is really appalling to watch, however effective it might be. Which is a shame as several of the players showed enough glimpses of skill to suggest there's a more flamboyant team keen to express themselves.
While a point might seem a let down, it was actually welcome in a game which felt it was being held on 'one of those days'. Given the current paucity of attacking options, I'm sure Hodgson is also content at the final reckoning.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Fulham 3 - 0 Blackburn Rovers

What a strange little match this one was. The first half saw Blackburn's pressure game played high up the pitch and caused Fulham all kinds of problems. The harried midfield misplaced pass after pass and the physical Rovers simply bullied the home team in their own half, helped by the long kicks of Paul Robinson. Jason Roberts was on a mission, it seemed, and was a ridiculous handful. He was by far Blackburn's most dangerous player without really threatening the goal.
Fulham were so awful that many of the fans went for a drink on 35 minutes and those who didn't, wanted to. Then, just before half-time, Erik Nevland picked up a pass from Hangeland played a one to with Zamora and almost a one two with Duff before hammering the ball past Robinson's feet. 1-0 and a team that would likely have been booed off at half time were instead now getting cheers!
The second half was a far different story. Whether Fulham improved, Blackburn tired or their heads dropped, I don't know but Fulham were suddenly in the driving seat. Blackburn were spent. Zamora worryingly limped off to be replaced by Gera, which transformed the whites' attacking zest. Gera had a bit more life than Dempsey on the left, yet Deuce showed a bit more guile than Zamora had up front. Dempsey plundered two goals, could have had another and laid a clear opportunity on the plate for Nevland, who contrived to push the ball wide with Robinson at his mercy.
On another day, Blackburn would have made their early pressure pay, but not on this occasion. Fulham once again improved in the second half of a match and Hodgson must be pleased at the selection dilemma that his players are giving him, regardless of the seemingly endless injury list up front. I am still surprised that Eddie Johnson and David Elm have been nowhere near the bench during this period though. It suggests that Hodgson thinks they might not make it.

EDIT - Forget to mention the incredible second half performance by Chris Baird in central midfield. Creative and beguiling, Baird put in an incredible and surprising shift. Top marks for the former centre half.

Attending: Me, Jarrod, Ish & Col.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Watford 2 - 0 Preston North End

I uhmmed and ahhed over writing about this game, played just before the international break, but decided that ahead of North End's game against Newcastle tonight I'd drop a quick word about it.
I first started taking an interest in Preston North End in 1996 while at University in the town (it has since been made a city) for a year I was actually living in spitting distance of Deepdale in the lattice of terraced houses next to Moor Park which all had street names after saints.
What appealed to me was that the ground still boasted a healthy terraced stand, which made it far easier to enjoy the footballing experience regardless of the quality of the football being played. But it was pretty good football at the time - they had just been promoted to the third tier and within a couple of season would be promoted again. But I'm sure most Fulham fans remember North End around this time as they were doing much the same thing. In fact I remember a bunch of my friends going watching PNE at Craven Cottage in the second tier and celebrating stealing a win with a goal direct from the corner. Despite this setback, Fulham cruised to the title with 101 points while North End went to the play-off final against Bolton, which has the odd distinction of being the first match to reduce me to tears. North End lost 3-0 that day, although it was an incredibly harsh scoreline. I still marvel how Bolton are still in the Premier league to this day. A few years later and West Ham would do the same, with Bobby 'bastard' Zamora of all people scoring the winner.
Anyway Preston are an unusual side in that I've now seen them away from home more often than at Deepdale. I was totting it up at this game and I've seen at least 25 'away' matches for Preston, mainly London matches but incorporating Brighton, Reading and Colchester. And of course Cardiff. Twice. Every time I count I remember more.
This game has to be up there with the worst though. North End have never been good travellers, but this was a clueless, insipid performance and Watford could have humiliated the team if they had continued. Both goals came from laughable defensive efforts from PNE who were badly lacking the leadership shown by Sean St Ledger (off to Boro) and previous captain Paul McKenna (gone to Forest).
I was also surprised to hear the fans slagging off manager Alan Irvine, who I thought had done a sterling job in turning North End away from relegation and then reaching the play-offs. It's not as if PNE are doing poorly. They are in the top half, just three points from the play off from the play offs. Irvine's problem is that his team started the season strongly and have now dropped away. Switch that around and the fans tend to be much happier. If you can keep hold of your job for the downturn.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Fantasy breakdown

Fascinating link here breaking down Fulham's play for Fantasy Football enthusiasts.
A couple of points I like are
Another good example of Fulham’s hard work is this chalkboard, which shows the number of times they blocked shots from the Hammers. Of the nine blocks, four were from midfielders.
As this line-up shows, Fulham started the home game against Liverpool on 31st October with Duff in midfield and Kamara up front with Zamora, but Liverpool’s 4-2-3-1 allowed them too much of the ball for Hodgson’s liking.
The wily Cottager’s manager showed his tactical acumen when half-time came, as he altered the personnel and subsequently changed the game; Nevland came on for Kamara and Duff was replaced by Gera, who saw more of the ball, linking up more with the full back behind him, as the team kept the ball better and got more and more into the game… this chalkboard shows each player’s contribution, half by half..
Throughout this season, in fact, Fulham’s midfield are really catching the eye, so much so that of the 11 league games so far, only twice has the player with most goal attempts been a forward. Clint Dempsey, in particular, has been exceptional, and of Fulham’s 141 attempts on goal this season, he has had an incredible 41, which equates to 29% of all his team’s attempts.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Fulham 3 - 1 Liverpool

I had a good feeling about this game which was only enhanced when I reached the Cottage and saw the Liverpool team sheet. Reina, Degen, Kyrgiakos, Carragher, Insua, Lucas, Mascherano, Kuyt, Voronin, Benayoun & Torres. It wasn't as bad as the side that the Reds put out at Sunderland a couple of weeks ago, but it was damn poor for a Liverpool side and presented one of the best opportunities for a Fulham win. I was particularly pleased to see Johnson miss the cut as I was worried about his attacking prowess against Konchesky, who had managed to return from injury. Missing out though were AJ, Murphy and Etuhu (who was on the bench).
Given what I perceived as a paucity of talent on the Liverpool teamsheet, it was therefore disconcerting to see the visitors have almost all the play in the first half. It was almost as if the home team were showing Liverpool too much respect. One particular tactic employed by Benitez seemed to be to overload the flanks and there were frequently three Liverpool players looking menacing down the wings against just two Fulham players.
Then, out of nothing, Fulham score down the other end. A cross from Duff is tapped in at the far post by Bobby Zamora, who uses the situation to 'shush' his critics in the media for the tanning he has taken for the rather bad miss against Man City last weekend. Where did that come from? It was an outlier in the course of the first half which was all Liverpool, but without much menace. Benayoun had hit the bar with a good piece of skill, but Schwarzer barely had anything to do. All the Fulham fans were thinking 'let's hold on until half time' when the ball bounced up nicely for Torres on the edge of the box and he slammed the ball into the goal. It was practically the first time he hadn't fallen weakly to the grass looking for a free kick.  A piece of outstanding skill, and frankly deserved, but it was so sudden it felt like getting shot.
It certainly put most of the Hammersmith End into a downer. I say most because where we were sat the atmosphere was far more flat than usual, leading me to assume that there were more Liverpool fans around us than there ought to be. In fact one cheeky sod sat in front of Jarrod stood up and celebrated the equaliser. He'd regret that by the end of the match though.
Second half and I thought that Roy had made two interesting tactical substitutions Duff/Kamara off, Gera/Nevland on. Turns out these were enforced through injury, but they did help turn the tide of the match. Rather than all Liverpool, it became end to end stuff. Torres, probably still carrying an injury, wasn't doing much and soon after knocking a cross field pass firmly into touch, Benitez pulled him off the pitch for Babel and thus neutered what little attacking threat his team carried.
Throughout the game though the referee, Lee Mason had erred on the side of reputation and given lots of little free kicks to the away side, but he really made a rod for his own back when turning down a very strong penalty appeal when Carragher bundled over Zamora in the area. That got the crowd on his back and heaped on the pressure.
The ball broke loose near the halfway line and the irrepressible Dirk Kuyt busted a gut to stop it going off for a throw-in. This just led to him keeping it in for Konchesky to run onto though and he powered into the box and whipped in a cross which Gera managed to nod back across the goal for Nevland to pull off a beautiful little backheel past the bewildered Reina. Game on!
Then it all got a bit weird. Degen lost the ball in Fulham's half and slid into Dempsey trying to retrieve it, wiping him out. It looked like a full blooded, but rash tackle. Suddenly the ref pulls out a red and he walks. Having since seen it back on the TV it is a harsh red, but in real time it felt like a justified decision. We were then preying that Fulham didn't mess things up from this position. However things got even better almost immediately.
I like Carragher as a person. He has got a sense of humour. However over the past few years he has lost what little pace he had and now relies on all the tricks in the book to stop people getting past him, which he has been fortunate to get away with (cf Michael Owen 'tackle' from last week). This time he didn't get away with yanking Man of the Match Bobby down (and 'getting the ball' afterwards) and suddenly he was walking as well. Pandemonium. Suddenly we could relax. Rafa's reaction to the sendings off was to take off his most experienced attackers in Kuyt and Benayoun and replace them with a rookie defender Ayala and a rookie forward called Ecclestone. He'd given up the game it seemed and when Dempsey walked the ball in the net from a Nevland 1-2 that was it. A hilarious and eventually deserved win which echoed last year's victory against Man United. More of this please.
Attending: Me, Ish & Jarrod.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Europa League Permutations

Theoretically if Roma win in Rome and Basle see off Sofia then the table will be:

  1. Basle 9pts
  2. Roma 7pts
  3. Fulham 5pts
  4. Sofia 1pt

Fulham have to beat Sofia at CC so if Basle beat Roma in Italy, the table will be like this:
  1. Basle 12pts - Qualified
  2. Fulham 8pts
  3. Roma 7pts
  4. Sofia 1pt
This means Fulham are likely to need to beat Basle in Switzerland to qualify - but bear in mind that they will already be through and might not be playing their strongest side.
If Basle draw in Rome then the table will look like this:
  1. Basle 10pts
  2. Roma 8pts
  3. Fulham8pts
  4. Sofia 1pt
And a win in Switzerland would likely be necessary to qualify along with Roma who will presumably win in Bulgaria.

If Roma beat Basle then the table will look like this:
  1. Roma 10pts
  2. Basle 9pts
  3. Fulham 8pts
  4. Sofia 1pt

Which again would mean that Fulham would have to win in Switzerland.
However if Fulham get a draw in Italy, the table will look like this at round four:
  1. Basle 9pts
  2. Fulham 6 pts
  3. Roma 5 pts
  4. Sofia 1pt

If Roma beat Basle in Italy then the post round 5 table should look like this:
  1. Fulham 9pts
  2. Basle 9pts
  3. Roma 8pts
  4. Sofia 1pt
This means that a draw in Switzerland will be good enough thanks to our head to head records.

If Roma and Basle draw in round 5 the table will look like this:
  1. Basle 10pts
  2. Fulham 9pts
  3. Roma 6pts
  4. Sofia 1pt
This means that Fulham will need to get at least a draw to make sure that they qualify, but can still lose and qualify as long as they have better goal difference than Roma. Currently Roma's GD is 0 and Fulham's is +1. It will essentially mean who puts more past Sofia in the final two games.

If Basle win in Italy, then the table will look like this:
  1. Basle 12pts - qualified
  2. Fulham 9pts - qualified
  3. Roma 5pts
  4. Sofia 1pt
That looks good. I have assumed that Sofia are going to get tonked in their final three matches, otherwise I would have been here modelling all night.

IN SUMMARY: In most cases Fulham will have to win the final two games to qualify. This is unfortunate as Manchester United come visiting CC in the game after the Swiss adventure and Roy is likely to prioritise the league game. But if Fulham get a point in Rome then it will be a crunch game between Roma and Basle and we favour the Swiss.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Fulham 1 -1 Roma

It shows how far the team has come in a few years that Fulham are disappointed to be coming away from a match against Italian giants Roma with just a draw, but that is what has happened tonight. Had Fulham managed to hold out for another 10 seconds then they would have recorded a famous victory in unlikely circumstances. But an improbable finish right at the death from Roma's full back unluckily found its way past Schwarzer via John Paintsil's head, when the Italians couldn't even get past the big Aussie keeper with a generous penalty.
First thing's first. Arriving at the ground 10 minutes before the game there was already a buzz but the situation around our seats was very, very strange. In the rows both in front and behind us were a massive group of deaf teenagers, most of which were donned in the same Fulham FC weatherproof jackets. If that wasn't surreal enough, anyone who wasn't part of that group sat around us were Italian, ostentatiously wearing Fulham scarves. Were these Roma fans who couldn't get tickets in the away end or Italian football fans interested in watching their compatriots? I only got a small inclination that it was the former. It certainly wasn't like a typical game though and this is before it has even kicked off!
I don't know how strong Roma's starting 11 were, but only five of Fulham's could be deemed 'first XI'. Not that you could tell in the first half as Fulham set a quick tempo and provided more attacking impetus than in most of the other home games put together this season. When Hangeland nodded in Riise's (7th) corner it was no more than the home side deserved.
I can only assume that several of Roma's players were so entranced by the beauty of Craven Cottage that they are keen to play here more often. So keen were they to get into a Fulham shirt that they were trying to take them off the back of the players during the match. I've never seen a side engane in so much cynical shirt pulling. They could have one of their own if they stop off in the club shop.
The second half had far more of an Italian flavour as Fulham played far too deep considering Roma didn't appear to have a great deal of pace upfront. Still the home side might have scored on the break had a quick half time shower had not made the ball zip along the now slick pitch.
The penalty, when it came, was down the other end, so hard to see. We could see the Roma player (their Riise) go down theatrically though and the ensuing rumble around the ref and the penalty ref. The roars that met Schwarzer's impressove penalty save would have buoyed poor Stephen Kelly who had played well until the red card, but it did still mean backs against the wall for the last 20 minutes. As seems to happen at Fulham, they just couldn't hold on and a 90+3 equaliser, after a stingy three minutes if injury time was shown, is a sickener. Imagine what might have happened had the first XI been playing?

Attending - Me & Jarrod

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Fulham 2 - 0 Hull City

I was surprised at the mass turnout at Craven Cottage last night - nearly 24,000 - considering it was a 'midweek' televised game, although looking back last year's encounter was similarly attended on a Wednesday night. Of course some of this is down to the £5 additional ticket(s) offer for season ticket holders and the somewhat sudden 130 year anniversary 'celebration' being held on the evening. Cynical marketing ploy? Who knows?
Being chosen as the Monday night game, especially with a Thursday Europa League match, seems particularly Fulham-ish but I think the fact that both Fulham and Hull have American players means a later kick off time would garner more interest in the states. At least for those without 9-5 jobs over there.
Still I availed myself of the £5 ticket offer and took my sister and father to the game as they happened to be visiting me that week. They became the typical football tourists too (see picture). It did mean a seat shift though and we ended up in H4, seven rows from the front in apparently 'covered' seats but I doubt the roof would have kept us dry had it rained. The front of the Hammy End is very odd as the stand dips below pitch level. This means that those sat in the front seats are literally watching it at pitch level. Of course that far down the front makes it nigh on impossible to gauge the game properly, which was particularly irksome in the first half as all the action (bar one important Johnny Paintsil improvised overhead clearance) was down the Hull End. The goal eventually came, although it didn't exactly register that Bobby Z's header had looped in, and the first half ended on a high. I thought the first 45 had dragged, but the family enjoyed the experience.
Second half we had more of the same, only this time we could actually see what was going on. Jimmy Bullard's introduction to the game was greeted with a chorus of boos which continued with his every touch, a response which has drawn a mixed reaction from some quarters. As far as I'm concerned the fans had every right to boo a player who had threatened to go on strike, despite being looked after for 18 injured months, but at the same time you can see why Bullard took Hull's coin. I think he will regret how he did it at when he looks back at his career though.
Fortunately for anxious Fulham fans, Kamara made it two soon after the substitutions after good work from Zamora and that allowed the fans to have a bit more fun singing songs at Bullard's expense. Hull barely improved though and Mark Schwarzer had nothing to do but collect a few high balls played into the box. Hull were abject, but they were particularly bad last year at the Cottage and still somehow managed to waltz away with 3 points.
Performances of note in the Fulham team were Duff's and Baird's and Zamora did more right than wrong, although you'd hope so given that he was up against Kevin Kilbane at centre half despite being, as far as I remember, a left winger. When Nevland came on for Kamara he seemed to be making the same runs into the same space as Bobby Z, so perhaps Woy should keep them apart. But it was hard to judge the team given the opposition were so bad. Roma on Thursday should be of sterner stuff.

Attendance: Me +2, and 2 of Jarrod's mates. No Ish or Jarrod.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Now there's cut price Roma tickets!

I know attending Fulham matches hasn't exactly left me massively out of pocket over the last three years, but the news that Seetickets is yet again offering cheaper tickets to the Europa League tie than those the club has already sold to fans leaves a bit of a bad taste in the mouth. Fulham fans who bought the first 10,000 tickets were 'rewarded' by only having to pay £25 instead of £30 for the Roma tie, yet it seems you only have to be on a poxy free newsletter to a ticket website to be offered entry for just £15. Although you do have to sit in P7 for the privilege.
I'll be buggered if I buy a ticket for the Sofia match early when they come on sale. I'll wait until Seetickets are offering them in exchange for 10 bottle tops.
It appears that European football may not be the draw and money spinner that the club are looking for. They should make all tickets to the Sofia match £5 to get the bloody place full and bouncing.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Fulham 1 - 0 Basel

Walking to the Cottage for its first Europa League 'proper' game on Thursday night was the first time this year that things really felt autumnal. The sky is starting to darken at 7pm now and the pavements looking untidier and tidier at the same time with piles of crisp leaves hiding the piles of crisp packets through Hammersmith. The temperature has also dipped slightly so I wore my over-large white hoody coat, which I didn't quite need but was pleased to have.
As I got into the ground, the crowd at the back of the Hammy End were enthusiastic and noisy which I liked as I sat with around five H7 rows to myself and read the special programme. Then I realised there was another noise. Almost like a buzzing in the back of my head. Looking up it dawned on me that the away fans in the JH stand were making some kind of noise which didn't quite register on my ears but was annoying none the less. They soon stopped it and made more typical noises throughout the game, but it was a good pre-match warm up for both fans.
It didn't appear that the home team had such good preparation though, as busy Basel were all over the pitch and controlling the game. Indeed they should have been up at half time had one of their players not managed to blast the ball over the bar from about eight yards. In truth, the game was not holding my attention in what had been a long week and it was particularly disappointing to see some of the new players for the first time. Stephen Kelly appears to have Glen Johnson disease, handy enough going forward, but clumsy looking when defending. Bjorne Helge Riise was tidy but unexciting. Jonathan Greening seemed to be a bad facsimile of Danny Murphy - doing similar things, but worse. More than once when he was involved, the crowd murmured 'Jesus' and I'm not entirely sure it was down to his similarity to the popular image of the son of god or his general sloppy play.
This being a Woy Hodgson side there were no substitutions at half time and little changed until the crowd moaned a little when Dempsey misplaced a pass. Somehow the ball came back to him almost immediately and he hit a frustrated almost petulant shot from 30 yards which almost worried the keeper, but at least it meant the home side had had a shot in anger.
A couple minutes later and Fulham were ahead. They played their first bit of football all night with a flowing move which was dispatched into the back of the net by the increasingly prolific Danny Murphy. And that was that. Basel huffed and puffed, but couldn't get the equaliser they probably deserved.
It was a night to forget for Fulham's front two. Bobby Zamora had another one of those games where he would do something sublime and immediately follow it up with something ridiculous to spoil everything, which didn't help his already fractious relationship with the Craven Cottage faithful. Meanwhile, apart from finding it impossible to read the few flick ons that Zamora won, Andrew Johnson appears to have lost all his pace. He is no longer lightening, merely fast and as many defenders are also fast, AJ needs a couple more strings to his bow if he is going to break a dozen goals this year.
In a way, it was the antithesis of the Arsenal game - didn't play particularly well, but won 1-0 and took the three points.
Attendance: Me and Jarrod.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Cut price Basel tickets

Despite charging £15 for the first 5,000 people to buy them and £20 for everyone hereafter, Seetickets has somehow got a load of tickets for Thursday night's Europa League extravaganza against Basel and is flogging them for £7 plus £1.60 each. The downside of that is that they are in P1&P2, but hey! £8.60 for Craven Cottage's first experience of proper European competition. It's bound to be electric.

I'll be amazed if the crowd breaks five figures. The fans have a go at Hodgson for not putting his first XI out in Europe, but it's not as if they are treating the competition with any more respect.

I do find the amount of empty seats at football stadia around the country disconcerting. A quick watch of BBC's Football League show (if you ignore the bunker set) tends to highlight more brightly coloured seats than fans. Can clubs not cut the prices and get more fans in? That's what dragged me to Fulham in the first place, after all.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Fulham 0 - 1 Arsenal

How annoying was that game? Fulham fought and fought, but it was one of those days where the team were not going to score. Arsenal's rookie keeper Mannone made a series of impressive, if a little showy, saves from the Fulham forward line while at the other end Robin van Persie was clinical in putting the ball past Mark Schwarzer.
The game still contained plenty of positives. Zoltan Gera really took hold of the chance to shine by, well, shining. He replaced Damien Duff early in the game and put himself about making lots of tackles, including a key one in defence, and generally looked busy - which is more than he usually does in a white shirt. He could well have played him into the starting 11, which paradoxically means he will probably be dropped for the Europa League game on Thursday.
One of the few Arsenal players I'd not seen before was Andrei Arshavin. He didn't have the best of games after a few tussle with Johnny Paintsil, but he looks so out of place on a football pitch with other adults. The guy isn't just small - he looks incredibly young. It's like the mascot has somehow stayed on the pitch and is getting involved in the game.
The only Fulham player who had an off day is Clint Dempsey and he was closest to scoring, although his shot came back off the keeper's face. Another indication that a game isn't going to go your way. If any of Fulham's front line were as clinical as RvP then all three points would have remained at the Cottage, but as it goes all we have to take from the game is a positive performance and plenty of plaudits in the papers. Quite percussive.
The referee had an odd match. He seemed to give Arsenal every foul they fell over for and his bookings of Danny Murphy and Paul Konchesky were very harsh indeed. It wasn't that dirty a game (although Johnny P was a little wild at times) yet four Fulham players got carded and no Arsenal players did. Very odd.
Fulham now sit just above the relegation zone, although they have played a game fewer than most other teams. Is this a fair reflection on how the team has played? Not really, but they have had games against Everton, Chelsea, Arsenal and Villa already and compared to last season they are two points lighter. Yet they already have an extra two points from Fratton Park compared to last year. The only thing letting the side down was the away game at Wolves, but Fulham didn't exactly shine away from home last season. It's way too early to panic, although a point at West Ham on Sunday would be nice.
Attendance: Me and Ish

Friday, 25 September 2009

Pre - view

I've not seen Fulham play for a while now - over a month actually - so I'm looking forward to tomorrow's game. I missed the Everton game because I was in Cyprus, although I did manage to watch the game on some kind of international ex-pat channel. What did surprise me was the appearance of Rob McCaffrey as the game's studio anchor - I though he'd been banished from our screens for being generally rubbish but here he was holding his own on Showtime Arabia asking Iain Dowie and Derek Whyte for their analyses on the game.
When I was working in a bar in Gran Canaria I came across this guy who reckon he ran a Sunday football league team in which McCaffrey played and that whenever there was any bother on the pitch McCaffrey would cower screaming 'Not the face - I'm in TV'. It always struck me as a slanted story told by a bitter man, yet it stayed with me and whenever I now watch McCaffrey on TV I imbue every false utterance with a sense of cowardice. It's amazing how slight suggests can pollute someone's perception in such a way.
Anyway I was very impressed with Fulham against Everton, especially in the second half. Coming from behind to win takes some character which I'm not sure that the team possesses in abundance. In fact it only happened once in the league last year - at Eastlands. Again. A bit more of that grit and determination will do the team well this year and it seems that there is competition for every single position except left back with Roy's bizarre experiment of having separate league and cup teams. He suggests that such an approach has come to an end, but I'll believe that when I see the line up for the home match against Basel on Thursday.
As it is I'll be dashing to tomorrow's game from Ascot where I'm the subject of considerable corporate hospitality by the good people at Extrabet. So if you are think of having a bet with anyone, I recommend those guys.
  • Oh and congratulations to our erstwhile season ticket companion Colin, who's about to become a father for the first time next year. I can see why he didn't renew now.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Barnet 2 - 2 Bradford City/Man United 4 - 3 Man City

An unusual weekend saw me attending back to back matches which couldn't have been more contrasting. A trip to Underhill was undertaken because of  a Bantams-supporting friend's annual bit of birthday blackmail. Normally I've managed to duck these as they've clashed with a Fulham home game, but not this season.
Underhill's a pleasant enough lower league ground, with large swathes of terracing and a quite pronounced sloping pitch. I particularly liked the tuck shop feel of kiosk at the back of the stand which sold cups of Bovrill.
The game itself didn't really amount to much, with whichever team was playing downhill in the ascendancy. The only goal of particular note being Bradford and Pakistan captain Zesh Rehman's volley. The officials, decked out in salmon pink didn't get a great deal wrong and the crowd of 2,282 was sporadically noisy but everyone seemed happy with a point.
It was fitting thet Mark Hughes scored Barnet's second equaliser as the day after I watched his namesake's side try to get one over on their more illustrious neighbours in Manchester. I've mentioned before I am at heart a United fan, so the opportunity to watch a derby for the first time in at least a decade was too good to pass up on.
Sat in the usually quite reserved South Stand, there was an electricity at this game from the start, aided by the pantomime booing of Carlos Tevez. Despite the early goal, United were jittery and second-best in the first half - typified by Ben Foster's brain freeze moment for City's equaliser - but in the second half I've rarely seen United so fluid, or Giggs so dynamic. In the first half Barry kept winning flick ons for Tevez and Bellamy to dash onto and cause a nuisance, but that didn't really happen in the second half. The ebb and flow of the game also helped the fans find their voices and the atmosphere buzzed. The two goals at the end of the game also provided unbelievable swings in emotions for everyone in there. I don't think I've ever cheered a Michael Owen goal quite like it.
The only other match I've attended that has come close to that atmosphere was the 1999 FA Cup semi-final replay between United and Arsenal (where Giggs scored THAT goal) but it was very reminiscent of Fulham's home 3-3 draw with Spurs a couple of seasons ago when Kamara improbably equalised in the last minute with an overhead kick. I was buzzing for a couple of days after that match and I'm still buzzing after the Manchester Derby.
I think City have a good chance of winning something this year, highly likely the League Cup, so I doubt Fulham will get a now customary win at Eastlands tomorrow night. But with his attitude to Europe, will Woy mind getting knocked out?

Monday, 7 September 2009

European tour

Not Fulham's though. Mine. I'm off to Cyprus for a wedding and then I've got to skeddadle to Copenhagen for work, so the next two weeks are a write off for me. It also means I miss the Everton match on Saturday and probably won't be back in time to watch Fulham in Bulgaria live on ITV4 a week on Thursday.
The derby with Arsenal will be my next match and, worringly again, tickets for that game have gone on open sale. The attendance at Chelsea this season was only negligibly lower than last year's in the end, but the fact that tickets were on general sale reflects the poor economy rather than the travails of the team in my opinion.
Anyway last week I went to Brentford. I didn't realise how close I lived to Griffin Park as well as all the other grounds. I've said before I live inside an unholy football triangle between Loftus Road, Stamford Bridge and (thankfully) Craven Cottage. But it seems during all this time I was actually living in an unholy rhombus.
There were three reasons for visiting the Bees. 1) They were playing Oldham Athletic, a team I occasionally watched at Boundary Park when I was wee. 2) Griffin Park still has terracing, at either side of the ground and I'm a sucker for terracing. 3) I got a free ticket.
Despite the terracing, I was underwhelmed by the lack of original songs from the fans. They were all identikit chants with Brentford or the names of Brentford players inserted at the appropriate moment. At least Fulham have some unique songs. However because of the size of the ground there was a lot more banter with the players and the officials, which was particularly amusing. The branding of Oldham's keeper Dean Brill as a giant Wotsit because of his horrid orange kit was perhaps the highlight. One linesman appeared to be continually barking at the players, although it later transpired that he was communicating with the ref via the little microphone thingy on his head. Anyway it wasn't long before the fans were telling him to get off his mobile.
The match itself was pretty dull, the first half in particular showing very little what you would call 'football'. Brentford won a penalty (although it was down the other end so we couldn't see what it was for) just before half time and duly converted it. This encouraged them to to out in the second half and actually start playing. They should have won had it not been for an audacious bit of skill by Blackman on Oldham's left wing. He brought down a long ball with one touch and put in a shot, at least I think it was a shot, that drifted into the far top corner. It was a piece of skill that had no place in this match and enough to earn Oldham a point.
What going to the match did highlight was the value for money we get at Craven Cottage. It would have cost £20 to go and watch the League 1 game and that was for standing on the terracing. If you wanted a seat then it would cost even more. A bit of investigation when I got home found that a season ticket for the Ealing Road terrace was £330 - the same price as my Fulham ticket. - albeit for 4 more matches.

Monday, 31 August 2009


Reminiscent to last year's away form, Fulham fans have recently been enraptured by draws, main the Europa League draw which saw the Whites drawn in a pot with Italian giants Roma, experienced Swiss side Basle and relatively unknown Bulgarian side CSKA Sofia. It is a tough group, harder arguably than Arsenal's group in the Champions League, and Fulham will not be disgraced if they don't make it out.
Irritatingly the only away date I'm free for is the final group game in Switzerland when it might all be over. I think there may be quite a lot of fans making that trip as most will want to avoid the buttock-stabbing Roma fans and the away game in Sofia comes just in three weeks time.
It seems that Fulham's endeavours in the Euro Vase is already disrupting what was the league's most settled team last season. Injuries to the front pairing and half the midfield means that the last few games have been played by a different look Fulham, which has struggled to perform. Perhaps that not surprising considering the 5 hour plane trips to Perm.
Still it has been a good time to sign up another couple of midfielders in the shape of experienced Jonathan Greening and South Africa captain Kagisho Dikgacoi. I wonder what the non-existent Fulham songsmiths would make of KD. His name doesn't lend itself to rhymes. A positive variation on 'I've never met a nice South African'?
In the meantime Fulham have been drawn away against the Nouvea Riche Man City in the Carling Cup, a competition that Woy will no doubt want to quietly drop out of as soon as possible. While Eastlands has been the scene of some improbable Fulham wins in the past two seasons, it seem that Mark Hughes' desire to win the League Cup is greater than anyone's from SW6.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Fulham 0 - 2 Chelsea

A strange passion-less game saw plenty of huff and puff, but little real quality on show. Chelsea came to the bridge as a powerful, professional and somewhat cynical side and seemed to brush Fulham to one side without really excelling themselves.
The two goals came from top class centre forward play between Drogba and Anelka, each laying on a goal for the other, in stark contrast to the unusual front pairing for Fulham. Clint Dempsey was pushed up to the centre forward role to support Bobby Zamora in the enforced absence of AJ and it didn't really work. Dempsey rarely ran beyond Bobby, which is a shame as he won many headers ahead of Carvalho but there was nobody to pick up the flick ons. Despite this for a long time the high ball to BZ appeared to be Fulham's only attacking outlet.
Perhaps as a consequence of Dempsey's absence, but more likely reflective of Chelsea's strength in the area, Fulham were consistently second best in midfield. It didn't help that Zoltan Gera appeared unable to control any ball that came near him first time. Passes just kept bouncing off him and it wasn't long before the home crowd was on his back. When Roy finally hauled him off after 62 minutes it was more an act of charity to the player.
Fulham barely pestered Chelsea's goal and Chelsea didn't exactly pepper the Fulham goalmouth either. It was a strange kind of match. From where I was sat, the Fulham fans easily outsang the Chelsea mob, who never really got going until Anelka's goal in the 75th minute. Some people on the messageboards complained about fans singing about Frank Lampard's mum, but I didn't hear that down the front of the Hammy End. In fact Lampard was having a friendly bit of banter with those down by the corner over the 'Fat Frank' jibes, which was quite funny. Opposition players taking corners in front of the Hammy End don't half get a bit of stick at times. I'd dread having to take one there.
An injury to Danny Murphy towards the end of the game highlighted the lack of creativity in the middle - can Baird and Etuhu really push on a team behind by two goals? I guess that's why Jonathan Greening has now, finally, been signed up.
Attendance:  Me, Ish and Jarrod

PS - this is the 100th post of this blog. Blimey.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Fulham 3 - 1 Amkar Perm

Despite sounding like a Kevin Keegan hairdo in the 1970s, Amkar Perm showed that they were a handy side last night. Either that or Fulham were very, very casual. With Chelsea coming up on Sunday, I'm hoping it is the former.
A very early goal, possibly the earliest I have seen Fulham score, did not reflect the first half at all, with Amkar having plenty of the ball. The goal itself was class though, with Bobby Zamora's pass to Andy Johnson beautifully cutting out both defenders and goalkeeper, allowing AJ to pop it over the keeper into the back of the net.
Amkar controlled the ball for most of the half with Danny Murphy having a particularly torrid time in the middle of the park. Whether this was rustiness or that fact that Amkar's strategy was to get at the captain, far too many of his passes missed the mark and he couldn't pull the strings as well as normal. Despite this Fulham had another two great chances before the break, one of which needed an acrobatic clearance by an Amkar defender.
The Russians seemed to be far more superior in the air than Fulham which caused a lot of problems in the home team's penalty area from corners, but the whites were far better in the second half. After seeing the crowd jump on Zoltan Gera's back for playing a poor pass when he could in fact have had a shot on goal, Clint Dempsey smashed one into the top corner from 20 yards. It was an absolute beauty, leaving the Amkar keeper sprawling.
That's when it all went a bit weird. AJ pounced on a loose ball at the back, knocked the ball past the last defender, went to follow it and got taken out by the mother of all cynical bodychecks. As last man, Dmitry Belorukov should have been shown the red card, but the referee bottled it. AJ stayed down for a while and then wandered off the pitch. I thought Hodgson substituted him as a precaution with Chelsea on the horizon, but it turns out he has dislocated his collarbone.
I had a similar injury playing pub football as a 17 year old way back in the mists of time, when running onto a long ball I collided with an outrushing goalkeeper and broke my collarbone. I was out for six months. AJ will only(!) be out for 4-8 weeks, but you've got to ask whether it will have any psychological damage. How reluctant, albeit subconsciously, will he become to try and ghost past players after this experience? I think, given the number of times he has been clattered in the penalty area and just brushed himself off, he'll be okay. Brave man, AJ.
Anyway, the referee compounded his mistake by not allowing Fulham to make the substitution when the ball went out of play for a thrown-in. Zamora was apoplectic with rage at this. I think that the referee would have booked Konchesky for time wasting had he not taken the thrown in rather than wait for the common sense approach of allowing a team to replace an injured player.
The Portuguese referee had a poor second half to be truthful. Every little touch in the first half which ended up being a foul was suddenly legal in the second half. He also booked Dempsey when the ball bounced up and hit him on the hand. I've never seen Woy so angry and animated in post-match interviews as he was here because of the ref's handling of the game.
Anyway old Belorukov got the pantomime treatment everytime the ball came his way. He also got 10,000 people laughing at him when Clint Dempsey crashed a freekick against his face as he stood in the wall. That's karma for you.
New boy Duff came on and ridiculously set up a goal with his first bout of possession. He turned down the wing, crossed it into the box for fellow substitute Nevland to knock it back for the rejuvenated Zamora to crash in a third.
This should have been game set and match, but Fulham contrived to make next week's tie so much trickier than it needed be by conceding an away goal almost immediately afterwards - midfielder Grishin crashing the ball into the top corner from an angle. In fairness, it was no more than Amkar deserved over the course of the match, although they had not had many shots on target. Certainly 3-0 would have been very flattering to a loose Fulham side.
But that away goal means that Amkar only need a 2-0 victory their plastic pitch next week. The pessimist in me is worried that this is achievable for the busy Russian side. Although they should have been without the services of their anti-football centre-half for the next leg, fate will probably decree that he'll score the decisive goal. That would be very Fulhamish.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Another Duff signing

Duff man has entered the Cottage. I used to really like Damien Duff (pictured with Billy The Badgers shirt it seems), despite him playing for Chelsea. He was creative, he was fast and a catalyst for goals, especially with Arjen Robben playing on the other flank. However over past three years he doesn't appear to have done much, apart from scoring the own goal that ultimately sent Newcastle United down last season, because of his injuries.
In fact it's his injuries that are the main concern. As long as he can be kept out of the treatment room, Duff is someone who has competed at the highest level and now has a chance to prove himself again after a time in the wilderness, similar to Danny Murphy really.
Plus he's a winger, and Fulham haven't really been playing with out and out wingers under Hodgson so he definitely brings something different to the side, although I think he will be playing ahead of Simon Davies (and Zoltan Gera obviously) in more of a left midfield role.
Plus his temperament is clearly right. Hodgson knows Duff from their time at Blackburn, so he knows he can rely on him to do what he is told - always useful in a Hodgson team (just look at the ire he had for Bullard when here). However he is not a prolific scorer from midfield, so hopefully he can provide the service for the front two to fulfill their potential.
It appears that Hodgson is working on strengthening the midfield positions even more with the signing of South African Kagiso Dikgacoi (work permit permitting) and a further move for Jonathan Greening, who will presumably be back up to Danny Murphy's central midfield creator role while also offering options on the wing. All in all a far stronger and deeper Fulham side than has been seen in recent years.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

The Undiscovered Country

It seems a bit strange to be doing a season preview when Fulham have already played two competitive matches, but It's not as if I can do it any earlier now. Last year I wrote this spot after the opening day defeat to Hull, so it could be even later.
An extremely odd close season (for everyone not just Fulham) has made my thoughts on the upcoming season mixed at best. I do think that there will be an awful lot of transfer activity for teams who aren't Manchesters City & United, Liverpool and Tottenham before the end of August and that could turn all expectations on their heads.
Still I have a strange feeling in my waters that Fulham may actually win something this year. My first season at Craven Cottage had them avoiding relegation by a single goal, my second had them finishing higher than they have ever done before. Surely a cup beckons in my third?
I stand by my prediction that the easier cup to win will be the newly entitled Europa League. It is the only competition that England's big four (five now) are not also in. Of course cup runs depend on who you draw and Fulham may still trip up on the plastic pitch in Perm (say that while drunken), but it seems the bookies agree as you can generally find longer odds on them winning the Carling Cup (50/1 with Totesport) or FA Cup (50/1 with Totesport/Paddy Power) than Europa League (40/1 available generally).
In the league Fulham are generally 12/1 to be relegated, which puts them mid-table. This seems about right, as long as the team aren't horribly fatigued from the cup. Last year's home defeats against Blackburn and especially Hull were badged as symptoms of tiredness, although they were followed up by the first away win of the season and then the 2-0 dismantling of Man United. Unfortunately the 750/1-1,000/1 available on them being champions also seems quite accurate.
The general apprehension of the transfer market appears to have spread into the wider area of the sport. Whether it is down to the economic climate or not, I don't know, but I'm very surprised to see tickets for what is now Craven Cottage's first league match of the season available on general sale. Especially as it is an SW6 derby. If Fulham aren't going to sell out for a game against Chelsea, will they manage it for any other game?

The categories used in the past few seasons have never seen so anachronistic, but I will use them anyway.

Most Anticipated Player: I guess I'm most looking forward to see Clint Dempsey play this season, after his heroics in the Confederation Cup. I'm also interested to see if Johnsons Eddie and Andy can combine as well in competitive matches as they do in friendlies.

Least Favourite Player: This should be a shoo-in for Bobby Zamora. But it's not. He's shown he wants to stay at Fulham and I believe that desire will propel him into double figures this year, especially with European games. He needs to sort out his relationship with the fans though.

Season Prediction: I want to say 15th, which is lower than most people have them. I'm really concerned about the strain of Europe. But a few more signings will temper that conservatism. The league again appears to have an awful lot of poor sides in it though, so it would be disappointing to finish below the likes of Hull, Bolton, Birmingham and Blackburn. Normally I would have lumped Wigan in there too, but Roberto Martinez's Swansea side were very attractive and almost dumped Fulham out of the FA Cup last year. As for the cups... I anticipate a cup final. Hamburg would be the best chance of actually winning one, but a trip to Wembley wouldn't go astray.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Continental shift

Today sees Fulham embark upon their second ever European campaign against FK Vetra in Lithuania. This being Fulham, the game is not being televised anywhere in Europe it seems. However you can keep up to date via an online commentary from the Fulham website. We should be grateful for small mercies I guess.
It makes me wonder how it used to be in the old days before the explosion of the communications industry. When I was growing up there were only three English teams in Europe (when they weren't banned) so they tended to be thoroughly covered. Before that though, I guess you had to wait for the next day's papers to find out how your team performed away from home in Europe. Why does it feel like that today.
Frustratingly I'm outside London for the return leg, so it would be nice for Fulham to smoothly brush past Vetra and allow me to see at least one Euro Vase match. However Vetra's comeback against HJK shows they are not to be taken for granted and I think it will be a tough old game for the Effers.
Still it seems that Bobby Z will be spearheading the attack for this game and the rest of the season after turning down a move to Hull. I'm thinking this was mostly a geographical decision as old Bobby doesn't exactly have a great rapport with the fans. Either that or maybe he wants to prove something to them and more power to his elbow for that.
In other news Bjorn Helge Riise, younger brother of comedy own goal scorer John Arne, has joined the club on a three year contract in another example of a relatively underwhelming signing. Still I quite liked his big bro and hopefully he can add some steel and depth to midfield. It's been a relatively quiet close season for everyone in England (Man City aside) and I just wonder if one more transfer is going to trigger a whole host of rushed deals before the season starts.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

How do you solve a problem like Zamora?

You flog him it seems. This morning Fulham agreed a fee with Hull for Bobby Zamora.

This prompted a small email debate amongst us.

I don't know what it is about Hull, but they keep giving Fulham money. £5m for Bobby Z?
Stupid, stupid bastards. They couldn't get Owen on a free, so they spent £5m on Bobby four goals!
£5 million ?? My god, have Hull lost their mind ????
Arent fulham a bit stuffed? For the following reasons i think its a bit of bad business:
a) They are supposed to increase the size of their squad so they can cope with the Europa league, and
b) Booby came good (unexpectedly) on a few occasions
And so the door is opened for Drogba! Who that boy Dempsey made look shite.
Bobby needs to go and £5m is a ridiculous amount for someone who scored twice in the Premiership. Eddie Johnson and Seol (!) have come back from loan deals and Kamara returned well after injury. Fulham have been linked with a couple of strikers, but mainly midfielders for some reason.
There's talk about the money being put towards the £11m needed for Crouch. I'm not sure if the squad will get boosted unless Fulham make it into the group stages.
So as you can see, a mixed reaction, but only because Ish knows nothing about football. That's harsh, but as I've recounted on here several times over the last few months, Bobby Z doesn't seem to have a strong enough psyche to play himself out of poor form.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Fantasy Transfer XI

With the transfer window wide open, I thought I'd put forward a feasible squad of acquisitions for a Fulham team getting ready to improve their squad to push on through Europe for debate. The emphasis has been on value for money though, so it's more 'budget' than 'fantasy'.

GK - Joe Hart
Seemingly surplus to requirements at Man City, Hart is a good young keeper with plenty of character. England's U21 keeper may be available on a loan and would put some real pressure on the majestic, but 37-year-old, Mark Schwarzer.

EDIT - Just found out Hart has already gone on loan to Birmingham! How about Scott Carson from WBA then?

RB - Gary Neville
A controversial choice. He's not got many fans as a person - Comrade Neville is reaching the end of his career - but he is a proven winner. He's only played a handful of games in the past two seasons, but he will add some passion to a side that seems remarkably lacking in heart at times. He shouldn't cost too much either.

LB - Gareth Bale
A tidy player who scored against Fulham a few seasons ago, Bale isn't fancied by Harry Redknapp and would probably be available for £3m, which isn't bad for a 19 year old with 20 international caps. Famously he has played a record 24 Premier League games for Spurs without being on the winning side, but that's hardly the fault of the left back.

CB - David Wheater
An imposing force in the Boro back line last season, who went down because of a lack of firepower rather than a porous defence. He's not averse to scoring the odd important goal either. If he's not interested in a move, perhaps his partner Robert Huth fancies moving back to South West London.

CB - Sean St Ledger
The PNE centre half also has a gob on him, as shown in the Big Ron Manager programme, but he has matured a great deal in the past couple of seasons and also has the eye for a goal. He has won player of the season awards while at Deepdale and forced himself into the Republic of Ireland squad. Could be worth a tickle at £1.5m.

CM - Gary O'Neil
Can play on the right as well as in the centre, O'Neil has a Premier League pedigree and is keen to move back down south. He won't improve on what's there, but could be a good price squad player.

CM - Kevin Nolan

Yes, he's only just signed for Newcastle, but they need to clear their decks a bit. An eye for goal and a tidy passer, he could be a good foil for fellow scouser Danny Murphy in the middle of the park. I nearly went for Alan Smith, but I only rated him as a striker rather than a midfielder.

RW - Ross Wallace
Another Preston player, Ross Wallace was one of the best players in the Championship last season in my opinion. Tricky on the ball and a great dead ball taker, the only problem with his game is the suspensions he racks up after taking his shirt off celebrating goals. He's still got 4 years on his contract though, so could cost £4m.

LW - Chris Brunt
The annual shopping trip to the Hawthorns could do worse than come back with this winger who hits the ball so sweetly. A Northern Ireland international, Brunt will be another good addition to the squad.

FW - Eidur Gudjohnsen
With Barcelona looking to offload the Icelandic striker, it actually seems Fulham have a chance to sign a truly world class striker. Would transform the team, even if he was the only player to sign and give Fulham a genuine goal threat, although his goal tally in recent years, largely coming off the bench, are in the Zamora region.

FW - David Nugent
I was going to suggest Ruud van Nistelrooy, but I think his wages might be too expensive. Plus he's injury prone. So what about Nuge - the man with a 100% goalscoring record for England? I've always been a fan of Nugent. He's fast. He works hard and he can finish. It's not worked out for him at Pompey and he could probably do with a new challenge to kick start his career.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

The not very eagerly awaited Season Review 2008/9

Now the dust has settled, here is the prestigious 3pm Cottagers review of the season. I expect Woy to study it and make the requisite improvements to the squad forthwith.

Elliot Ness 'Untouchable' award: A tricky old category given the success of the team this year. Early plaudits justifiably went to Brede Hangeland, but after earmarking him as 'least favourite player' I'm not about to do a total about face and make myself look like a pillock. Plus I think that Hangeland is more dependent on Aaron Hughes than we realise, with the pair of them developing an incredible partnership.
Danny Murphy has also been earmarked as a key player this year, especially since Jimmy Bullard's departure, but I'm afraid I can't really discern what he does in the centre of the park. He pulls the strings so imperceptibly to me, I can't actually give him the credit he probably deserves. Ish said he would give it to Dickson Etuhu, but considering he only played half a season, I think that would be unfair.
Anyway, my choice is Clint Dempsey. This is partly because he plays in the combative way I can relate to and would play myself if I was any good. It is also partly for the way he has forced himself into the starting 11 of a Woy Hodgson team - something no other player managed. It is also partly for the last minute equaliser against Chelsea, which is apparently the only headed goal in the league for Fulham this season.
Honourable mention: Mark Schwarzer

Frank Spencer Award: I'm afraid this has to go to Booby, sorry, Bobby Zamora. After a decent first half of the season, albeit with very little goal return, something snapped in Bobby Z's psyche. Bizarrely it seemed to happen just after he scored in the FA Cup. The league match against Pompey saw Bobby in plenty of great attacking positions yet make the wrong decision every single time. In fact once, when clean through, he didn't make any decision at all and seemed to just wait to be tackled. When he was eventually hauled off, Erik Nevland put his perfomance into stark contrast by calmly scoring twice.
While Zamora had the odd good game after this match, his performance against Man United in the league paved the way for a famous victory, he is not a fan favourite. Scoring a tap in against West Brom and celebrating by shouting at fans in the Hammy End reflects an unusual fragility of ego for a Premier League footballer.
Honourable mention: Paul Konchesky - far too many important, late goals came from players PK was supposed to be marking

Better than sex award: Most Fulham fans would cite Zoltan Gera's acrobatic second against Man United I wouldn't for two reasons - 1) I am essentially a Man United fan with a Fulham season ticket and 2) I would have won over £100 had the match ended 1-0.
As mentioned above, Dempsey's equaliser against Chelsea in a match where Fulham had been out-played and yet pulled it back in the last minute was a dramatic highlight in a season littered with last minute concessions.
Honourable mention: Alright - Zoltan Gera against Man United

Sign him up award: Well there's two players that in my mind stood out like a sore thumb, the FA Cup version of Wayne Rooney aside, Sunderland's Kieran Richardson and Blackburn's Stephen Warnock. Warnock's running duel with Schwarzer (in which the keeper was successful) was an enthralling display, but the fact that Rovers won left a sour taste. So Richardson, who let's not forget hit a free kick that hit the post THREE times at the Cottage, is the surprise recipient of the award.
Honourable mention: Steven Pienarr, Everton

Captain Hook pantomime villain award: The league game against Man United saw the absolute worst side of Cristiano Ronaldo. Diving and complaining and whinging and fouling. The man now worth £80m didn't even play well. In fact he was so bad that even the referee took the piss out of him. By far his worst game of the season.
Honourable mention: Mark Riley

Single malt award for biggest indulgence: It's got to be Johnny Paintsil. Although he gradually improved as the season went on, he is clearly mental and hasn't lost that erratic part of his game. In one of the last matches of the season, Johnny performed an unnecessary overhead kick clearance and diving header clearance. Yet from his much copied pre-game prayers to his much appreciated post game lap of thanks, we think Paintsil is brilliant.
Honourable mention: FFC

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Wimbledon - Day 3

Well what else am I supposed to do? I'm not in South Africa to see Clint Dempsey tear up the form books, so this'll have to do. Granted I could write the season review I've alluded to, but I kind of wanted the other lads to participate in that. I'm still waiting for the goods though...
Anyway I skived off work and set the alarm for 6am. I rolled out of bed at 7.30 and was out of the flat by just gone 8 to arrive at 'The Queue' at about 9.30. It's It was an odd old experience for me as I used to live at the other side of Wimbledon Park, so everything looked familiar yet completely alien. I guess the All English Championships can do that to an area.
Despite getting there at 9.30 and being handed a very civilised 'queue card' in the early 9,000s it was easy enough to get a ground pass, although it did take over three hours to get in. Luckily the park was bathed in glorious sunshine, so the queuing in itself was not a hardship. It also gave the like of Robinsons, HSBC and a wine company the opportunity to market to patient tennis fans. A couple of Italian tourists managed to infiltrate the line in front of us about half way through, only to be sent all the way to the back after waiting an hour because they didn't get a queue card. No-one queues like the British it seems.
This wasn't the first time at Wimbledon for me. I went in 2001, back when I was local, when a ground pass cost just £13. These days its £20 and the creation of a new Court 1 means that there are even fewer quality matches for the proletariat to see for their money.
The truth is the good matches were heavily oversubscribed in terms of bodies, so we found ourselves mainly watching women's doubles, which was aesthetically pleasing if not sportingly. Actually the speed at which the ball moved around the court was particularly breathtaking.
We started off on Court 15, where a women's double match where the most exciting thing to happen was my revelation that all the protagonists' names ended in VA, with players from Australia, Kazakhstan and the Czech Republic. Oh and the umpire, trying to return a stray tennis ball from a neighbouring court, nearly hit me with it. I'm sure it was the umpire from the Andy Murray match on Tuesday.
I then wanted to watch a full match and we found a second round women's singles game about to start on court 12 where India's Sania Mirza faced Romanian 28th seed Sorana Cirstea. We decided to support Mirza because of her ties to the Great British Empire, but our support was short lived. After the most insipid set of tennis I'd watched in a long time, in which our girl was beaten 6-4, we decided to knock it on the head and go for a drink. 6.30 for a Pimm's by the way.
We did see some men play. We watched British number 2 Alex Bogdanovic and his doubles partner James Ward close out a match on Court 6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, with some nice play. And we saw Number one seeds Bob & Mike Bryan strutting their stuff on Court 7.
Just as we were about to head home, out of the scorching heat, we returned to Court 6 to watch a fun match between Japanese pairing Rika Fujiwara and Aiko Nakamura against Kristina Barrois and Tathiana Garbin (German and Italian). This was a fun match, with the enthusiasm of the Japanese girls rubbing off on their European opponents. Fujiwara was a little dynamo at the net and both her and Nakamura played some great tennis. But their high intensity game withered in the heat, much like we did, and they were eventually defeated 9-7 in the final seat. Still - they lasted longer than we did. We toddled off home at 4-4.

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