Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Fulham 2 - 0 West Bromwich Albion

What a strange day this was. Walking to the ground, I had to check that kick off was at 1.30pm and not 1pm as it was so quiet on the Thames pathway. Even when we reached the Cottage there were none of the usual turnstile queues, which seemed strange for what felt like an extremely civilised KO time. In the ground there were many empty seats, but not nearly as many as was feared.
Anyway the game started and Fulham were pretty on top, practically a different team than that which appeared at Old Trafford in mid-week, despite featuring most of the same personnel.
Well the first half ended up as a game of who can hit the woodwork from outside the area most, with Danny Murphy beating Clint Dempsey by two to one. Scott Carson also made some astounding saves in front of watching England manager Fabio Capello and when half time came it was rather surprising that Fulham hadn't scored.
West Brom were probably the most anonymous team to arrive at Craven Cottage in the Premiership this season, but that's probably because they have just been promoted. I recognised very few names on the teamsheet. That said, at Old Trafford I heard some people asking who the hell the players were representing Fulham, which is kind of understandable given that two years ago only Dempsey and Davies were in the Fulham squad!
Fortunately the second half continued in much the same vein, although West Brom did try a bit more from long range to test Schwarzer a few times. The goal, when it came, was hardly a thing of beauty, but it was a long overdue strike from Bobby Zamora, who tapped it in at the far post from a deflected Paintsil cross. Bobby Z then went spaz and started shouting at the fans in the front row of the Hammersmith End. An odd celebration, but hell, the fans didn't care and many were ecstatic to see him get the monkey off his back. If anything it is these bread and butter tap ins that have been missing from his game. His previous two goals were both clean strikes from outside the box.
While Hangeland tried to muscle in on the midfielder's crossbar challenge by powering a header from a corner against the woodwork, Bobby Z became a man possessed. He swept a shot narrowly over, before beautifully controlling a long ball by Murphy on his chest and crashing the ball towards goal. A lesser keeper than Carson would have been picking the ball out of the net, but somehow he got in the way of the shot, albeit with his face. Fortunately the ball rebounded to Andy Johnson, who calmly slotted it past the covering defender on the line.
A well deserved victory with everyone having a good game, although WBA didn't exactly exert a lot of pressure on Fulham, and a result which some would argue vindicates Woy's tactics at Old Trafford.
Interestingly, Davies and Murphy did a wonderful job from free kicks and corners in this game. Maybe Jimmy won't be missed at all? Well not at the Cottage anyway. It's probably a different matter in Hull.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Manchester United 3 - 0 Fulham

Yep - that's right - an away game. I'll put my cards on the table early and repeat that I am primarily a Man United fan, so this game had more than a little interest for me. Bizarrely I also became one of the prawn sandwich brigade for this fixture as I was fortunate enough to be a guest of one of United's primary sponsors.
This entailed being greeted by one of the biggest glasses of champagne I've ever had and the chance to mingle with ex-players - notably Denis Irwin and Andy Ritchie. I'd seen both of these play for Oldham Athletic in the late eighties and early nineties, so this was a particular delight for me. Denis Irwin in particular came across as one of the nicest, most down to earth people ever. maybe I was a little star struck.
Anyway after a three course meal we took to our cushioned seats, on the half way line obviously, to watch a competitive match of football. Only it seems that no-one told Woy Hodgson. I must admit to be slightly worried about Woy's pre-game press conference as it gave the impression that he'd already written off the game at Old Trafford and was willing to rest people in order to get three points against West Brom on Sunday. Unfortunately, this was the case.
A 4-5-1 formation can be quite effective away from home, but not if you concede within 15 minutes, which Fulham did thanks to a rare Mark Schwarzer blunder. There are several plaudits for Paul Scholes' volley direct from a corner, but Schwarzer should have had it. In fact the defence should have marked Scholes as the ball had gone directly to him from the previous corner 30 seconds before.
After that Fulham huffed and puffed but made absolutely no dent on Man United's ridiculous clean sheet record. One dangerous Johnny Paintsil cross from which Bobby Zamora had a header tipped over and another Zamora shot poked wide are probably the only two times that Fulham managed to get into United's box during the whole game.
United's second on the 30 minute mark could again have been prevented by Schwarzer, although Rooney's goal with his first touch after coming on as a sub on the hour mark was mainly undefendable.
Woy's approach to this game was exemplified by two substitutions that came on the pitch. I'd never heard of them. They weren't even in the squad list at the back of the programme. Robert Milson and Wayne Brown both made their first team debuts at Old Trafford, although they didn't really get enough time to make an impression. Some might say that it is good man management from Woy to give them a taste of the big time, but tell that to the fans who made the 400 mile round trip to watch their team capitulate.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Badges in the cottage

I've seen a few things this week online slagging off the Fulham badge. From a marketing perspective, I can see how it works, just about. It's a big old bold and easily recognisable piece of branding, which doesn't require a licence fee to the local council.
It's not exactly exciting though, is it? And the closest it gets to being historic is how it slightly resembles a swastika.
Anyway, I decided to create my own badge for Fulham and wanted it to have some cultural resonance. My first attempt was like a crazed opening of Eastenders, with the ground's position on the Thames being the main theme, but it was ultimately unsatisfying.
Then I discovered that it is thought that Craven Cottage was originally a hunting lodge. Combining that tidbit with the proximity of Bishop's Park and voila! an underlying theme emerged. Add a football theme with black, white and red motifs and we were there! Far more exciting that just the initials. It should appeal to the burgeoning US fan base as well.
Tomorrow sees the Fifth round FA Cup tie against Swansea televised, which I will miss as I have been learning to row this year and the early kick off clashes with my attempts to not fall into the Thames and bring 8 people splashing with me. For these past few years, I've realised I've hardly ever watched Fulham on television. Maybe it's because very few of their away games are live on TV. There's been a fair few home games televised, but more often than not I'm actually there - 3pm Cottagers my eye.
In fact i can only recall one game this season - the match against Everton, which I caught the last (and crucial) ten minutes. Still - the only reason why its being televised tomorrow is because ITV are hoping for a shock. In all honesty a Fulham away win will be a shock, but Swansea appear to be a bit too cocky at the moment, regardless of the form they are in. Another 0-0 then?

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Hello, goodbye

Well as mentioned above, Jimmy has gone, but there area number of other arrival and departures at the Cottage during the transfer window.

Olivier Dacourt - Wow. Here's a guy with plenty of pedigree. He was effective in the centre of the park with Leeds nearly a decade ago and has since been very successful in Italy. In fact the only reason he's not featured much recently has been because he's injured. A demonstration of Woy's Inter contacts coming good and a solid loan, which could well develop into a two year contract at the end of the season - despite the fact that he is 34 now. Likely to be far more composed than Dickson Etuhu, who had probably his best game against Pompey, but is still lacking some guile.

Giles Barnes - I recognised the name, as he was heralded as Derby's golden boy when they were in the Premiership, but again injury curtailed his Premier League opportunities. Another loan, but this one with a clear option to buy, Barnes is more of a like for like Bullard replacement and his recent cameo in Derby's league cup semi-final second leg at Old Trafford, where he scored twice suggested that he is not phased by the big time. Could turn out to be Woy's best signing.

Lee Cook - has returned from whence he came, QPR, having never played a game for Fulham in 18 months. Very strange.

Seol Ki-Hyeon - Away for a six month loan at, bizarrely, Al-Hilal Al-Saudi Club. Seol just didn't have the work rate or intelligence to thrive in the Premier League, so it's good to know that the fact he is on another continent means he won't be on the first team sheet any longer. Talented, but strangely lifeless.

Hameur Bouzza - Back from a six month loan with Charlton for milliseconds, before being farmed out to Birmingham for the rest of the season. He may have played a role at Fulham for the rest of the season, had Barnes not signed.

Adrian Leijer - Sent to Norwich on loan, with promising full back Elliot Omosuzi returning to the Cottage early. I've never seen the Australian play, so it might be a good opportunity for him to get some experience.

Andranik - Off to Barnsley to regain some of his fitness after an early season injury. Again, he has yet to play a game for Fulham.

Leon Andreasen - A strange one considering Andranik has been farmed off as well. Many fans rate Andreasen higher than Etuhu, yet he has been allowed to join Hannover 96 on loan with a view to buy. Woy clearly didn't fancy him, despite signing him 12 months ago. I don't think we ever got a chance to see him flourish for Fulham.

Of course the surprising 'nearly' loan of the window was the return of Brian McBride, with the player and Fulham keen to team up again for a couple of months, but Chicago Fire were unwilling to allow its veteran striker to miss a handful of games at the start of the season. The re-signing of McBride would have given the opportunity to rest Bobby Z, but it seems that we are now waiting on the return of Dio Kamara from injury in order for that to happen.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

State of the nation

First post of the year? In February? Well in fairness there has only been one home game in that period thanks to the annoying Blackburn postponement (bloody QPR managed to get their game on). The daft thing is there is only one home game scheduled for this month as well.
Anyway, let's look at what's been happening. I've not reported on it but the 2-2 home draw against Chelsea was somewhat amusing. Chelsea played far better than they did in the same fixture on New Year's Day 2008 when falling Michael Ballack managed to con a penalty in a 2-1 win, yet only came away with a draw this time. This was mainly down to the endeavour of our All American Hero Clint Dempsey whose last minute bullet header brought Fulham a point they really didn't deserve. But who cares?
Of course the Chelsea match was the first game that Jim Bullard was 'injured' for and he continued to be injured with one ailment then the next whenever a game came along. What seems to have been happening during this time is Jimmy 'Five Agents' Bullard had threatened to go on strike if his contract wasn't improved and extended, despite there being 16 months + to go on his existing contract, of which he had been injured for about 16 months.
Woy took a gamble on no-one wanting to give an injury-prone 30-year old £45k a week for nearly five years, as well as pay £5m, but he was wrong. Why on earth Hull City thought it was a good investment is beyond me, but they wrapped up the deal and Jimmy is now a tiger. And injured after playing half a match.
I've always liked Jimmy as a character, but he's not as good as his press. I think Fulham will miss his endeavour on the pitch, but I don't think he is an insurmountable loss to the team. As for the way he went about his business agitating for the move, well... I think he has gone down in a lot of football fan's estimation. He'll do well to get another England call-up with Hull. It makes the Tiger's visit in March a bit tastier as well!
The home win against Portsmouth was a very important one, as FFC hadn't won many in the league. However it was pretty comprehensive in the end. Portsmouth played some nice football, and at times dominated, but were very slack at the back with little penetration themselves. AJ's goal seem to come out of nowhere and Nevland score two goals on the break after coming on for Zamora, who seemed to have a mental breakdown mid-game. Put through on goal, Bobby seemed to do literally nothing with the ball until a defender managed to get back and clear the danger. Within five minutes, Bobby was off, Erik was on and putting a composed finish to a very similar through ball.
Bobby Z has always been a confidence player, but the strange thing is he'd scored his second(!) of the season only the week before against Kettering. It looked like he was up to his old 'handful of a non-scoring striker' schtick against Wigan though, where a draw at the moment appears to be a good result. Will Fulham make it through the entire season without winning away from home? They nearly managed it last season, so I wouldn't be surprised.
Which is what makes the current cup run so unexpected. I didn't think they'd win at Hillsborough and they nearly cocked it up against Kettering and now they are away at an in form Swansea. Another draw would be an excellent result for Fulham here. We might actually get two games in February if they managed it, but I wouldn't count the chickens. Ridiculously, if they do get past Swansea, Fulham would be in the quarter finals. Now that would be a turn up for the books.

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