Friday, 29 May 2009

Track back

Just been looking back at my pre-season predictions. I highlighted the lack of a defensive midfielder, which in the end didn't really matter much until Bullard was sold and Dickson Etuhu came in and played the role rather well. Probably better than my suggested acquisition of Robbie Savage!

Most Anticipated Player: Zoltan Gera. I reckon he could shine in the side and weigh in with some very important goals. He seems to have played a good pre-season too.

Well in the end old Zoltan flattered to deceive. Got a few early chances, but didn't take them by the scruff of the neck and was edged onto the subs bench by an excellent Dempsey. His recent replacement for Davies suggests the team hasn't missed much.

Least Favourite Player: This is difficult as it's practically a completely different side. In fact from the first game of last season, I think only Simon Davies is still starting. I suppose I am still to be convinced about Brede Hangeland, although he has been improving.

In fairness I did say this was hard! Hangeland was only a nominal choice and I think that was only because I still blamed him for the defeat the previous season against Sunderland, which I was convinced cost Fulham their top flight status. Needless to saw old Brede has been imperious this season and hence I was miles off the mark. Again.

Season prediction: Last year I suggested 11th in the league with a quarter final appearance in the League Cup and fifth round in the FA Cup. Talk about being over optimistic! So this year - shit I have no idea. 14th in the league would be nice. As for the cups, an empty stadium is not very empowering. Fulham's away form means that home ties will be necessary for a repeat of last year's predictions

Once again I'm wide of the mark. Hardly a surprise given the stellar season that Fulham have had. In fact I would bow down to anyone who predicted a finish of seventh in the league for Hodgson's men. Portsmouth were 14th with 41 points this year, a full 12 points behind Fulham.
The cups prediction was not that far out. An away tie at Burnley put us out of the league cup in the second round (Fulham are automatically put into the third round next year because of Europe) but the quarter final appearance in the FA Cup proved that I had recognised some potential I guess. Incidentally I'm off to the FA Cup final tomorrow through work. I'm going to fully enjoy that one.

The moral of this story is, don't try and guess Fulham. They will confound your expectations. Either that or I'm completely useless.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Fulham 0 - 2 Everton

For the first time this season, all four season ticket holders managed to make it to the same game. If the result is anything to go by, that is probably a good thing. If we'd all gone to all the matches, Fulham might have been down there with the Newcastle Uniteds of this world.
To be beaten at home against a team that hasn't won at Craven Cottage since 1966 and yet still retain 7th position and the final Europa Cup spot is, so I'm led to believe, the very essence of a 'Fulhamish' existence. In this game Fulham were well beaten, but not in anyway disgraced.
It was a game of tidy football, but not by any way, shape or form exciting. Everton were surprisingly sprightly, despite the FA Cup final looming large, and looked the more dangerous team. However for the second game in a row, my desire to drink beer meant I missed a goal. Having been stood next to the river finishing off a half time bottle of Carlsberg when Kamara scored just after the second period started against Villa, I was determined not to make the same mistake again. Instead I made a different mistake by getting up after 43 minutes and running to the bar. The strange noises from the crowd while I queued made my look to the big screen which, although saturated in sunlight, displayed a blue shirt running away in celebration. Bugger.
Having since seen the goal on TV, it's clear that Paintsil was slightly at fault for losing the ball under pressure, Paul Konchesky just let Leon Osman run past him to collect a pass and round Schwarzer with relative ease. A fair percentage of goals this season have been conceded from Konchesky's area and perhaps he needs some lessons in concentration.
The man to give them him today would have been Aaron Hughes, who I thought had a majestic game and is the very essence of an unsung hero for Fulham. His higher profile partner in crime, Brede Hangeland, also seemed to add another string to his bow today, frequently carrying the ball out of defence and into attack, reminiscent of Gary Pallister in his pomp. He didn't know what to do when he crossed the half way line either, but he carried on going.
Everton's compact defence meant it was very hard work up front for Nevland and Kamara and later Zamora, who once again veered from the sublime to the buffoon at times, occasionally with consecutive touches.
The worst performance of the day though was arguably referee Mike Riley who never let the game flow and made some ridiculous non-decisions. I've never really liked Riley. He's always reminded me as the kid who got bullied at school, and who carried on smiling while he was getting his head flushed down the toilet. And I keep envisaging him as the Martin character from the old nineties sitcom Game On. He also missed a potential foul, I think on Zamora, before Everton's and Osman's second goal, but the young midfielder had an awful lot to do before curling past Schwarzer, who also enjoyed a good game despite the two goals.
By this time it seemed that Fulham had given up anyway, or at least Hodgson had knowing as he did the scoreline at Anfield, where Spurs' likely defeat meant that Fulham claimed 7th. On came a young centre half Chris Smalling for Hughes and, bizarrely for a team one goal behind, a defensive substitution in the shape of Olivier Dacourt on for Zoltan Gera, with Murphy suddenly being asked to be a speedy right winger. There's some speculation that it could have been Dacourt's final professional game before retirement, but I don't think Fulham fans cared. It didn't look much like he cared either. Thanks Olivier - you provided squad depth, but very little else. If you can't improve on Dickson Etuhu then perhaps it is time to call it a day.
The guy who sits next to Ish is usually quiet, but explodes into the loudest, most foul mouthed cockney I've ever heard when things are going wrong on the pitch. I first heard his bile in the home match against Chelsea and it resurfaced again at this match, wishing the referee to 'get cancer and die' (with a few more effs and cees thrown in). It's a good job Fulham have had a good season - I reckon he'd have had a coronary last year.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Inter Milan 3 - 0 Siena

Another unexpected match report after a weekend trip to Italy coincided with Jose Mourinho's Inter picking up the Scudetto - and we just happened to have tickets for the match at the San Siro.
The party atmosphere had begun the night before as AC Milan's defeat had made Inter champions by proxy, sparking celebrations at the Dumo - Milan's big cathedral square - and endless cars and mopeds beeping their horns and flying flags around the city. That included just outside our hotel room in the Garibaldi area. It reminded me of when I was staying in Gran Canaria when Real Madrid won the European Cup in 1998. No sleep that night thanks to taxi drivers and their car horns.
The next day and the party continued in Milan - blue and black graffiti adorning many public spaces. The San Siro (and the agonising walk from the tube to the ground) was bouncing - so much so there seemed to be more people than seats. This is mainly because there were!
Despite having to show our passports to get into the ground to prove that we were the people mentioned on our individual tickets, in the ground it was carnage remiscient to what I experienced in the away end during the Fulham v Man United league match. Basically we got to our seats and there was a bloke sitting there with his kid and he was not moving - our lack of Italian meant that it was a discussion of gestures with him suggesting it was a sit anywhere policy. We managed to find two seats free and sat down, only for 10 minutes into the game another bloke turn up and turf out most of the row because they were sitting in his seats and the seats of his 'bambinos'. Having children appears to cover a multitude of sins in Italy.
Anyway we found ourselves sat in the aisle - and we were in good company - each row had at least one extra person on it so we didn't really feel left out. As all this was going on, there was still a carnival atmosphere going on, which actually quietened down as the match got into the swing of things. One particularly striking aspect of the crowd was that ocassionally a single deep and resonant drum beat was played from an unseen instrument which cracked the air like a thunderstrike, which seemed to spark another chant from the far end of the ground where the Ultras appeared to be stationed. Incidentally, there was no hide nor hair of any Siena fans in the ground.
Their team though was there to make a game of it and Inter didn't get their own way, despite what the scoreline suggests. Inter's first goal, which relaxed the crowd and allowed them to enjoy the spectacle a bit more, was put in from a rebound and the second and third goals were more or less on the break. Siena also hit the post twice in the second half with good efforts.
Suffering from a day in the sun, and 8.30pm kick off and sitting on concrete stairs, we decided to hop off just before the end and therefore missed the lifting of the Serie A trophy. It seems a shame looking back, but at the time we felt so grim and grotty and had such a trek back to the hotel from the ground it seemed like the senisible solution at the time. I guess it's just a sign of getting old. Perhaps I'll stay a bit longer when Fulham meet AC in the UEFA Cup next year. Hell - it happened to Portsmouth!

EDIT - I've just discovered we were actually sitting in the away end! And still no Siena fans in sight. It was bonkers.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Fulham 3 - 1 Aston Villa

Well - it's getting ever closer. The impossible dream of qualifying for Europe through the league, after staying up on goal difference last year, is within Fulham's grasp. This, in the end, routine win against one of the division's high flyers has placed the Cottagers in seventh place and four points from the final two games (away at Newcastle, home against Everton) will see the team qualify for the rebranded UEFA Cup next year. Astonishing.
And it's all really down to one man. Roy Hodgson. Many of the changes he has made have been imperceptible and it wouldn't be too controversial to say that his two big signings - Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson - have been disappointing. But Hodgson's is a team work ethic and without those two defending from the front, who knows what might have happened this year? It appears that Hodgson has made many of his improvements to Fulham's game on the training ground, which is a most gratifying way of achieving success.
Fortunately the Fulham fans know which side their bread is buttered and this game was marked by a remarkable, spontaneous standing ovation for Hodgson at around the 75 minute mark, which saw most of the ground acknowledge the superhuman job this modest man has done since arriving in SW6.
The game itself was quite interesting. For the first 20 minutes or so, it was mainly Villa looking dangerous with Young Footballer of the Year Ashley Young making mincemeat of a bewildered John Paintsil a couple of times. Despite this, Diomansy Kamara was barged to the ground by Milner for a stonewall penalty (although it looked a bit softer on TV afterwards) and Danny Murphy stroked the ball home from the spot. Again.
Villa equalised, probably deservedly, when a Barry cross made it all the way across the box and Young tapped in at the far post after Zoltan Gera had failed to follow his run. It was a strange game for Gera - it seemed that whenever Fulham misplaced a pass it was him doing it, yet the people I was with were impressed at his game.
Anyway, after Young's goal, Villa's threat more or less melted away and Fulham became more comfortable on the ball. Paintsil, who had by this time already done completely unnecessary overhead kick and diving header clearances, had also started to get the measure of Young and would only grow in stature as the game went on.
Half time came so we went and got beers. Unfortunately we were nowhere near back in time to see Kamara's goal, coming as it did 25 seconds from the restart. I'd never missed a goal before and I was cursing the ban of alcohol in the stands. I did see it on the screens though and was impressed at the confident finish.
In fact, without the injured Johnson and Zamora, Kamara and Erik Nevland were making a nuisance of themselves up front. In fact Kamara's second goal, an inventive and cheeky flick through the legs from Brede Hangeland's header off a corner, brought both strikers up to three league goals for the season - more than Zamora who has played far more games. The fact that Bobby Z missed a one on one chance after coming on as sub kind of typified the unfortunate season that he has had.
The crowd was in good form, especially when making light of Chelsea's injury time expulsion from the Champion's League by Barcelona in midweek by singing 'There's only one Iniesta'. Villa's fan's were also really impressive, at least for the first half, after which they tailed away, somewhat reflecting their team's season.

* A strange thing about Saturday was that we had two people with us who a) had never been to a game before and b) knew next to nothing about football. Fortunately Colin was sat inbetween them to handle any queries. However they seemed to enjoy it. John's interest was piqued until the 60th minute as I had advised him to have a bet on a 2-2 draw. Meanwhile Margaux was just laughing at the reaction of everyone around her and taking lots of pictures. She couldn't see most of the action as she is only short and everyone standing up when it got exciting kinda blocked the view.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Another casualty

Well here's the good news - most of us have renewed our season ticket once again. Despite the outrageous increase in cost (well £10 because we got in so early), Jarrod, Ishan and I will be sitting in H7 again next season unless the Fulham ticket office really mess things up. This is a possibility if Jarrod's account of his conversation with the bods in there is anything to go on.

You may have noticed a casualty. Colin, after one season, will not be renewing. Anyone would think it was a pain to get to Fulham from near Crystal Palace? An ambition to improve his eduction (us lads from East Manchester didn't really get one) means that something had to give, time-wise and that was a commitment to football. I'm sure he will still see a lot of games next year though - hell someone has got to sit in Ish's seat.

The encouraging news is that Jarrod has a couple of mates who want to join us next year, although how they will get two extra tickets around us remains to be seen.

All we need now is a victory at the Bridge today to help the team kick on for sixth place, which isn't as fanciful as it may seem. They are six points behind Everton who still have to come to Craven Cottage (where they have not won since the 1960s) and also have one eye on the FA Cup Final. Mind you, let's not get greedy - everyone would be ecstatic with 7th.

Rich Text