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.

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