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.

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