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

Rich Text