Friday, 27 March 2009

Fulham 2 - 0 Manchester United

Now this one was hard to take. Don't get me wrong, Fulham totally deserved the win, but at this moment in time United need the points more than Fulham! Still, for the first half Bobby Zamora played liked Zidane and left Jonny Evans with twisted blood. Zamora would have scored too had it not been for reserve keeper Paul Scholes' save on the line. Unfortunately the midfielder wasn't the designated goalkeeper for this match and got his marching orders, with Danny Murphy dispatching the resulting penalty. Now the bright side to this was the fact that I had a bet on Murphy to score first and Fulham to win 1-0 at 125/1. So I was more than a bit pissed off when Zoltan Gera suddenly fulfilled the promise that I've been saying he has had all season by acrobatically scoring a second. The man is now on my shit list.
Despite being down to 10 men, United could and maybe should have equalised, with Schwarzer making one of the most amazing double saves I've ever seen live, from Park and then Rooney. The latter's second yellow card I think was more for the sins of the team rather than the player himself, Ronaldo being a petulant pantomime dame throughout the game - more of a thorn in the referee's side than Fulham's.
Similarly to the players' on-pitch behaviour, the Man United fans left something to be desired. I heard at least three racists slurs at individuals and saw several 'fans' threatening fellow Man United fans for the simple crime of wanting to stand where their paid for seats were. Many fans had either got in surreptitiously or just didn't want to go to where their own seats were and no-one was going to make them. Horrible scumbags. I'm glad I wasn't a steward having to sort that mess out.
Which brings me back around to Fulham. What kind of team loses at home to Hull and Blackburn before winning away for the first time of the season and then defeats the European champions a fortnight after being beaten 4-0 by them? A frustrating team, that's what kind of team. With an extra six points, Fulham would be five points clear of Wigan in 7th and only two points behind Everton.
Incidentally Fulham are one of five teams really in the mix for 7th place, which will be a UEFA Cup place this year, with three points between Wigan, West Ham, Fulham, Tottenham and Man City. It would be a travesty for Spurs to get the place, considering the contempt with which they held the competition this season. Personally I don't think Woy would want to qualify for Europe this season - the squad is way too small considering he doesn't rotate the starting line-up. It would be a measure of how far the team have come under Hodgson though.
Anyway, Woy, I have the feeling that you owe me one now. I would like to redeem this voucher in the next home game. Against Liverpool.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Fulham 1 - 2 Blackburn Rovers

Well don't say I didn't warn you? This time I actually put my money where my mouth was and backed the correct score at 10/1. I was most upset when it came to pass. In fairness, Blackburn deserved the result, especially as the team didn't capitalise on Dempsey's surprise second minute goal. There were chances, but the players just looked tired.
In fact the game turned again at around the 70 minute mark when Hodgson should have freshened things up. Instead we wait and wait and Rovers score twice with poxy goals. Up until then Schwarzer had single handedly been keeping Blackburn, and Steven Warnock in particular, at bay. Waiting until injury time before putting Nevland on, despite being behind since the 83rd minute was ridiculous beyond belief - even if he managed to get a shot off with the last kick of the game.
Most of the criticisms of Hodgson from this game have been tempered somewhat by Fulham's first away win at Bolton, which came hot on the heels of this defeat - an odd occurrence for a tired team. However I think most of the angry words are borne of frustration. The fans see a little bit more potential in the team that Woy built and are somewhat perplexed at his lack of a B game, especially when it comes to substitutions.
Still as much as third consecutive home loss signalled worrying signs that Fulham were going to be dragged into the relegation battle yet again, the Reebok victory has seen the team bound clear and once again fans are eagerly eyeing up 7th spot, which will be a UEFA place. Just think what home points against Blackburn and Hull could have down to those ambitions. However it is unlikely that such a small squad would perform well in yet another competition.
As for this weekend's game against Manchester United, it seems Woy's trying to get the champions to show some complacency after their previous two thrashings of his team. On another occasion this might have worked, but after being handed their arses at home by Liverpool last Saturday, it seems that Fulham will instead be facing somewhat of a wounded animal - ready to lash out at the next thing that comes near. The fact that Aaron Hughes and Dempsey (Fulham's best player this season in my opinion) are likely to miss the game, does not bode well. It could allow Chris Baird and Zoltan Gera the opportunity to rehabilitate themselves in front of the home fans though.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Key match - Blackburn preview

My mind keeps wandering to tonight's game and how important it is for Fulham to get a result. Defeat would see the Cottagers eight places from the drop zone, but only six points and stumbling into a bit of bad form.
Blackburn boss Sam Allardyce commented: "We could be playing them at a good time, mentally they might be a little drained because of their last two games. " He could be right. In all honesty, Fulham were looking tired 70 minutes into the game against Hull and adding the 90 minutes trouncing by United in the cup this weekend, Blackburn are likely to be much fresher and desperate side - they are in 18th place after all.
Neither team are particularly successful when conceding first, so the opening goal will be very, very important tonight. I am a pessimist at heart, which is why I'm thinking of having a bet on Blackburn winning 2-1. I call it emotional insurance. That way if there is an outcome I don't want, then at least I have some money to cushion the fall. It is also the reason why I'm thinking of having a little tickle on Fulham to be relegated at 33/1. If they win tonight - then there's no way in hell that they'll go down. However if they get beat four of the five teams left to visit the Cottage are from the top six and I wouldn't feel confident enough picking up the customary six points from Everton if they were scrapping for fourth in the league. The likely event of the FA Cup UEFA Europa League spot being transferred to the league standings (unless Hull win the cup) should also make them less keen.
Interestingly, Fulham's last match of the season could be against a team resting players for the FA Cup final for the second year in succession. It was enough to keep them up last year, hopefully things won't be as tense this season.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Fulham 0 - 4 Manchester United

Well this one was an extremely strange match for me. As a Man United fan, I had never seen my first team play at the Cottage. Last year I was in Manchester for the game (watching Man City v Wigan - the worst game I saw all season) but now I face the prospect of it happening twice in a fortnight.
I had tickets in the 'neutral' area of the Putney End, after all it wouldn't be right for me to sit in the Hammy End, but it was more or less an away end, with United fans everywhere. In truth it was carnage in the stands. Fans wandering willy nilly everywhere, having to be swept out of the aisles two or three times during the match and, in what is a throwback for me, standing for the whole game. A colleague of mine has seats in the Stretford End at Old Trafford and he says he hasn't sat down for a game in about three years. But it was liberating and definitely encouraged more people to sing. In fact I found myself singing both United and Fulham songs - people around me must have thought I was mental. It is a real shame that the authorities won't allow it these days.
As for the game itself, it kind of passed me by as a spectacle. To begin with it appeared to me that Fulham had the measure of United and there were equal number of chances at both ends. However the difference in the first half was that United took a number of their chances and the home team didn't. Things may have been slightly different if the referee had given a justified penalty to Bobby Zamora when John O'Shea tried to pick him up via his shirt, but in truth Carlos Tevez and Wayne Rooney were in irresistible form and it is likely the outcome would have been the same.
I have to admit that I adore watching Rooney. He's almost elemental as a player. Shame he's such a lunatic. And if his shot from just over the half way line had gone in, it would have instantly been etched in Craven Cottage folklore.
The second half kind of mirrored the first, only with far less effort. United's third on 50-odd minutes triggered a wave of substitutions, with both teams playing very important games on Wednesday.
It is the home match against Blackburn where we will see how Fulham react. For a team playing on confidence, they have just lost the last two home games by a total of five goals without scoring any in reply. Hopefully it is a momentary aberration and a win on Wednesday should put to bed any lingering worries about relegation.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Fulham 0 - 1 Hull City

Well I'm somewhat at a loss to explain this result. Hull were by far the worst team to visit the Cottage this season, yet they escape with three points, thanks to an injury time winner from Man United loanee Manucho.
The goal came after most Fulham players had turned off mentally - two minutes into three minutes of injury time. John Paintsil ended up making a defensive throw in as no-one up front was making any movement and a poor clearance by Schwarzer was snapped up by a Hull winger who rode two or three challenges before putting a hopeful cross into the box. Unfortunately Konchesky watched it traverse the six yard box and Manucho stole in behind him.
In fairness the whole team was at fault, as Fulham should have been a number of goals to the good, but possession in dangerous areas was not translated into goals. Zamora himself had a strange game. His movement frequently got him past one or two players, yet his passing (and then his lack of passing) frequently let him down. He wasn't alone though, as Danny Murphy was frequently harried into mistakes by Hull's midfield.
The biggest problem today was Fulham's lack of a plan B, typified by the first and only substitution occurring with three minutes left. It is probably Hodgson's biggest weakness.
Hull were nowhere near this match, but the longer they went without conceding the more confident the players got. They still didn't deserve to score though. Fulham had several chances and a couple of shots cleared off the line by defenders, but just didn't breach the Hull defence, for which they paid the penalty.
Speaking of which, it looked like Bobby Z should have been given one in the second half, but the referee waved the protests away. In fact the referee had a strange game, with inconsistent decisions and a couple of puzzling yellow cards for Fulham players.
The big question is: can the players draw a line under this result as a one off aberration or will it continue to haunt Fulham for the rest of the season?

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