Friday, 19 February 2010

Fulham 2 -1 Shaktar Donetsk

What a buzzing evening that was! We took advantage of the cup game by switching our seats to the middle of the Hammy End, much closer to the chanting and a greater view of the action and boy did it pay off for this match. Plenty of shouting and the best 'you're shit aaaaaaaah' at the opposition keeper for an age.
I was surprised at the strength of the team Hodgson put out, especially with high flying Birmingham coming on Sunday, but as soon as I realised Gera would be playing as a support striker I made my way to the ridiculously ramshackle Ladbrokes booth, which for once didn't have a cast of thousands queuing in front of it, and stuck a fiver on him to score the first goal at 8/1. I didn't expect it to happen that quickly though! Gera has played exceptionally well in that position, especially in Europe, and tonight was no different. But having seen a replay, the goalie should have done far better.
However this just riled Shaktar, who have a horrible sub-Hull City kit. The next 43 minutes was all the visitors. They must have had 70 per cent possession at least. The strange formation meant that when the ball broke to Murphy or Etuhu, there were five Shaktar players around them and this basically nullified their threat. Etuhu in particular was very poor, giving the ball away needlessly when he did win it or going constantly backwards when found with a pass. Meanwhile the Ukrainians, with a Brazilian 'front five' calmly pinged the ball to each other. The good thing for Fulham was that this was mainly occurring in front of the solid back four, with Duff and Davies doing sterling work helping out the full backs when needed. The one time that Shaktar did get behind the defensive line, partly due to Hughes' poor decision to step up to try and catch Adriano offside, Shaktar scored a deserved equaliser. During the game, Adriano's angled run made it look like Kelly was at fault, but he was mainly blameless for the goal and all match was reasonably solid. Far better than his recent appearances anyway.
Somehow Fulham got to half time without conceding again. But the second half began in the most peculiar fashion. Shaktar again dominated possession for the first ten minutes of the half, but didn't do anything with it. They just passed it among their defenders around their own penalty area. It was like watching old matches featuring Liverpool from the 1980s before the backpass rule was introduced. They were content with their away goal and didn't want the scoreline to change much, so wasted a bit of time. Either that or they were trying to somewhat childishly trying to draw Fulham forward in order to create room behind them. They should know better than to try that against a team drilled by Roy Hodgson. They were fleet on the break though and a few times after Fulham had enjoyed half chances they shot up the other end and won corners. It's hard to want the team to push on when there's that kind of sucker punch lurking behind.
I did think that Gera should have dropped deeper to help out the struggling midfield a bit or that Davies and Duff should switch wings to try some crosses instead of having to continually cut inside, which Shaktar were well prepared against.
It began to resemble a more even football match after that though and Fulham even enjoyed some possession without doing much with it. Then BANG. Zamora ran onto the ball with a little bit of space on the edge of the area and absolutely twatted it. I thought he'd easily cleared the bar, but instead it had bounced down from it into the back of the net. Absolutely incredible. And not at all deserved. But who cares? He should have got another with a far post header, but contrived to push it wide. Maybe next week, Bobby?
Will 2-1 be enough? Probably not. Shaktar seem to have a habit of winning 2-0 at home in Europe and they are a considerably talented side. But many wrote off Fulham's chances (ie me) when they needed an away win in Basel. Roy's team is capable of anything.

Attendance: Me, Jarrod, Loz & Nicky

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Fulham 3 - 0 Burnley

This was one of those strange old games which didn't really feel like a competition. Burnley were adventurous and dangerous enough going forward, but their defence away from home is pitiful. Fulham scored three without it feeling like they were actually trying; the forward line was like a hot knife through butter.
Burnley's keeper Brian 'the beast' Jensen made a handful of excellent saves, but was pretty culpable for the second and third goals. And once again Fulham enjoyed a few strokes of luck with the first two goals emerging from offside positions, not that these offside positions provided much of an advantage but the letter of the law states both Elm and Zamora were beyond the last man when they set up the strikes. But the goals would have come sooner or later anyway.
It was a welcome starting 11 return for Dickson Etuhu, but everytime I noticed him in the first half it was for doing something wrong. Fortunately he was far more influential in the second half. His presence seemed to give Murphy more confidence to go forward and he was involved in Burnley's penalty area three or four times, including for the opening goal. A good sign. Jonathan Greening even got a belt of a new song about him dying for our sins. Shame he's shaved the beard off now so it doesn't really make sense.
I don't think I've mentioned Schwarzer much recently but that's only  because he has set such a high standard and is maintaining it. He's probably player of the season at the moment, edging in front of Bobby Z, Duff and Hughes.
The Burnley fans, like the Pompey fans, were noisy despite what was happening on the pitch. Well actually they only became really noisy after the third went it. A case of if we're here we may as well enjoy ourselves. They played nice football again, so it would be a shame if they don't stay ahead of some of the division's more cynical teams in the relegation battle.
Looking ahead to Shaktar tomorrow night February has so far seen Fulham yet to concede a goal and seven different players contributing to the eight goals scored this month. These are positive portents ahead of what may end up being a very tricky or a surprisingly smooth tie. It depends on how match fit Shaktar are and how much interest Roy Hodgson has in progressing.

Attendance: Just Andy with five empty seats either side

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Eight year anniversary

A bit of spring cleaning this weekend unearthed the ticket stub from my very first game at Craven Cottage: Fulham v Blackburn eight years ago today. It's interesting to see the old stadium diagram on the back of the ticket. Away fans in the A&B sections of the then Stevenage Road Stand (now Johnny Haynes Stand of course) with the Putney End no longer broken up with a 'neutrals' area.
Of course the old look Craven Cottage used to have a standing area - terracing at the front of Stevenage Road Stand - which is what attracted me to the match in the first place. Unfortunately I didn't get the chance to stand and watch as my ticket was bought for me by a work contact (play Namco games, kids) but I was still given a complementary Fulham poncho in case I got wet. I've still got it somewhere, as well as I had no reason to unpack it on the day.
The game itself is an odd one for me. I knew Fulham won, but was a bit fuzzy on the score. I thought it was 2-1 to Fulham, but it turns out the game ended 2-0 to the whites. What I did have a clear memory of was the Blackburn red card. Excpet I thought it was Brett Emerton getting sent off, not Craig Short. And I thought it was much earlier in the game than the 90th minute. I can't remember a thing about the goals scored. reading the match report archived on Fulhamweb, it sounds like a cracking match but none of it rings a bell. All I remember with clarity is a Blackburn player getting a red.
Mind you, the number of times I've had to refer to this very blog to remind myself what happened in a game, what the score was and if I was even at the Cottage for a match, is a little disconcerting. I've started using the site as a virtual football memory.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Fulham 1 - 0 Portsmouth

A much welcomed and needed three points against a team which needed them even more but could not find the killer instinct to take what they deserved. Pompey were on top for an hour and their fans (no doubt in gallows humour mode) were even better, but could not make the most of it, which is probably why they are down at the bottom. It appears to be very easy to lose games playing nice football, which is why Roy Hodgson should be commended over the way he has brought relative success to SW6.
This game saw two very welcome debuts - one from a tireless forward who seemed to dribble through defenders rather than around them, the other from a calming influence on the back line - an actual left back. Nicky Shorey's first appearance in a Fulham shirt was remarkably accomplished, both in defence and going forward, and allowed Hughes to return to the centre where he can direct Hangeland. They did look a much more coherent unit in this match than the Villa game, except at right back where Stephen Kelly looks woefully short on confidence, especially when pushing foward. He seems a shadow of the player from two months ago in Basle.
Jonathan Greening, back on the left wing, didn't really offer much attacking impetus, in fact after half an hour he was letting Shorey get on with tearing up field, before becoming an unlikely match winner by placing a deflected Duff cross in the back of the net. Zamora may have been offside (and definitely affecting play) but for once Fulham got the rub of the green and Avram Grant got another grievance to put in his vastly overflowing grievance bag. A lot of people seem to have some sympathy for Pompey and their current plight, but I can't decide where I stand on the situation. The fans seemed happy enough when they were spending beyond their means to win the FA Cup, but there for the grace of Mo go Fulham fans. They know the team is spending beyond their means because it is backed by Al Fayed, but should he sell up - what would happen then?
Goalless at half time, we all reflected on how lucky Fulham were to escape when over the tannoy Diddy David Hamilton read out someone's proposal of marriage. Thankfully the Cottage didn't let anyone down by belting out a quick, traditional burst of 'You don;t know what you're doing' and everything was good with the world.
After an hour of the game (and after Kelly had been subbed) the wind began to change in Fulham's favour and they actually looked like they wanted to win it and could. Before this point, the players were out-muscled and out-fought by a desperate Pompey team. Fulham really do need a clogger and maybe Etuhu can stamp his authority on games again now he is back from the African Nations Cup.
A quick mention of the referee - Anthony Taylor made his Premier League debut in this game and my, what a performance. It was like some promo from Ashes to Ashes as some of the tackles he let go were distinctly of a 1980s flavour. It's likely that's just how games go where he's from - Wythenshaw in Manchester. I used to work in a bookies in Wythenshaw and that was rough as hell, so it's likely he's used to seeing much, much worse. I hope he clamps down a little in the next game he officiates though for the sake of his own career and the careers of some of the footballers on the receiving end of some of the 'legitimate' tackles he's prepared to let go.

Attendance: Me, Jarrod +1

Monday, 1 February 2010

Window shopping


Diomansy Kamara: What a strange in and out player he was for Fulham. His reputation grew as he was injured/sat on the bench this season, but I think he was more a lucky talisman than a consistently brilliant player. Dio gave me my favourite moment watching Fulham, the last-minute, overhead kick equaliser which managed to lob Paul Robinson from the edge of the box in a scintillating 3-3 draw. It was very much Kamara's introduction that gave Fulham the impetus to avoid the drop during the Great Escape, but all his best work has been away from home so I never really connected with him. I hope he does well in Scotland.

Seol Ki-Hyeon: Another enigma, but one with fair less drive than the man from Senegal. Seol had flattered to deceive as a winger and was even less convincing as an auxiliary forward. He will not be missed, which is why the club could get away with simply terminating his contract.

Chris Smalling: It appears that Smalling's strange signing by Manchester United could be the biggest deal in the January transfer window. I don't think anyone would have expected that. Rumours of £8m up front with another £4m of top-ups mean that most fans completely understand why Fulham have sold up. For United it's an unusual type of deal for them, especially given the fact that Smalling hasn't played many Premier League matches. But he has impressed in Europe, I just didn't think he'd impressed THAT much.
But Smalling's not going until summer so he's still here, like Banquo's ghost only less effective especially when teamed with Hangeland. Fergie must have been squirming in his seat at the Cottage on Saturday after the less than stellar defensive performance on show.

Tony Kallio: I've seen this guy play a handful of games since his arrival, but can't actually remember anything about him. If he can't force his way into a team which has no other fit left backs, you've got to wonder what he's done to annoy Hodgson.


Nicky Shorey: An old, respected name but I'd not realised that he hadn't been playing at Villa and was plying his trade in the Championship for Forest. Desperately needed in the short-term and should provide some competition in the left back position when Konchesky gets fit, something I think is long overdue.

Stefano Okaka: Signed off from Roma in some style with a late, backheeled winner but didn't particularly stand out when playing Fulham in the Europa League, despite scoring the winner in Rome. A shame he is cup tied for Europe though, especially with Kamara moving on.

Christopher Buchtmann: Jokes about his surname aside, all the evidence suggests that this 17-year-old kid is a steal from Liverpool's reserves. £100,000 for a player described as one of  UEFA's 'Top 10 Stars of the Future' in May 2009? Fantastic! Knowing Roy he won't even get a game during his 18 month contract. Whatever happened to Giles Barnes?

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