Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Tottenham, Juventus and Manchester City

Three games, three very different outcomes. Let's take it chronologically.

Fulham 0 - 0 Tottenham Hotspur
Widely derided as a boring match in some circles, this FA Cup 6th round tie was in fact somewhat mesmerising to watch from the stands. It was like two boxers constantly testing each other without throwing a knockout punch. What stood out was how quiet the in-form Pavlechenko was kept by Fulham back line and how ineffective Spurs' long balls to Crouch were during this game. The stand out man of the match was Gareth Bale who was constantly rampaging down the left wing and causing all kinds of problems for Duff and Baird. His pushing forward somewhat cancelled out the attacking threat from both winger and full back on the right to impressive effect. Despite no real dangers for goalkeepers, Fulham nearly snatched it at the end when a Spurs player, possibly Corluka, shinned the ball out of play, but it could just of easily snuck in the goal via the inside of the post. A close shave for Spurs, who will be looking to press their home superiority tonight in the replay.
One thing I did learn from this game is that when someone manages to put the ball over the Riverside Stand, the scoreboard flickers with an animation of a ball hitting the river, which was quite amusing.

Fulham 4 - 1 Juventus
An early kick off means that there were a lot of late bodies coming in when Juventus scored. Col and I had only just sat down when the ball fell kindly for Trezeguet to stroke into the corner, although he only had so much room because he had tripped Hughes up earlier in the move after a failed attempt at a bicycle kick. The goal cancelled out Etuhu's away goal and meant the slightly possible 2-0 victory needed to take Fulham through had stretched to a need to score three just to stay in it.
I must say that the instant response from Fulham fans was one to be totally commended. They just said 'fuck it' and doubled the volume of their support for the home side, which continued throughout the 90 minutes, bolstered by the timing of Fulham's goals. Ish then appeared and although he'd only missed two minutes, he had been unaware of the Juve goal.
Despite the early setback, the whites were having some success against the gold livered Juve team and it wasn't long before Bobby Z expertly pulled down a cross from Konchesky and, with Cannavaro on the floor, took time to power it past the reserve reserve keeper. At this point if the game had finished 1-1, I think most Fulham fans would have been satisfied at holding the old lady to a respectable draw. Certainly none of them could have expected what happened next.
The 'agricultural' Italian way of defending had been glimpsed in the first leg with the Juve defenders each having two fists full of opposition shirt at every free kick and corner and it was this approach to defending which proved the team's downfall. Gera had struggled to shake off Cannavaro's WWE moves and when Bobby played a pass through for him, he went down pretty softly to emphasise that he was being held. From the Hammy End it looked like a straight red for a professional foul, but on TV it doesn't look so cut and dried. However the ref got out the red and Juve were down to ten. It was like the bad luck in the two games against Roma had finally been repaid. Chimenti's save from Bobby's resultant free kick looked like the save of the season from the Hammy End, but we couldn't see the little Italian keeper stood in the perfect position behind the defensive wall so when this arm shot up to stop the ball going into the top corner we were somewhat surprised.
It didn't matter. A lovely flowing move between Konchesky, Zamora and Davies saw Gera sidefoot the ball into the top of the net from a few yards out and pandemonium broke out in the Hammy End. Fans were running up and down the aisles and jumping up in glee. Fulham were beating Juventus! Who thought that would have happened.
It kept getting better. I didn't see the incident which the ref gave the penalty, but it was at the end of another nice flowing Fulham move (in fact the night was full of them). Gera confidently picked up the ball (despite the hovering Bobby Z) and dispatched it into the net, complete with somersault celebration, to bring the game level on aggregate. There was still 40 minutes left. Fulham kept going for it, but Juve were more or less a spent force.
Midway through the second half there was a bit of a lull and Hodgson made the masterstroke of bringing Dempsey on for the pretty solid Kelly. We all assumed that this meant that Baird would revert to right back, but the Irish man was having such a stellar game in the middle of the park that Hodgson instead switched Davies to right back with Gera moved to the left. As no Juventus players were attacking down the left, it essentially meant that Fulham had two right wingers who ripped up that side of the pitch. It was the runs from these guys that gave Dempsey a little room on the edge of the box to float one in. Initially I though what a terrible waste of a cross, then I started to appreciate the parabola the ball was on. Before we knew it the ball had dropped in and the whole surreal event went even crazier!
Then, for the first time, things got tense. A Juve goal would effectively put Fulham out, so things got a bit cautious and there were a few iffy moments down the other end of the pitch. But then the added time was announced at Juve had another player sent off and the rest of the game was quite comfortable after that.
I've been to some crazy matches in my life. Forest 1 - 8 Man United, the very last FA Cup semi final replay between United and Arsenal which had a sending off, last minute penalty save and 'that' Giggs goal and even this season's first Manchester derby, but this game was up there. Breathtaking and well deserved.  I've never had quite so many texts from friends about Fulham as during that match. It certainly gripped the nation - just a shame that it was on ESPN rather than free to air.

Fulham 1 - 2 Manchester City
This was the fourth consecutive time I've seen this fixture and I've yet to see Fulham win. They only seem to beat City on their own turf, to spectacular effect. Anyway, this was one of the flattest games I've been to for a while. All the nervous energy from the Juve game had been exhausted and it felt like the fans and the players were going through the motions.
That said Fulham nearly took the lead before City scored on the break with a shot that deflected off a defender, hit the post, rolled over a prone Schwarzer before landing perfectly at the feet of Roque Santa Cruz to pass into the goal for a second consecutive early concession at home. Woy may need to get them pumped up earlier in future as they keep providing mountains to climb. The defence, sporting Chris Smalling for a change, frequently gave Tevez too much room to run at and the Argentine caused numerous problems, and scored again after another counter attack, with a finish that has been accurately described elsewhere as a five-a-side goal. Kompany had successfully marshalled Zamora all game so it was unsurprising when he was subbed off, with the Spurs replay only a few days away and demonstrated Woy's massive change in priorities this month.
Another soft penalty was despatched by the underwhelming Danny Murphy (who in fairness had Barry shadowing him all over the pitch)  and suddenly Fulham were back in it and had a chance to snatch a probably undeserved point. Okaka's energy almost saw him power home from a wide angle, but instead he shanked it wide and a better shout for a second penalty was turned down flat, but City had the better chances to score a third in fairness. Etuhu has finally played himself into some form and was the best Fulham player by a mile on the day, effectively countering all of teflon Patrick Viera's manoeuvres, but it was another shakey game at right back for Chris Baird. Perhaps it is time to give Kelly another bite and being first cover of Paintsil. Baird's fair better utilised in midfield these days.

Thursday, 18 March 2010


Only two goals are necessary. It might still be level at half time, but fear not. Fulham have been a second half team this year. Keep the faith and it might just happen.
I'm off to the ground now!

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Fulham 2 - 1 Birmingham City

The last time these two met at the Cottage was under a very different circumstance. Fulham's Great Escape season was Birmingham's great drop, but the Blues have bounced back from the Championship and are now occupying Fulham's 'surprise package' role of last season.
They have been putting noses out of joint around the country and were strongly favoured to get something from the banks of the Thames, especially after Chris Baird's bizarre own goal. You could say he was slightly unsighted as the ball dropped past Hughes, but he really wasn't under any pressure. Certainly not enough to knock it emphatically past Schwarzer at any rate. At least he didn't let it affect the rest of his game - Baird had another stormer at right back.
At least if you're going to concede you may as well do it early, and Fulham had 87 minutes left to get into the game. The fact that they did in the second half is typical of the team this season. I was impressed by the Hammy End in this game. Hughes loses a boot and suddenly the Aaron Hughes chant (which I'd not heard before) becomes Aaron Shoes. Still bootless, he then clears a Birmingham attack for a corner, prompting a blast of 'one shoe - he only needs one shoe...' Great fun and exactly the sort of thing that the Hammy End has lacked in previous seasons.
Second half and the screw turns and some smart passing saw Duff run across the edge of the area and unleash a guided missile past Joe Hart's far post. Unexpected, but a wonderful goal to add to the Duffer's tally. Once again I had a correct 'first goalscorer' bet. Fortunately own goals do not count.
As time was running out, I mentioned how Fulham aren't really a team that scores late winners; the only late goal I remember off the top of my head was Dio's equaliser against Spurs. Anyway, once again Bobby Z shut me up with a free kick eerily reminiscent of his winner against Burnley. Up the football league they go.
The day before this game I was given free tickets to watch Arsenal v Sunderland. I've not been that bored during a match for some time. Give me the Cottage any day.
Today marks a remarkable month for Fulham after an unbeaten February. Spurs, Juventus, Man United, Juventus, Man City topped off with (hopefully) an away win at Hull City. Jarrod has chosen a bad time to return to Australia, even if it is his brother's wedding.
I'm not in London FA Cup Semi Final week, but I'm there today hoping they can stick it to the Spurs.

Attendance: Andy & Kat

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