Sunday, 22 August 2010

Fulham 2 -2 Manchester United

An undeserved point for Fulham today. Undeserved because they were worth all three. My usual Man United supporting, Fulham season ticket holding dichotomy was resolved by me decamping to P2's neutral end, which was 80% Man United. Still I wasn't as confused as the Irish guy sat behind me who didn't seem to be supporting either team, but instead giving continual support to Damien Duff and John O'Shea. It was a bit odd considering most of the time these two were in direct opposition.
United started well. Very well in fact and completely dominated right unto Paul Scholes scoring one of those long range efforts from a corner situation. Encouragingly this spurred Fulham on and they slowly started to take control of the game. This probably ensued when Danny Murphy started getting a little bit closer to Scholes and started cutting off the creative supply. In fact once Scholes was watched a bit more closely, there was little true creativity from United and their two forwards were starved of supply, mainly because of the rather ordinary games the two wingers Valencia and Park were having.
Hughes' Fulham were very reminiscient of Hodgson's. Tidy and organised; they were a team through and through. Etuhu, who appears to be pushing further up the field these days, really should have scored after Van der Sar only palmed one of his shots straight back at him. However the Dutch keeper manager to tip the second shot over the bar, despite being sat on his backside at the time. So dominant were Fulham that it was a surprise when United came out with the same team in the second half. Inevitably Fulham continued thier first half pressure and got a deserved equaliser when Davies swept in a great move down the right.
Hughes provided us with our first look at Dembele. The Belgian showed willing and went on a couple of runs which suggested he could be a handful for opposition teams in the future. However it was a Man United substitute - Nani - which switched momentum and it was one of his many corners that came off the shin of Hangeland and into the back of the net for a barely deserved second.
Minutes later and Duff was penalised for handball - he miscontrolled a cross from the United right and the ball popped up onto his hand. It was a harsh penalty, but one of those that would be given 7 out of 10 times. Surprisingly Nani stepped forward to take the spot kick but it was even more of a surprise to see David Stockdale dive to his right and push the ball wide of the post. It was Stockdale's second great save of the match - his reactions to push a Berbatov volley over the bar in the first half were exemplary and will do no harm to Hughes' complicated goalkeeping options.
The save turned out to be pivotal. Fulham forced another corner and this time Hangeland rose high above everyone and powered a header past Van der Sar. In three seasons I only remember two other last minute goals from Fulham - hopefully it's a sign of things to come. With the game being so early in the season, the need for points isn't as pronounced, so I was able to enjoy the game - although I don't think I 'celebrated' any of the four goals. It was a cracking, rip roaring match though and bodes well for the future under Hughes. Not many teams will have the gumption to come back from behind twice against United this season. At least I hope not.

Highlights - here.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Hughes: a clever boy?

I've put off doing a season preview for a while now as it's hard to discern what state Fulham are going to be in for most of the season. Mark Hughes has been in charge for one competitive game and the 0-0 draw at Bolton seemed very much business as usual. Hodgson players in a Hodgson style getting a Hodgson goalless away draw. Sparky just hasn't had the time yet so big changes could be ahead - making predictions extremely difficult to make.
Received wisdom suggests that Hughes will continue Hodgson's style of play, but be a bit more adventurous going forward. That all sounds good to me, but could see the team's defensive capabilities flounder.
Similar to last year, there hasn't been a whole lot of transfer activity ahead of the closing of the window, Man City aside, and I anticipate another mad rush from most teams over the next fortnight as both managers and players panic over the new 25-man squad rule.
Fulham are likely to be involved too if Hughes' comments today are anything to go by with the unveiling of Moussa Dembele (pictured). But where? Every season I seem to say Fulham need more competition at left back and it is again a weak position with only Konchesky filling the position naturally. And he is still linked with an unlikely  move to Liverpool. Stephen Kelly filled in at LB against Bolton, but he's hardly a long term prospect. Even Chris Baird can't play there.
Goalkeeper is another key spot with Schwarzer seemingly wanting away. I'm a big advocate of giving youth a chance in goal so I reckon Stockdale should be given a chance, but if Shay Given was interested in coming to the Cottage then he should be snapped up. Strange that two signings strongly linked to Fulham - David James and Craig Bellamy - both find themselves in the Championship this season. Hopefully the whites will not be following them.
Dembele seems to have strengthened the attacking line, but assuming Johnson E isn't going to get a look in and Johnson A remains injured, another striker will be very useful. Hughes pulled out the stops to get Roque Santa Cruz to join him at Man City which ironically probably makes him too expensive for Fulham unless Sheik Mansour agrees to cover most of his wages. Santa Cruz needs to re-establish himself anyway after a  couple of underwhelming and injury wracked seasons.

Most Anticipated Player: Well it will have to be the new arrival Dembele, as I find it hard to get excited about Senderos and he is injured anyway for six months. From what I have seen on YouTube he appears to be a more physical Kamara, but has been likened to both Theo Walcott and (preposterously) Zidane. A winger who might be converted to striker? Worked for Thierry Henry I suppose, if not for David Bellion.

Least Favourite Player: After last season's heroics, this section will have to remain empty again I think. I realise some people dislike Greening, but I don't really think he has been given a chance other than as Murphy's deputy.

Season Prediction: Without the strain of Europe, if Hughes can continue where Roy left off then the upper echelons of the table are not unreachable. Turmoil at Villa could see an opportunity for other teams to press on. 8th or 9th. Only Ashley Cole has won the FA Cup more than Mark Hughes as a player so he has a special affinity to the cups. In fact as a manager he has reached several semi-finals. Maybe another one this year is possible.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

The land of what might have been

I was in Monaco this week visiting friends and there was a harsh reminder of how things might have panned out differently. Monaco is the venue for the European Super Cup - where the winners of the Champions League and Europa League (European Cup and UEFA Cup in old money) play off for a mainly redundant third cup. Why it is held in Monaco eludes me. My friend lives in the area of Fontvielle, where the Stade Louis II is also based. Not that you'd notice. Well not that I noticed the ground. I saw a couple of signs indicating that it was present somewhere in the area, but it was pretty elusive for an 18,000 capacity stadium. Perhaps the city would give more credence to its football ground if it was named after Princess Grace, like everything else in the place is.

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