Sunday, 31 October 2010

Halloweegan nightmare - FUL 2-0 WIG

Strange game this weekend. Wigan were incredibly flat for a team unbeaten in 7 matches and Fulham were efficient enough to scoop an essential victory. It was enough to please the natives though, with the Hammy End trying out a few songs dedicated to Mark Hughes. They did seem a bit forced, but maybe in time better ones will develop.
Fulham's first actually came while Wigan were having their best spell of the game - not that they were actually doing anything with it than a couple of speculative long range shots. The visitors were very quick on the break in the first half, although Salcido's tight marking of Nzogbia was effective enough to curtail many of the Wigan forays.
The little Mexican then popped up on the wing to put in a delicous cross that Dempsey knocked in impressively with his head, topping off a great Fulham move. The second, when it came, was more deserving and was the culmination of a good five minutes of strong pressure on the Wigan goal. Again Dempsey's acrobatic volley powered past the very shaky Al Habsi in goal and Fulham enjoyed a two goal cushion in the league for the first time this season. The second half was not much to write home about, so I won't.
Dembele is an interesting player - lots of nice tight control and seems to distract defenders and allow team mates to find more space. I'm just not sure where his direct goal threat comes from. Andy Johnson when he came on as sub was an impressive handful in 10 minutes. It'll just take team mates a while to adjust to the sort of passes that he likes and he will be a potent goal threat. His pace should be especially useful away from home.
Ish - who this season I have challenged to attend ten home matches - forgot the match was on, so didn't show. Which was useful as there were even more mongs on our row than normal, including three people who clearly didn't know where their seats were supposed to be and just sat anywhere - pretty tricky in a sold out stadium. I'm still astounded that the game sold out. Even with the £5 ticket offer to season ticket holders, there were only about 300 Wigan fans attending, so the club should be congratulated for its efforts to maximise capacity. There were even ticket touts with the usual refrain of buy or sell tickets on the walk to the ground. For Fulham v Wigan. Crazy.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Karma works very quickly these days

They say things even themselves out over the course of a season, but seeing the Spurs players surround the linesman and referee at Old Trafford over a goal that involved the latter overruling the former took me back just a fortnight to similar scenes at the Cottage.
It seems Spurs have already had to pay for their slice of luck, although at least the controversial goal wasn't a winner.
All that remains for Karma to balance itself out now is for Fulham to score a dubious goal at Old Trafford and the circle (triangle) will be complete.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Three is the magic number

It is vitally important that Fulham get something out of tomorrow's game against Wigan or they could finish the weekend in the relegation zone with scant opportunity for picking up points in November. It's almost four years to the day since Wigan's only Premier League victory at Craven Cottage and if this feat is repeated then Fulham are in real danger of entering December in single figures for points - Even Sanchez managed 12 points by the first week of November.

The upcoming fixtures are:

Villa (H)
Chelsea (A)
Newcastle (A)
Man City (H)
Birmingham (H)

All tricky games where it is not unfeasible to see Fulham only coming away with a point out of a possible 15. That's why this game is so important to the club, the player's form and, more importantly, Mark Hughes.
Wigan are unbeaten away from home so far this season, although oddly have so far only played away three times as a result of Blackpool switching their early fixture around because Bloomfield Road wasn't ready. Wigan's three matches include a completely unexpected 1-0 win at White Hart Lane, a 2-2 draw at Newcastle where they let a 2 goal lead slip and a goalless draw at Birmingham. All mightily impressive results, especially considering the team started this season playing like my tips to be relegated (along with West Ham).

If anything this Roberto Martinez's team appears to have that extra sheen of class on previous Wigan sides, but this year the competition at the bottom of the table looks set to be closer than that at the top. Rodallega, Nzogbia and Gomez have all been among the goals this season and could easily be match winners against an injury depleted Fulham, who are without a win in seven games.

While Hughes has bemoaned recent 'offside' decisions against the team, the goals conceded against West Brom were indicative of a slightly shoddier defensive unit than in previous years - not helped by the whole first team midfield being injured. But there will always be excuses in football - it is time for Sparky to grasp the nettle and show some character. In doing so he might also win some of Fulham faithful onside, as many are still unsure what Hughes brings to the party - although it is fair to say they have been hugely impressed by his two signings of Dembele and Salcido.

Fulham are currently joint top of the Premier league injury chart (according to Physioroom) but the return of one long term absentee might turn the season around - Andy Johnson. In truth, Fulham fans aren't really expecting much from the little tyro given how long he has been out injured and it is fair to say that he hasn't really set Craven Cottage alight since his big money move, but he is just what Hughes needs at the moment for the structure of the team - an out and out striker. His presence would allow Dembele to slot in behind with support from the flanks in the shape of two from Dempsey/Gera/Davies and Kamara to do his impact substitute shtick. Hopefully Greening can play as he did against Spurs rather than on his old patch at West Brom and life will look a lot rosier again.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Friday, 22 October 2010

Fulham 1 -2 Tottenham Hotpsur

This game started out with something not seen too often at Craven Cottage - the away team deciding to switch halves after winning the toss. Whether the tactic is meant to make the home team uneasy I'm not sure, but the sight of Fulham attacking the Hammersmith End in the first half certainly quietened the fans at the beginning of the game.
I say it quietened the fans, but they seems to have been less atmosphere at the Cottage so far this season, despite a surprising run of sell out crowds (even the upcoming Wigan game is now a full house). Maybe the seats have been taken up by more tourists like me (only not as loud) who have had their interest piqued by last year's Europa League exploits? Perhaps the crowd is still trying to work out the new look Fulham, something which has been particularly hard given Hughes' late appointment followed up by the rash of injuries experienced recently.
It was some of these injuries that saw another new pairing upfront - Kamara and the returning Dembele - who seemed to link up well. When they got the ball that is. The first ten minutes of this game was totally dominated by Spurs. In fact Fulham only started to get a grip of the game after a sliced clearance by Gomes and after that they eventually worked the upper hand in the first half.
Jonathan Greening, another player who was in to cover injuries, was having one of his best games for Fulham, breaking up play in the centre of the field and then pushing the whites forward. On the left wing Dempsey was having one of his odd games where he'd constantly miscontrol any passes that came his way, yet probably saw more of the ball than any other Fulham player in the first half. While many of the fans would like to see Gera given a start, I think Hughes sees a lot of himself in the American and likes the fire that he provides the team.
When Fulham did score, it was all thanks to Dempsey. He cut inside and controlled a high ball and ran across the goal area, taking three defenders with him. As we joked over where the hell he was going he somehow screwed a ball back across the goalmouth which left Kamara more or less with an open goal, and he easily  dispatched the ball past Gomes.
As the Hammy End taunted the away fans, I was just remarking how fortunate it was that Fulham had at least made their dominance pay when I looked up to see Van Der Vaart clip the ball over Schwarzer and against the bar. Unfortunately it fell for Pavlychenko who had an even easier task than Kamara to equalise within a minute. Damn.
The second half was a much more even affair, with Tom Huddlestone doing a great job of screening his patched up back line from any Fulham attacks. This was probably down to Harry Redknapp's substitution at half time that introduced Lennon and pushed Modric further inside. Lennon had the effect of pushing the quietly impressive Salcido back into his own half to counter the effect of the winger's pace. Lennon's a strange player. He's got a  lot of great attributes but doesn't appear to have much of a footballing brain. When he gets a pass it's a little reminiscent of when a dog gets a ball on the park pitch and runs around with it. Occasionally it becomes a dangerous run, but more usually peters out into nothing.
Considering Bale's previous appearances at the Cottage, he was surprisingly subdued during this game. I had originally put it down to exertions from international week, but he has since scored a hat-trick against the European champions, so maybe he was just well shackled by his old Southampton team-mate Chris Baird. In fact Bale was so frustrated at one point that he threw himself to the ground in a pointless and very disappointing dive. He fared better against Stephen Kelly when Baird was moved to centre midfield and Kelly kept showing him inside for some reason.
The winner, when it came, was contentious and covered in another post. But the biggest disappointment was Fulham didn't respond to it in the same way the Tottenham had responded to going behind. Had Huddlestone's goal been a 'normal' one, perhaps they would have found it easier to regain momentum. But the messiness of both the goal and the officiating could well have robbed them of any momentum and they didn't look like clawing the game back this time. It was a game when both teams had their chances (in fact both Kamara and Baird put free headers from corners disappointingly over the bar) and both keepers made some solid saves, but at the end of the day Spurs got that extra little slice of luck which gave them all three points. They played well and had an even better bench. They should do well this season again and Fulham shouldn't be too downhearted at the first league loss of the season given the circumstances.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

The officiating of Mike Dean

A compelling game that was completely overshadowed by a bizarre and effectively match deciding moment as referee Mike Dean's decision to allow Tom Huddlestone's winner to stand was simply a very, very bad piece of officiating from which Spurs emerged with two points more than deserved.
I'm finding it hard to focus on the game without raging over this goal, so I may as well get it out of the way first and review the game later. Huddlestone strikes a great shot. It comes through a crowd of bodies in the box, perhaps taking a minor nick from one of the players before nestling in the bottom corner. However its trajectory takes it past William Gallas, standing in an offside position on the edge of the six yard box, who lunges to try and get a touch but fails. The linesman flags Gallas offside as he is clearly interfering with play, despite his non-touch, as Mark Schwarzer can't fully commit to an attempt to stop the ball in case a touch from Gallas changes the shot's trajectory. The referee disallows the goal. Big Tom has a word with Mr Dean. He duly trots off to his linesman and has a word. Disgracefully, bizarrely and uncomprehendingly, he now gives the goal. In common internet parlance - WTF!?
From a little bit of internet research this morning, which of course doesn't appear to contain an explanation from Mike Dean, the most informative insight is from the goalscorer himself here. In the first half Huddlestone attempted to head away a Fulham through ball - he got his head to it but just changed the trajectory forward. He said it just brushed his head but I seem to remember a much stronger connection. Anyway the ball went on to reach Kamara, who had been offside when the ball was played and the linesman flagged accordingly. However Dean overruled his official, presumably deciding that Huddlestone's touch was strong enough to deem that the ball had actually been played by a Tottenham man, meaning Kamara could not be offside. It was such an odd decision that most players, having seen the flag go up, effectively stopped and no danger came from the situation, which actually could have been quite promising.
From what I can ascertain, Dean has used a similar warped logic for the winner, but is on far shakier ground. The argument, from what I can see, is that Huddlestone's shot took a deflection off Chris Baird and, as Dean now deems Baird to have played the ball, Gallas cannot be ruled offside. But Baird didn't play the ball. At best, it hit him. In fact, looking at two replays, it's not even certain that he does deflect the ball. Certainly the shot doesn't seem to deviate from its course in any way.
No other referee that I have seen interprets the offside rule in this way, with any slight touch by a defending team instantly dismissing the potential of an offside call. It's a ridiculous stance to take and would be totally unenforceable if applied in such away across the board. I would suggest that Mike Dean needs to go back to the FA's referee school for re-education as his approach to offside further complicates a ridiculously opaque rule and how it is enforced.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Fulham 0 - 0 Everton

This was not a memorable game. A match with few fit strikers, created few golden chances on goal and only in the dying minutes was a goalkeeper forced to make anything resembling a good save. Fortunately Schwarzer was more than up to the task.
Howard Webb was officiating today and he didn't have a terrible game. In fact since the match seemed to just be a contest in 'how can I convince the ref I've been fouled so we can have a dangerous set-piece' he did pretty well. Of course he still got a lot of things wrong, but when refs are asked to make so many decisions these days from cheating, sly and, well basically, modern players, they will get a number wrong. In the old days the refs only seemingly had to make on average six decisions per match, because the players were trying to play the other team rather than the officials.
At one point though the ref felt it was utterly important that Mark Hughes did not venture outside the manager's 'technical area'. I don't know why that was. The areas at Fulham are remarkably small and I get the feeling that Hughes is a pacer, so I wonder if he'll try and get them extended a bit.
Why the hell are they called technical areas anyway? It's not as if anything technical happens in them. Why not just call them the manager's area? Which bright spark earned kudos for badging them technical? Why not just call them what they really are - invisible cages.
I think there were a couple of eye-openers for Hughesie in this match. I doubt he expected to have one of his decisions quite so roundly booed as he did when he took the energetic Gera off for Eddie Johnson. But it was a strange decision, as was taking off Simon Davies a little later for Dio Kamara. Both Dempsey and Duff were having far less fruitful than the subees, although Demspey looked far more effective when he moved out to a more natural position on the wing.
The only good thing that Duff did during the game was his defensive duties and even they had been subject to an early verbal blast from Danny Murphy after an Everton attack. Personally I thought Murph had one of his poorer games, although Everton's packed midfield and Dickson Etuhu's seeming lack of a clear position did not help him at all. I've heard Everton fans complaining about Fellaini being up front this season had cost them shape, but here he was a very, very effective defensive midfielder and appeared to have more of the ball than anyone. Everton's Seamus Coleman was another impressive performer, especially in the first half.
In fact Everton's pressing game meant that a lot of time Aaron Hughes was Fulham's passing fulcrum, which limited their attacking intent. I'm not sure if I have ever seen Hughes with so much possession in a game before.
It was hard to get much of an impression from this match as to how the season is going to pan out for Fulham. Well apart from the fact that the impressive Salcido is tiny. I thought Nicky Shorey was  small left back, but the Mexican put the nut into diminutive. And that Eddie Johnson is still an enigma.
Highlights here

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