Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Manchester United: the new Fulham

A result needed in Basle to qualify from the group? Sound familiar?
Let's hope it's as entertaining a match.

EDIT: Seems not, given Fulham managed a win. United were dire and devoid of ideas up front and deservedly lost.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Gary Speed - RIP

Just been blown away by the news that Gary Speed has died, aged just 42. Speed was one of those few players that seemed to hold the respect of fans from all around the country and had rightly experienced success on the pitch. It appears he was just making similar progress from the dugout too with Wales.
His unexpected death is a massive loss to football and I can only imagine how his family and friends are feeling now. Tragic.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Woy's wise words

He's still Fulham's greatest ever manager and continues to endear from The Hawthorns. here is what he had to say this week:
"The really worrying thing is seeing young children making obscene gestures when they don't know what they are doing. When I was growing up, watching Crystal Palace, you supported your club and cheered them on, but I'm not sure in those days that people even booed. The opposition were not there to be hated...Human nature should not astonish us, but what engenders that degree of hatred? I don't know whether we do enough to educate people to be more tolerant of the opposition, or whether society has changed to such a degree that it is impossible. Teachers are there to be hated, police officers are there to be hated. We don't seem to have many public figures any more who command respect. The people we look up to, it seems, are sporting idols, and even then we hate them if they are not ours."
 He does stand apart from most other British managers, doesn't he?

Saturday, 22 October 2011

More (ITV) 4

Managed to catch the second half of the Wisla Krakow game on Thursday. Unfortunately. I was incredibly concerned at the flatness of play up front before I became aware that Fulham had been reduced to ten men with that well-known scoundrel Moussa Dembele playing the hard man.
Even when Wisla cracked in a quality shot from 20 yards that nestled in Schwarzer's net, there appeared to be no change in tactics from order to claw their way back into the game. Several times Andy Johnson would be in the opposition box along with five defenders, with Fulham passing the ball around the edge before a hopeful and usually hopeless cross. Duff in particular looked lost, seemingly playing more central but not knowing where to go when he did have the ball.
Without Dempsey and Zamora and £10m Costa Rican Ruiz cup tied, there were no other goalscoring options when Orlando Sa went off with a hamstring. Those unkind might argue there were few options with the Portuguese on the pitch.
QPR match aside, these are still worrying times for Fulham, given that they reside just above the relegation zone having played just one of the top six teams, and are not showing any semblance of consistency on the pitch. Fingers crossed for the Everton match tomorrow - although they usually have the good grace to hand over three points when at the Cottage (last two seasons aside). That could put Fulham above Arsenal - and who wouldn't have taken that at the start of the season?

Saturday, 24 September 2011

The perfect football flat

Primarily in a QPR area (Loftus Road can be heard on particularly noisy days), this two bedroom flat is only 1.1 miles from South Africa Road, only 1.6 miles (and a lovely Thames walk) from Craven Cottage, or 2.4 miles from Stamford Bridge (or a short hop on the 391 bus).
It is also only 2.7 miles to Brentford's Griffin Park and, as an added bonus, 4.5 miles to Wembley, which can be viewed from the top of the building. A perfect football fan flat then!
[estate agent]
It will also protect you against cancer, make you irresistible to the opposite sex and comes with a thriving money tree.
[/estate agent]

Sunday, 18 September 2011

European nights - FUL 1 -1 TWN

So I finally managed to catch up with a Fulham game, albeit on lovely Channel 5, and was partially impressed at what I saw. Young Matthew Briggs had a stormer from left back, Grygera was solid enough at left beck (although on another day with a different European ref he could have been  in serious trouble after an 'enthusiastic' tackle in the first half), Kasami was full of energy on the right (if little guile), Dembele was more effective than usual, as was AJ.
It was AJ that provided Fulham with the lead after two bits of bad defending - the first saw him cut out a square pass, while the miscontrol of the challenging defender allowed him to clip a wonderful finish past Twente's goalkeeper. Fulham were actually quite comfortable for a lot of the first half without having too many attempts on target, but have a worrying capacity to crumble under a bit of pressure this season. So it proved after Twente's headed equaliser (which went in off the back of the unfortunate Schwarzer). It's not as if Fulham hadn't been warned - only a minute earlier de Jong had come close with a similar chance. Baird at centre half really does improve distribution from the back with his long raking passes, but has a tendency to get caught underneath crosses, which is what happened at the equaliser.
Second half Fulham again started brightly, although only Dempsey really looked like a goal threat. AJ should have scored again with the simplest chance of the match, but hit it straight at Twente's keeper. Strange though that when Zamora replaced Johnson, Fulham's attacking impetus practically stopped. I think the Twente back four are more used to playing against the sort of challenges that Zamora offers rather than AJ's selfless running and things just stopped happening. Duff was practically invisible when he came on for Kasami - I've never seen him so anonymous.
The impetus then switched to Twente for the last fifteen minutes after some needless and sloppy play at the back for Fulham and in the end both teams were happy with a point knowing they've just played the hardest team in their Europa Group.
A novelty for me then watching on TV - and I'm slightly worried about co-pundit Graham Taylor. In the first half he talked about Fulham's unbeaten European home record with the co-commentator and then in the second half brought it up again as if it was a totally new discussion. Very strange. I will agree with them one one thing though - Twente's Douglas was a very impressive player.

Thursday, 15 September 2011


Jol appears to be keeping his powder dry for Man City by resting some of the key players tonight. We'll probably have Baird or Grygera alongside Hangeland with Kelly at RB. AJ up front with new boy Sa? Or even Clint?
Anyway, it appears that Twente are taking it more seriously than Fulham, which gives them real value at 11/4 with Ladbrokes to win the tie.
Still, it's a nice return to Channel 5 for this evening's festivities.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

New recruits

As is patently obvious, I've not been able to keep tabs on this blog this season - mainly down to becoming a father for the first time - so we've taken a change of tack and recruited a few more writers to help spread the load.
The good news is that McLean and MMcC are both Fulham fans and therefore more qualified to comment on the Cottagers than I.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Preview 2011/12

I've been trying to write this season preview for some time now, but it's been hard to know where to start. This Fulham side still feels much the same one that Roy Hodgson started off with three glorious seasons ago. There have been some additions, but only Hughes' Dembele and Jol's Riise are free of Roy's guidance. Even Senderos and Sidwell were lined up before Hughes arrived.
Last season Sparky tried to impose himself on the side, but they only pulled themselves out of trouble when allowed to play the way Hodgson pioneered at the club. It is still unclear what approach Jol will take.
It's hard to gauge what tactical innovations from the early rounds of the Europa League will stick, but one of them seems to be playing Aaron Hughes at right back so the team can adapt to three at the back when in possession. This is worrying given the strength of the Hughes/Hangeland pairing, but retaining Hughes' presence in the back line might preserve some of the advantages. If it doesn't work then Baird, Kelly or possibly Salcido (who is right footed after all) could get a run out.
And that's as exciting as it will be: who will play right back? While it's nice to be back in Europe, it is a much shallower squad now than two seasons ago. The departures of Paintsil, Kamara, Zolly Gera, Greening, Stockdale (thankfully just on loan), Elm, hell even Eddie Johnson, along with some of the Europa alumini such as Konchesky and even Seol, suggest there is not the depth to emulate 2009/10. In fact, with just three strikers in the squad, all of whom missed chunks of last season through injury, there is a need for reinforcements up top. The two new midfielders Gecov and Kasami sound interesting, but are somewhat of an unknown quantity.
What this squad has achieved at Fulham will rightly have it hailed as the club's best ever. However a few injuries this year and the team might find itself dragged into a relegation battle, especially if it advances into the Europa groups and beyond.
Fortunately there's still time to get a few more bodies in and maybe some of the youth team like Dala Valle can step up.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Footballers' signatures - the new ENIGMA code?

As I work around the gambling industry I am more than acquainted with the man who does the PR for Fulham's betting & gaming partner Bodog (check them out at, who very kindly sent me a signed Fulham shirt, seemingly from the record breaking 2009/10 season. The only thing is I can't make out a single signature. Not one. Here is a list of the squad from that season. Number 4 might be Erik Nevland because of the 10 next to it.

Anyone any ideas?

Monday, 25 July 2011

Supporting Norway

There's a thread on Friends of Fulham encouraging people to pick up Norway flags to fly at the home game against Split next week as a way of showing solidarity with the club's three Norweigan players; Brede Hangeland and the Riises. After the absolutely horrendous events in Oslo and Utoeya island last weekend, it's a good way for the support to show the players that the victims in their homeland have our sympathy.
Flags can be picked up for less than £3 here.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Crime Thriller - Child Number Three

A quick plug for my friend Phil Martin, who is looking to get his book published. The first third of the novel can be read here. Unfortunately you need to register to gain access, but it doesn't cost anything. - Here's the synopsis:
Snatched, rescued and brought up in a loving environment, Amy Walker embarks on a journey of self-discovery taking her deep into a disturbing Chechen underworld
Having graduated from medical school, Amy Walker turns her attention to another lifelong ambition; finding out where she came from. Adopted by a loving couple, Amy believes she was orphaned in a coach crash in Tuscany. Her initial research tells her one thing; she was never on that coach.

Having exposed lie after lie, Amy confronts an evasive adoption agency and then her mother with fatal consequences. The discovery of a gun hidden in her father’s desk, a mysterious list of names and a passport stamp confirming his location at the time of the crash, all convince Amy she should stop at nothing to find out her truth.

After journeying to the shanty towns and palaces of Morocco, more untruths lead her back to a dark Chechen underworld, where Amy discovers she was the third on a sinister list of stolen children spanning two decades. Her quest alerts the abductors to Amy's existence but this is about so much more than just her. They're still in operation and Amy must stop them before they strike again.

Child Number Three must be silenced. Little girl lost must never be found.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Japan - world champions

Just watched a thoroughly absorbing Womens World Cup Final, where Japan squeezed past the USA courtesy of a penalty shoot out. I've been very impressed at the quality of football in this tournament, especially after my lukewarm reaction to the Womens Champions League Final hosted at Craven Cottage last season. It seems the international standard is far higher than at club level, when for the men's game it is now the other way around.
The quality during this tournament is at a higher level, I would say, than the old first division before the advent of the Premier League helped up technical standards. There are still some obvious deficiencies in the women's game; goalkeepers are far too susceptible to a lob/ looping shot and there seems to be a tendency for panicked defending even at the highest level. There is also a lack of diving, hysterionics and just plain cheating that makes its male counterpart so unedifying to watch. Given USA's opener was a lovely two footed piece of skill and the last goal was a flying backheel volley which seems to have been invisible to cameras, it would be foolish to suggest that women's football is technically far behind. At the highest level it is pretty impressive.
Still even Martin Keown's impression of Mickey the Spiv from Only Fools and Horses hasnt detracted from the fun of seeing Japan pick up the trophy, which resembles a missing piece from the old Mouse Trap board game.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

The Pharaoh's team verses the Faroes team

Tonight I shall be watching the exciting Fulham v Runavik Europa League qualifier courtesy of Bet365, who are streaming the game live, despite the fact that at a fiver it would cost as much to attend the game. The reason? I became a father for the first time last week and our new domestic terrorist still has us in the palm of our hand. She's also the reason why I haven't renewed my season ticket for this year, but I still intend to keep an eye out for the whites!. 3-0 tonight.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

A politician's view

There's a couple of scenes in the Yes, Minister special 'Party Games' where Jim Hacker offers to support two separate candidates for the job of PM 'under the radar' - 5.55 in. I couldn't help be reminded of it this afternoon when I got an email back from my local MP Andy Slaughter - replying to my request of him to sign up to the Early Day Motion supporting Supporters Direct in its current funding issue. The link between the two is probably a bit harsh on the Hammersmith MP, but I thought I'd replicate the letter here to provide a politicians view on the kerfuffle:

Thank you for your email asking me to sign EDM 1909 regarding the funding arrangements for Supporters Direct. Unfortunately due to my position on the Labour Front Bench and strict Parliamentary protocol I am unable to sign EDMs save under narrow circumstances. However, as a season ticket holder at Fulham I don't need reminding how important football is to millions of people in this country and worldwide - so I certainly will make sure this issue is kept on the agenda.

I am broadly in favour of schemes that allow fans to have a say in how their clubs are run, and there is no reason at all why a consortium shouldn't be allowed to own and administer a club. This will require a considerable regulatory effort, but I see no reason that it can't be made to work if there is enough enthusiasm.

One thing I do feel strongly about is that a football club should represent its area and the people who live with and support their club. Treating a club like a business commodity that anyone can buy or sell betrays what the game is about - you need love as well as money to run a football club. There are examples of rich individuals taking over clubs and making it work, but they all have in common the fact that the club was a passion for them as well as a business opportunity.

I have found the following blogs on the BBC Sport website very interesting, both concern fan ownership of football clubs, and one is specific to supporters direct. You can find Dan Roan's blog here; 'Does the Supporters Direct Cash Crisis Matter?' and Matt Slater's here; 'Football's trusts must keep faith'.

If you have any further questions regarding this issue please feel free to write to me again.

Yours Sincerely,

Andy Slaughter

Labour MP for Hammersmith

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Supporters Direct needs direct support

The Premier League, through its Football Stadia Improvement Fund (FSIF), is withdrawing its £1.2m payment to Supporters Direct, the body that advises fans on how to set up supporter trusts among other things, and has saved around 50 clubs from extinction since its inception in 2000.
The FSIF's reasoning for withdrawing the guilt payment (because let's face it the organisation wouldn't be dishing out the cash if it didn't think it needed to get the government off its back) is because the Supporters Direct managing director at the time got a bit giddy at AFC Wimbledon's promotion and tweeted a couple of insults at those behind the creation of the monstrosity that is MK Dons. The tweets, missed at the time but highlighted by the Daily Mail in the same way that the paper saw off Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross, were quickly removed and the MD eventually resigned after the FSIF deemed an apology was not enough. However the SD funding is still being held back, threatening the existence of the organisation.
It is not a huge leap to suggest that the aims of Supporters Direct are mainly contrary to those of the money making product of the Premier League and that it has been looking for any excuse to remove the lifeline to an organisation that might prevent the PL from fleecing its customers (or football fans to me and you) if it continues to build momentum.
So it's time to show support fro Supporters Direct. There is an active Facebook group here where they are trying to get some political support to put pressure on the PL. Other articles are here, here and about halfway down here. It's important for fans to get behind this because otherwise the Premier League, for whom £1.2m is a drop in the ocean, and the Daily Mail win. And no-one wants that.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

End of Season Awards

I thought I'd better get this done and dusted before the start of next season in approximately eight minutes time. A new manager in the rather big shape of Martin Jol is welcome and a reflection of the team's stature at the moment, regardless of what Billy Big Boots Hughes thinks. But let's reflect on Sparky's one and only season in charge.

Most Valuable Person Award: Quite simply it is Clint Dempsey. He stepped up when Fulham needed someone to score goals and rightly won the player of the season vote.Without him, Fulham would have been down. Instead they are top half and looking at Europe.
Honourable mention: Brede Hangeland

Frank Spencer Award: Zoltan Gera for a spectacularly misfiring end of season cameo that almost cost Fulham re-entry into Europe? Carlos Salcido's hapless impression of a defender? Eddie Johnon's even worse impression of a professional footballer? Nope -  I'm afraid it's got to be Johnny Paintsil for his collection of own goals this season.
Honourable mention: Zoltan Gera

Surprise Package Award: I guess it has to go to Steve Sidwell. I didn't even know which position he played in before arriving at the Cottage and his willingness to drive forward even ahead of the strikers which had added more dynamism to the team.
Honourable mention: Jonathan Greening's late season cameos

I Was There! Award: It should have been the 4-0 demolition of Spurs in the Cup, but having watched two dispiriting and undeserved defeats by Tottenham already that season, I'd bailed out. It'll have to be the goal fest of Fulham 6 -2 Peterboro, where I saw my first Craven Cottage hat-trick.
Honourable mention: Fulham 3 - 0 Bolton

Goal of the Season: I'm restricting this to ones I've seen.Dempsey has come up with a couple of crackers, including the instinctive volley from Baird's cross against Bolton and the wonderful piece of skill he produced to set up Kamara in the league game against Spurs. But the best goal was the one scored by Zamora against Bolton which involved beautiful interplay down the right wing from Davies and Gudjohnsen and lovely control and a crashing finish from Bobby into the roof of the net. I don't care if it was ruled out for handball. I'm counting it.
Honourable mention: Paul Scholes' last career goal

Sign Him Up Award: By omitting players obviously out of Fulham's reach (such as Samir Nasri) the player that impressed me most this season was Everton's right winger Seamus Coleman. Nippy and tricky and can score the odd goal (one of which earned me £75 in the game at Goodison).
Honourable mention: Aston Villa's Barry Bannan

Ouch! Award: Far too many of these this season, but it would have to be the maiming of Dembele by Stoke City's Andy Wilkinson in added time of the Carling Cup match. Completely unnecessary. Zamora's leg break after tangling with Karl Henry was more of an unfortunate outcome from rough play rather than dirty.
Honourable mention: Karl Henry

Statistical anomaly of the year: I think Fulham haven't conceded from any penalties this season (although Stockdale did save a Nani penalty right at the top of the season). This would have been the perfect place for the 'no red cards' stat, if it wasn't for Gera's eagerness to leave his mark on the Arsenal game.
Honourable mention: Record number of draws for Fulham this season - 16

Prediction of the year: "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." Just here.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Hughes: A silly boy?

Well Sparky's up and left and apparently with nowhere to go. I'm not quite sure what that says about the situation at Fulham, but it's not as if Hughes stamped his mark on this team in the limited time he was at Craven Cottage. Much like the current Chelsea team was forged by Mourinho, everything good that comes from the current Fulham team still has the Hodgson stamp on it. Dembele has been a good signing, but arguably the team plays better when he's not on the pitch, and Sidwell has been a positive influence, but Hughes originally stopped his transfer at the start of the season before returning to Villa in January.
The Fulham fans never really warned to Hughes as they thought he was using the team as a stop-gap and that now appears to have been true. To be honest I was slightly worried from the start with Al Fayed's bizarre press conference appearing quite demeaning to Hughes, who has a lot of pride.
But similarly there hasn't been any major managerial trees overturned in his time at the Cottage. He's never really done anything to make you think: that was a good idea - that's where the match turned. Strange. Having said that, he still managed to get the club into 8th in this funny old season.
So who's next up? Some wags are suggesting Ancelotti, but I thought he was a dead cert for the Roma job? Perhaps Claudio Ranieri fancies a return to London? As much as I dislike the man, Rafa Benitez is free and has a strong European pedigree. Steve McClaren and Martin O'Neill have also been linked - all solid managers who in the past might not have looked twice at this idyllic part of West London. Fulham attracted Hughes on the back of being Europa League finalists and need to appoint a manager of similar standing to retain that kudos - they don't need to be gambling on the relatively unproven Paul Lambert or perhaps even Danny Murphy just yet.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

If I Was...

Football365 has been running some thought pieces on what certain mangers should do with their squads (Roy Hodgson's for example is here) so I thought I'd do the same from Mark Hughes' perspective, assuming he is still in charge of Fulham for the new season. While the 'ditch' or 'keep' judgments seem quite strong, it's a good starting point for discussion. There would have been a lot more ditches without a European campaign.

Mark Schwarzer
Been a solid number one after a brief flirtation with Arsenal and been Fulham's saviour in more than one game this season - with the Liverpool game an aberration. But at 38, he hasn't got many years left on the clock. Might be worth cashing in if anyone comes in with a bid of £5m.
Verdict: Keep

David Stockdale
I've been incredibly impressed with this boy when he's had to come in this season. His distribution is far better than Schwarzer's and he's been called up to the England squad for a reason. Definitely Fulham's number 1 of the future - maybe giving him the European matches will stop him getting itchy feet.
Verdict: Keep

Stephen Kelly
Out of favour with Hughes and never really a fan favourite either. Has done a job in Europe before now, but Hughes is likely to overhaul the full back slots.
Verdict: Ditch

Carlos Salcido
Hughes' late signing from Mexico was initially promising, but has since regressed to the point where fans are wanting Konchesky back.
Verdict: Ditch

John Paintsil
Firm fan favourite has displeased Hughes by scoring three OGs this season which is a shame as he brings some dynamism to the right back slot. Out of contract.
Verdict: I would keep, Hughes won't.

Brede Hangeland
Towering centre half seems to really like Fulham and hasn't had his head turned despite being constantly linked to Arsenal. Can get a bit ropey without Hughes next to him, but generally solid. Becoming a more regular goal threat too.
Verdict: Keep

Aaron Hughes
A couple of dodgy games have started to sneak in, but still part of Fulham's best ever centre half pairing.
Verdict: Keep

Chris Baird
Another virtuouso season from Bairdinho. The best full back at the club who plays just as well in midfield and at CB. Future Fulham captain.
Verdict: Keep

Philippe Senderos
Only played a handful of games. Useful to have around, but not sure if worthy of a first team place.
Verdict: Keep

Rafik Halliche
Looked a bit dodgy in the couple if games he had, but alright for a back up centre half.
Verdict: Keep

Steve Sidwell
Promising stint since January. Brought some competition into the middle of the park and a handful of goals.
Verdict: Keep

Danny Murphy
Danny's legs have looked tired at points during this season, which hasn't been helped with Hughes constantly hauling him off. But still has class in the middle for another season and much of the best stuff still comes through him.
Verdict: Keep

Damien Duff
Odd season for Duffer, which saw him labour in the early part of the season before really turning it on for a few months. Tends to be more important defensively than attacking when he plays though.
Verdict: Keep

Dickson Etuhu
Fighting for a place now Sidwell has arrived. A good physical option to have.
Verdict: Keep

Jonathan Greening
Has impressed the couple of times he has played. Probably deserves more game time, and will probably get it with Europe. Won't recoup the £5m paid for him, so time to get the most out of him.
Verdict: Keep

Kagisho Dikgacoi
After an impressive World Cup, many were expecting the South African to push on, but it's not really happened. With hindsight writing was on the wall when he got sent off at West Ham on his debut.
Verdict: Ditch

Bjorn Helge Riise
Spent most of the campaign on loan at Sheffield United. Never really done it in the Premier League, albeit with limited appearances. Only worth keeping for Europe, if at all.
Verdict: Ditch

Simon Davies
Another odd season has seen Davies on the periphery of the squad and then suddenly become undroppable. A hard man to categorise, but good to have for an end of season run-in.
Verdict: Keep

Zoltan Gera
Another fan favourite that Hughes doesn't fancy and who is out of contract. If there was no European adventure I'd let him leave as his league form was inconsistent. But as a proven European force, definitely worth keeping.
Verdict: Keep

Clint Dempsey
Possibly Fulham's best player and definitely the one who reminds Hughes of himself.
Verdict: Keep

Andy Johnson
Tough one. Johnson's just not been fit enough during his time at Fulham or in the goals enough. But there is promise there. If a good enough bid comes in (£4m?) it's time to let him go and free up budget/space.
Verdict: Ditch

Bobby Zamora
So integral to Fulham as an attacking force. Need to keep him or completely reinvent the way the team plays.
Verdict: Keep

Moussa Dembele
Impressive signing for Hughes, but despite his awesome close control isn't as dangerous as he should be. Played semi-out of position up front because of Zamora's injury. Time to see what he can do out on the wing.
Verdict: Keep

Diomansy Kamara
Out of contract and out of chances. Scored some important goals for Fulham but generally has performed within himself.
Verdict: Ditch

Eddie Johnson
His only use at Fulham has been as a punchline. Very, very poor.
Verdict: Ditch

Friday, 27 May 2011

The other half - FUL 2 - 2 ARS

Andy has asked me to guest-write the blog for the last game of the season. I have no idea why, because he knows just as well as me that literally minutes after a match has finished I can’t recall any details of what I’ve just watched. I’m exactly the same with films. I can enjoy them immensely, but the finer plot points – and even some of the key moments – escape my memory just as soon as it’s over.
And so it’s true of football – five days on from Fulham v Arsenal, I couldn’t actually describe to you any of the action, not even the goals. In fact I can remember more of Samir Nasri’s goals in the original fixture back at the Emirates which I was also at in December.
Talking of Samir Nasri – I do remember thinking what a fashion faux pas his orange boots with red socks were. I know you’ll be thinking that’s such a ‘girl’ thing to say – but I’m really not that sort of girl usually – it’s just what stuck in my mind.
Part of the reason I don’t remember many of the key moments – i.e. the goals - is that, at eight months pregnant, I couldn’t be doing with jumping up and down from my seat every two minutes to see what was going on. Even when I do stand up I can’t see very much as I’m somewhat of a shortarse.
I just about recall Bobby Zamora’s headed goal – mostly because I’m a Brighton fan, and as one of our former players I still like to see him doing well – especially after the tricky season he’s had with his broken leg.
And one of my favourite things to happen at the Cottage capped off what’s likely to be the last time I’m there for a league match… the ball got walloped over the Riverside Stand – and I just love the animation on the normally staid scoreboard depicting the ‘ball’ floating along the river. Small things….
I guess the one thing riding on this match for Fulham fans was whether or not they’d clinch the Europa League qualifying round spot through the fair play league. Which is why everyone was left reeling and asking: “Just what was Zoltan Gera thinking?” when he went in with his two-footed tackle on Thomas Vermaelen. Fulham’s FIRST red card of the season (until that point the only Premier League side not to have been given one).
I think most people thought Fulham had just gifted the spot to Blackpool – but in fact, it was yesterday announced that Fulham WILL be going on a European tour next season, after clinching the place ahead of the Tangerines by just 0.01 points.
That means less than a month off for the players, who’ll be back for training ahead of that first qualifying match on June 30th!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Fair play to the lads

After my recent fit of pique at the Liverpool performance where I felt so let down by the team, I have just been left with this gnawing irritation with myself for letting it get under my skin. It must be something to do with my Manchester upbringing that gives me this gut dislike for the Pool - it's not healthy, I really must shake it.
Anyway, to my great surprise, England have qualified for the extra fair play European spot. I would have thought the spate of red cards in Europe for Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham would really have put paid to that route into Europe.
And, gratifyingly, well-behaved Fulham are in a good position to take that spot. This is assuming that Tottenham beat lowly Birmingham at White Hart Lane on Sunday. 3 points for the Spurs would guarantee them fifth place in the Premier League and a 'proper' Europa League spot. If they are pipped to fifth by Liverpool, who are playing away at Aston Villa, then Spurs are more likely to snaffle the Fair Play entry. So what's Tottenham's motivation to beat Brum then, given they are more or less guaranteed European football regardless? How about an extra month's holiday? Fair Play entrants are placed in the First Qualifying round of the Europa Cup, which starts on June 30, fifth placed finishers drop in at the play-off stage on 18 August, by which time the Premier League season has started anyway.
Looking over the recent matches for Fulham, it woudl seem the club is also eyeing that extra holiday given that the club has attracted 10 yellow cards in the past two matches when previously they only attracted 40 yellows in 35 games. To shoot up from an average of 1.14 cards per game to 5 cards per game has left many very suspicious that the team is trying to avoid fair play qualification, which would leave the door open for Blackpool to qualify instead, so much so that Mark Hughes has been forced to come out and say that he wants it. The Fair Play Table is not just judged on cards though, there are all kinds of intangibles marked such as respect to the referee and 'positive play', so it'll be pretty tricky to predict which team will prosper.
Surprisingly Fulham could once again achieve 7th place in the league (by beating Arsenal and hoping Chelsea turn Everton over at Goodison Park - a 15/2 double), equalling their highest ever perch and the position they last qualified for Europe in sparking last season's epic trip to Hamburg. However with the final in Bucharest 1,600 miles away, a road trip this time is not an option, so if Fulham do get the fair play spot it might be worthwhile for fans to place a sneaky each way bet on Fulham to win the competition to cover any potential trip to Romania.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Pathetic - FUL 0 - 3 LIV*

Once again, my interpretation of the score is different to the officially recorded one. That's because I went home after 15 minutes. Yep. 15 minutes. I'd entered the game full of hope and optimism in a great mood after seeing some Liverpool-supporting pals of mine in The Crabtree beforehand, only to be brought crashing down to earth in seven minutes which have been by far the worst I have ever seen at the Cottage. As I walked up into the stand I noticed that Zamora was on the bench - a funny decision given the torrid time Bobby had given the Liverpool back line next season. And so it proved.
Liverpool's Manchester United-esque start to the game, followed by their Barcelona-style short passing/high pressing caused havoc among a previous sturdy backline, who never started and allowed Liverpool to swamp them with ease.
I was particularly upset given I'd been talking up Fulham's chances and was expecting to see a vibrant match against two teams in form. After the second goal was easily dispatched with all the defenders culpable (but Salcido especially so) I decided that I wanted a drink. Only the Fulham jobsworths wouldn't serve me until half time. Fuming about this as much as the football, I watched the game on the monitors near the Jacko statue and watched as Kuyt took a weak shot that hit the side netting. Only it didn't. Somehow it squirmed past Schwarzer for the third after barely 15 minutes. I weighed up my options. No alcohol for 30 minutes and a rampant Liverpool scoring goals they barely deserved because of the worst Fulham performance I have seen in four seasons. So I went home.
Made it home in time for Dembele's goal to be told Fulham are playing pretty well, but it's too late to start playing when you're three-nil down at home. All Liverpool had to do was turn on the gas again to motor past the whites and achieve a 2-5 scoreline that was scarcely believable before the match.
Anyway I realised that if I prepared to leave a match after 15 minutes then I really had no right being a season ticket at Fulham, and so I have relinquished my seat for next season. An impending little one and a potential move back up north were also factors, but my actions on Monday sealed the deal. I've decided I'm not even going for the season finale against Arsenal.
The one thing I did get right in my preview was the prediction that Suarez was the type of player that causes problems for the Fulham back line. The guy was unplayable.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Calling the odds - Fulham V Liverpool

I'm rather confused at the betting markets for tonight's match. Liverpool are the red-hot favourites to win, with Fulham as long as 12/5 with Victor Chandler, but that's not really reflective of how Liverpool tend to fare at Craven Cottage. Last year Liverpool were demolished, thanks to two red cards, in what was a pretty poor season for them, but the season before they only snatched a win in injury time courtesy of Yossi Benayoun (although they did hit the bar four times in that match). Even further back Dempsey's first Fulham goal was a vital winner against Liverpool (albeit a second string ahead of the CL final).
Basically, Fulham tend to make Liverpool earn any points they get from the Cottage, not that the betting market reflects that. The recent form of the two teams doesn't suggest such a one-side encounter either. Fulham's home form has been imperious since the turn of the year. They've won eight out of ten matches, drawn another (against Chelsea when they missed a last minute penalty) and only lost the aberration of the Bolton FA Cup match, Scoring 25 in the process and conceding just 5. Meanwhile since the turn of the year Liverpool's away form reads: P: 11 W: 3 D: 2 L: 6 F: 11 A: 13. So in my opinion Fulham are outstanding value at 12/5 to win tonight.

Correct Score: Being bullish I would say 3-1 to Fulham, which is generally available at 25/1. Liverpool HT/ Fulham FT, given only Chelsea and Arsenal have better second half form than Fulham in the league, also has some value at 40/1 with Sportingbet.

First goalscorer: There's been six penalties in the last six games Liverpool have been involved in, three for and three against. So a penalty scorer would be a sensible bet, especially as Fulham have yet to concede a goal from the penalty spot this season. Kuyt, who takes Liverpool's penalties, and has been in good form anyway, is available at a generous 8/1 from William Hill. Danny Murphy - Fulham's regular penalty taker is 20s, also at William Hill. Recently Dempsey has been trying to muscle in on the penalty taking, but Murphy will no doubt flex his captaincy muscles against his former club. Suarez is the type of player that gives the Fulham back line problems though and you can get on him at 7s, again with Hills. For a longer shot - Simon Davies has also started scoring and tends to go on runs of netting; he's generally available at 25/1.

Sod's law: You can also get 5/1 on a player to be sent off with Paddy Power. Given Fulham are going for the Fair Play award and have yet to have had a player sent off this season, it's almost a given.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Correction - FUL 4-0 BOL*

Well the Premier League might not agree with my reportage of the final score, but screw 'em. Bobby Zamora's goal came on the end of some beautiful pass & move play down Fulham's right hand side via Gudjohnsen and Davies before Bobby chested it down past two defenders and buried it into the top of Jaaskelainen's net. Comfortably the best goal scored at Craven Cottage this season. A work of art.
Except... the referee seemed to think Bobby used his arm and ruled out the goal and booked him. This was akin to defacing the Mona Lisa. Anthony Taylor should be ashamed of himself. Check it out here at 8m30s.
As for the match itself, it started pretty end to end but before long Fulham were dominating and Dempsey crashed home a ricocheting ball in a busy penalty area with an acrobatic volley for a deserved 15 minute lead. Fulham could, and perhaps should, have extended this lead before half time.
Fortunately the fans didn't have too long to wait after the break before another one came - and again Dempsey got on the end of a deflected cross in a busy penalty area to punish Bolton. Even so early into the second half the goal had been coming, with Dembele bouncing a shot off the crossbar.
Most of the rest of the match seemed to be watching Zat Knight desperately getting Bolton's defence out of dangerous positions with late lunges and blocks. He couldn't stem the flow though and Hangeland nodded in another from a Murphy free kick. Both Salcido and Dembele had games similar to those that showed such attacking promise earlier in the season. Gudjohnsen was productively busy until he was substituted for slightly less good Johnson. Davies wound back the clock and put in an impressive display on the right. Positives all round really, expect for Bolton who looked pretty jaded after their victory against Arsenal on Sunday, but even then still had a half dozen half chances. Well worth the entrance fee although the vandalism to the beautiful game was carried out by the referee rather than Bolton's more robust approach to football.

Friday, 15 April 2011

The best semi I ever had

I thought I would talk about the best match I ever attended on FA Cup semi-final weekend as it was an FA Cup semi-final; the very last time one of them went to a reply before the FA scrapped them for the penultimate stage. This game had everything and it was simultaneously the best and worst game to go to as a fan.
Ladies & Gentleman, I am talking about Arsenal 1 -2 Manchester United (aet)
I obtained a ticket because a friend called Paul Beswick knew people who went to the first tie, but couldn't make the midweek replay down in Birmingham. Bes offered me the ticket because I managed to get him a ticket earlier in the season to a match against Derby County, which was only notable as it was Steve McLaren's first game as assistant manager. Bes drove us down to Villa Park and we found somewhere nearish to park and prepared for the most amazing night. It had already been a ridiculous season for results. Two last minute goals against Liverpool in the Third round to turn the game around. An 8 - 1 victory at Nottingham Forest (which I also attended in the home end). And a week later we would have the 3-2 against Juventus and the season would be capped off by the lucky victory against Bayren Munich. But this we THE game of a momentous season.
The emotions were put through the wringer and then some during this match.

Beckham scored! Yay!
Bergkamp equalises. Boooo!
Bergkamp shoots, Schmeichel parries straight to Anelka, who scores. Nooooo!
It's ruled out. He's offside. Bloody hell.
Keane gets sent off. Oh no...
Phil Neville gives away a penalty in stoppage time. Argggggh.
Schmeichel saves Bergkamp's penalty. Christ!
Extra Time and Schmeichel goes down injured after all the subs have been made. Ohhh...
He soldiers on. Phew...
Giggs is doing nothing, despite coming on as sub. Grrrr!
Giggs slaloms through the Arsenal defence and slams it above Seaman into the goal. Oh my god...

At this point I couldn't stop my hands from shaking. Moments earlier I, and the rest of the crowd, were jumping ON our seats in uncontrollable celebration. I've had a handful of other games reduce me to tears at times, but never the shakes.
I've seen other games that have almost come close to the effect that this game had, both last season actually - United's first last minute victory against City in the 4-3 game, and the batshit mentalness that was Fulham 4 - 1 Juventus. Even the away win at Basle felt pretty special. But if I ever go to another game like the one I attended at Villa Park, I will be a very, very lucky boy indeed. I wonder what this weekend's FA Cup semi-finals will have in store for us.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Calling the odds - Man Utd v Fulham

With it being Grand National day, I thought I'd mark the occasion with a look at the betting opportunities available for today's match at Old Trafford. In recent seasons this has been a walkover for the home team - the last couple of games have been 3-0 there - although United's participation in the Champions League quarter finals will open the door a little as Fergie will no doubt rest half his team ahead of Tuesday's return leg against Chelsea.
Which begs the question - who will play? Probably Kuszczak in goal, with a back line of Fabio, Smalling Vidic and Evra. Fortunately for United, Evans is suspended as Zamora has made mincemeat of him before. Depending on their fitness, O'Shea and/or Brown may get a run out in the full back position.
Midfield is a tricky kettle of fish. I think Nani and Obertan will start on the wings, with Scholes and Anderson/Gibson, depending on the Brazillian's fitness. Berbatov and Hernandez are likely to be upfront with Rooney suspended, although I wouldn't be surprised to see Owen promoted to the starting 11 to give the Mexican a rest.
The only question Fulham has is who will play instead of Duff? Under Hodgson it would have been Gera, but Hughes doesn't seem to fancy the Hungarian, so it will possibly be Davies which might see Dempsey shifting to the right wing. However another option would be moving Dembele out to the right and playing Johnson up front with Zamora.
So what does this mean? Well even with a shaken up lineup such as this, Man United should be too strong for Fulham, who haven't scored a goal at Old Trafford for five years. The three away matches I have seen Fulham play this season - Arsenal, Spurs, Everton - they have been very ordinary and such a different side to the one that plays at Craven Cottage. United are building up a head of steam and should find today fairly comfortable, as long as they are not too distracted by the upcoming match on Tuesday.
Correct Score: A tense 1-0 is widely available at 6/1. Fulham have only been beaten by more than one goal away from home once all season (yet twice at home), so they are not a team to roll over. However some places are offering 10/1 for a 3-0 victory which has some value.
First goalscorer: If Nani is playing on his favoured right wing, he will be in direct opposition to Salcido who's defending is not his strong point. If Dempsey is playing left wing then he will leave his full back exposed and Nani will have a field day. If, as I expect, Davies is played left wing then at least he will provide some protection for his full back, but I'm not sure it will still be enough. Nani is 6/1 at Bet365 and generally 5/1 elsewhere. If Valencia starts on the right wing, then he is available at 8/1 and has been playing exceptionally well since returning from injury. An outside shot would be Paul Scholes at 14/1 with Paddy Power as he has opened the scoring against Fulham a couple of times and did so in the return fixture at Craven Cottage at the start of the season.
As for Fulham, Man United have been having issues defending set pieces so Brede Hangeland (50/1 on Betfair) or more likely Clint Dempsey (35/2 Betfair again) are the likely scorers should Fulham take the lead.
Grand National: I might have a dabble on Oscar Time, but just find somewhere offering the first five places rather than the standard four and then even the long shots become viable money spinners.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Al Fayed's Folly - FUL 3 - 0 BPL

I wasn't going to write about the statue. I really wasn't. But it ended up being the most interesting thing of the day. From the pre-match covering mentioning little else, to the official unveiling where Chairman Mo told dissenting supporters to go to hell or Chelsea, to the actual statue being, well, a bit crap, there was far more excitement than what was happening on the pitch.
For a man whose face has so much plastic surgery, the statue has somehow managed to catch his likeness just wrong. It's like the sculptor has fallen into Jacko's very own Uncanny Valley. It's that bad, tacky, cheap that the only thing to do is laugh at it and laugh alongside the other fans. One fan was dressed as the Bo Selecta Michael Jackson and I'm betting it was at him the Hammy End was singing: "Come for the children, you've only come for the children!"
The match itself was massively underwhelming. Fulham played nice enough football to go 2-0 up, but then kind of gave up trying a bit to let Blackpool back into it. Zamora's first was kind of strange - a misplaced pass by Beattie gave Bobby the ball in the Z and he was allowed a clear run at goal, with apparently none of Blackpool's defenders able to catch up, and he smashed it in the goal. No wonder Blackpool are finding themselves in trouble now.
Fulham's man of the match was probably Chris Baird. He made some important headers to clear crosses as well as stooping to head a goalbound header wide (only just mind) after Schwarzer had a rush of blood to the head. Dembele had lots of the ball and went through his repertoire of tracks and turns without ever really looking dangerous, again, but basically the whole attacking unit worked with Bobby Z in the side.
Blackpool fans were pretty quiet up until the last five minutes, when they were brilliant. It's strange that it took them so long to get warmed up. When they did make noise, it was to berate the referee, who had a bit of a strange game at times and probably did favour the home side; not with any key decisions though. The odd free kick here, the odd non-yellow card there - those sort of things that can wind you up cumulatively.
Two minutes after Holloway (who I mistook for Al Fayed on the sidelines more than once) made a triple substitution (when those happen managers are either in total control or totally buggered) Etuhu scored his second against Blackpool this season. Dempsey did really well to connect to a free kick, but his header hit the post, and his cross from the rebound was totally unmissable for Etuhu from three yards out. He did his best though, but put the shot into the roof of the net. In the end it was a routine three points that put Fulham into the top half of the table, although with a tough set of games coming up, they could also prove to be a vital three points come the end of the season.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Potential banana skin

It seems that the Met and Arsenal have now identified the banana throwing culprit - a German tourist! Hands up who guessed that one? Nope. Massively random.
And he appears to have been instantly exonerated from being a racist, which gave him the benefit of the doubt that many weren't giving to the Scotland fans.

But really, who throws a banana? Bizarre.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Bananaman - BRA 2 - 0 SCO

Yesterday's friendly between Brazil and Scotland has been somewhat overshadowed by Neymar's accusation of racism from the crowd. Now there was no doubt that a banana was thrown on the pitch. However it came from a stand consisting of 75% Brazil fans who were celebrating the side's second goal. Whoever was running the Sunday Times Sport twitter feed said: 'I saw the offending fruit thrown (was standing 30 yards away) by a Brazilian fan celebrating Neymar pen'. And besides - what would a Scot being doing with a piece of fresh fruit anyway?
Banana aside, there was absolutely no other indication of any racist behaviour from the fans. Neymar has said he was getting booed throughout the game, especially during the penalty, but that wasn't in protest against his colour - it was against his theatrics. If any player had corkscrewed to the floor like that after the merest of taps, they would have also been booed.
The racism row has left a sour taste in the mouth of what was a good natured match with supporters of both teams mingling without problems. In fact getting off the tube at Arsenal threw us into a cup final atmosphere, with singing from both sides, samba drums, fancy dress and lots of laughing. It was great.
Just before the national anthems, Brazilian legend Ronaldo was introduced to the fans and got a great reception. Considering the guy is only a month older than me and has played professional football for the last 20 years or so - he looked bloody terrible. No wonder he's retired.
On the top tier a Brazillian band had managed to gain access and played throughout the game - it was so loud that it mainly drowned out the crowd, which was a bit of a shame, but combined with the sunshine did lend a bit of a carnival atmosphere. I didn't want to use the term, but it sums it all up perfectly.
The game, in comparison, was rather flat. Brazil's play was reminiscent of Barcelona's in that they put pressure on the player with the ball until they make a mistake, which given they were playing a jittery Scotland happened quite often. In fact this gave the Scottish players the chance to show their full array of last ditch tackles and Brazil pressed and pressed. When the opening goal did come, it was courtesy of an exquisite finish by Neymar, the boy with a haircut so ridiculous that even Beckham wouldn't try it. It was sort of a cross between a mohawk and a mullet. Scotland had come close with a header from a set-piece that went narrowly wide, but that was all.
Second half was much like the first, apart from a five minute period around about the hour mark when Scotland were actually pressing and won a few corners and got a couple of shots on target without troubling Cesar in goal. But 5 minutes was all it lasted and Brazil got their second and should have probably got their third and fourth, Chelsea's Ramirez being particularly wasteful.
Even after the match, the Tartan Army was still managing to have a laugh. In the pub we were in there was a bit of traffic on the side road alongside, so fans were laughing, joking and singing with the drivers as they waited to get out of the junction. It was all good, until the headlines this morning.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Inevitable - EVE 2 - 1 FUL

On one of the roads alongside the reassuringly old school Goodison Park is a terraced house painted in a lurid red with two massive Liverpool FC flags hanging from the upper floors specifically designed as a massive fuck you to the nearby club. You have to wonder about the mentality of the fan that owns the house - they clearly get some kind of perverse pleasure from their quite confrontational actions when surely if their feelings for their club run that strong they could just move. It's far more in your face than the Chelsea supporting owners of the Eight Bells at Putney Bridge who are glad to welcome all the away fans at Craven Cottage. Anyway the house typifies the problem that Everton has in the city - the more numerous Liverpool fans looking down their noses at a less successful club, which also happens to be every club in the country.
I was fortunate enough to be a guest of the football pools for this match and so watched the game from some of the country's more idiosyncratic executive boxes. Retro fitted into an old style stadium, these boxes are much lower down than what you'd normally see. Our box was actually directly behind the Fulham 'dug out' which offered an unusual alternative spectacle to the game - a welcome diversion in a tepid first half. You could hear the curses of both managers very clearly and it seems that the job of Hughes' number two is to continually talk to the fourth official. Watching Hughes and Moyes was quite fascinating actually - their body language was almost identical. At times it felt like they were mirroring one another for some variety stage show. Moyes also loved up to his growly image by barking at a ball boy to get the ball, even though it was still on the pitch and they'd probably been trained not to enter the field of play.
The number of Fulham fans who made their way up to Goodison Park was quite low - which is not really surprisingly considering the late evening scheduling of the game meant that the last train down to London had gone while the match was still in progress. Still they were in relatively good voice - you were more likely to hear Fulham songs than Everton ones for the first half hour of the match - the 33,000 home fans were pretty quiet until Coleman opened the scoring.
I'll be honest, I wasn't too upset at this development. When I saw Salcido was starting and knowing how good Everton's right winger was, I had a fiver on the your Irishman to score first. In fairness to Salcido, it wasn't really his fault and for his standards he hada  good game. Also knowing how much stronger Fulham are in the second half, there was a likelihood that they would peg the toffeemen back. Unfortunately Saha scored soon after the restart, Ethuhu unfortunate to give a way a free kick that the former Fulham man arrowed past the wall and into the bottom corner.
Fulham were getting the ball, but not doing anything with it. Zamora was flung on and immediately provided a focus and an assist, Dempsey abruptly sweeping a lay off past Tim Howard from outside the area which caught everyone in the stadium by surprise. Fulham kept pressing, with Everton on the break, but didn't really fashion a clear cut chance. The second half was actually quite entertaining with Hughes going for it by putting on Kakuta, who was surprisingly wayward with his passing, and the porcine Gudjohnsen who seemed to be playing in midfield. In the end Everton were good enough for their extremely predictable win - that's 18 in a row for them against Fulham at Goodison Park.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Off the Wall? Or just Bad?

My very first album was Bad. My very first CD was Dangerous (bought the same time as the Blues Brothers Soundtrack). So I like MJ as much as the next guy - as long as the next guy isn't Chairman Mo.
I cannot see why a statue of MJ would be appropriate at any football ground. And that corner between the Hammy End and the Riverside gets busy enough as it is without a hulking great statue. I suppose we should just be pleased that Mo didn't try and put it next to the family stand.
But Fulham fans will have to lump it - regardless of how eccentric the decision is. The recent financial results demonstrate just how dependent the club is on the little businessman and if having a statue of one of his mates (who had dubious personal tastes of his own) is the price they have to pay for it, then so be it.
I can't help thinking that if Al Fayed had offered the statue to the O2, they would have snapped his hand off though. It's a far more appropriate location, given that he was due to put on a series of shows there.

EDIT: It seems it's Bad

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Off roving for Rovers' visit

Not going to make it for the visit of Blackburn Rovers due to several reason - in fact I think only Nic is making it today - but there is real danger of Fulham taking Blackburn a bit too lightly given recent games, much like they did with Bolton in the cup.
Blackburn are not as good as Bolton, but are adept at the physical game which Fulham tend to struggle to overcome (again cf FA Cup match v Bolton and the away game at Ewood Park). Blackburn have Roque Santa Cruz up front, who always seems to score against Fulham regardless of how well he is playing, and Jason Roberts who plays exactly the sort of game that the defence struggles with (cf Carlton Cole) and has scored against Fulham at the Cottage before.
But with a bit more protection from the referee than the last home game:
And they should be fine and starting to reach mid-table boringness, if such a thing is possible this year. Birmingham's victory in the league cup means a European Spot will probably be 6th place and up, but there is always the fair play route.

Friday, 25 February 2011

For posterity

To prove it actually happened.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Shirt Lifters - FUL 0 - 1 BOL

Arriving early to pick up tickets (didn't really need to be there an hour like advised, did we Fulham?), I was surprised to see the cocksure swagger of Sam the Eagle from the Muppets Fabio Capello walking along Stevenage Road. Who the England manager had come to see was the source of much debate during the game, until we realised it was probably a Bolton player, or even the Wanderers' new centre-half pairing of Wheater and Cahill. He'd have probably left quite intrigued at the abilities of the pair.
In comparison, the Fulham back line disappointed, and a couple of ineffective clearances gave Klasnic the opportunity to volley home efficiently from the penalty spot. He then showed his lack of class by taunting the Hammersmith End despite no previous provocation, echoing Agbonlahor's pathetic actions last season. The Croat probably escaped derision throughout the remainder of the match from the Fulham fans, as they soon discovered a greater enemy. Stuart Atwell.
Atwell's decision making has always been a bit wobbly, but one thing he is applauded for doing is letting the game flow through playing advantage. However in this game he seemed to forget that he still needed to admonish the fouler. In one attack from Fulham, Dembele clearly had his shirt pulled (well we could see it in the Hammy End at he was attacking Putney) and we know the ref saw it as he made the 'play on' signal, which was fair enough as he retained the ball. Nothing was said to the pullee once the move (quickly) broke down though.
Soon after I think it was Danny Murphy had his shirt blatantly pulled back. Once again Fulham retained possession and Atwell played on, but we all knew that the yellow card would be coming out once play stopped. But it didn't. The ref didn't even bother to talk to the Bolton player. Again. Then Dembele was running with the ball along the edge of the Bolton box - yet another massive shirt pull made him lose possession. No foul. NO FOUL? We were down the other end of the pitch and this was so obvious even Arsene Wenger would have held his hands up and said fair cop. But Atwell's weak, weak refereeing let Bolton get away with it. It happened twice more in the second half, each time equally as blatant, but the Bolton players knew they could get away with it. Only at the very end - the 94th minute - when Fulham were breaking for the final time only to be cynically pulled by Holden did the ref see fit to blow for a foul and issue a yellow card, but by then it was too little too late. He had become a foul play enabler and the crowd made sure he knew it.
Tommo, an Arsenal fan who watches a lot of live football, described it as the worst referring performance he had ever seen. I thought it was the worst since last season's Europa League game against Juventus, but at least that was in Fulham's favour, so quickly glossed over. It was not just the shirt pulling, but the inconsistency. Sidwell gets pulled up very early in the game for what was a clean sliding tackle, yet almost identical challenges from Bolton players went unpunished. At least in the second half the decisions he got wrong were about 50:50 for both sides. He was that poor I even think he fell for every one of Dempsey's ridiculous collapsing dives which have become more prevalent in his play under Hughes, despite Fulham's free kick 'prowess'.
I must admit, after what I had seen of Bolton's transformed game under Coyle, I was somewhat taken aback by the regressed version that showed up at the Cottage this weekend; full of snide fouls and sub-Stoke tactics. But I guess you need an 'away' game and it was very effective here after they took the lead. Impressively dogged defending, bite your ankles midfield work and effective counter attacking. It goes to show that in the second half when Fulham were ostensibly searching out an equaliser that Schwarzer was by far the busier goalkeeper.
As well as Bolton stuck to their gameplan, Fulham seemed a bit more ragged than usual. I think they may have underestimated Bolton if I'm honest. The fans certainly did. No matter how many own goals Johnny P scores, he must be less of a liability than Carlos 'ball watcher' Salcido, whose one positive (attacking play) seems to have completely deserted him. Sidwell also had a mixed game, probably confused over what he was allowed to do after that early foul. AJ was far less effervescent than recently and the way Bolton got about Murphy clearly effected his game and possibly his mentality, given the way he uncharacteristically went for glory with a very weak shot right at the end of the game when team mates were far better placed.
The only major positive was the return of Bobby Zamora, who with his first three touches conceded a foul, misplaced a pass which led to a very dangerous Bolton break and was caught offside. At least he was getting involved, I suppose. He soon settled in and became a nuisance to the Bolton backline though. I wonder how Hughsie is going to deploy him in the future.
It all sounds very negative, but strangely it only need a slight bit of luck and Fulham would still be in the FA Cup. Whenever the ball was deflected or blocked in the Bolton area it seemed to fall nicely for one of the defenders rather than the attacking side, and the Bolton midfielders always seemed to be first to the second ball. But you make your own luck to some extent and the Trotters were the worthy victors. Fortunately the prospect of an away tie at Birmingham tempered the disappointment of Fulham fans somewhat. But only a little.

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