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.

Rich Text