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.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Penalty call - FUL 0 - 0 CHE

I didn't make it to the Valentine's Day game, although it is ironic that my preview of the game consisted of a photo of a missed penalty, so here is Jarrod's text message review:

Game was pretty ordinary. Our defence was poor, their attack worse. Clint's miss was devestating...
Crowd good; sung lots. "What a waste of money" and " John Terry - your mum's a thief".
One chant I had heard about that made me chuckle was: "Are you Torres in disgiuse?" Some of the Fulham chants have been getting better of late.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

This still makes me laugh

I happened to attend the England v USA friendly at Wembley a couple of days after the Champions League Final in Moscow. In this game Terry did score, with a header. Afterwards he was quoted in the press as saying he was a 'big man for the big games'.
No John. A big game was the Champions League Final, not an end of season friendly against America. And a big man would have scored the winning penalty rather than messing about making sure their captain's armband was on straight before falling over and shanking their kick onto the post.
I can't make it to the game on Valentine's Day but I would love it if you made an arse out of yourself again.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Duff curse - FUL 1-0 NCU

Newcastle United's players looked gigantic compared to Fulham's. Properly huge. And protected the ball with their bodies better (and more often) than any team I'd seen, causing the Fulham midfield to make lots of niggly little fouls which they're not really renowned for. They swarmed around the Fulham players when in possession, robbing them of time in which to ply their craft, which meant the ineffective 'long ball to Johnson' tactic reared its head far too often in the first half.
Newcastle played very much like a team who last season were in the Championship - that's not a criticism though. They were earthy and the right side of line, unlike some other teams currently 'gracing' the Premier League. It made for a crap spectacle though.
It was probably the poor entertainment in the first half which meant the 'Blues Brothers' entertainment at half time was so warmly received. Not by me though. If you're trying to promote the singing and dancing tribute act to the Blues Brothers, you should a) sing and b) have a dance choreographed. And if you can't do a, then at least record yourselves singing and mime to that rather than a 30 year old recording of the original band from the widely seen film. Outrageous.
Fortunately the second half stepped up a gear, with Danny Murphy somehow finding the energy reserves to fashion a little space in the middle of the pitch, ably assisted by a workman-like Sidwell and the eventual exhaustion of the Newcastle players.
Fulham had started to get on top, but had not made the breakthrough, leaving Sparky with one of those awkward decisions of whether to stick and hope for a goal or twist and potentially accede dominance. Thankfully for him the goal arrived before he had to decide.
It's no exageration to suggest Duff should have already scored twice before finally putting one past Harper from a long Murphy pass. In fact the Newcastle goalie was probably man-of-the-match with some eye catching saves, one from Dempsey was particularly impressive. It appeared particularly cathartic for Duff, who'd been getting quite a bit of stick from the rather impressive turnout of the Toon Army. The goal settled most nerves, simultaneously taking the wind out of the Toon's sails, and both the fans and Hughes relaxed.
While the fans baited their north eastern counterparts, Sparky chucked on Gael Kakuta for a surprisingly effective debut. He was fast, direct and incisive and maybe should have finished the game with a goal and an assist, but his performance in the hole (I think - it was hard to tell who actually was leading the line when Johnson came off) was very promising for the remainder of the season. He offered a definite glimpse on why it was worth the 'neighbours' breaking all manner of rules to get him.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Through the window

Steve Sidwell - I must admit, while I was very familiar with the name, I had no idea how he played. Or even where he played. At first I thought he was a striker in the same mould as Kevin Doyle (possibly I'd got them mixed up) so was surprised to find Sparky  had signed a midfielder - especially as the team has them in abundance. However he as been decent enough across a couple of games. The question is whether he is back-up or a replacement to Dickson Etuhu?

Gael Kakuta - The reason behind Chelsea's amusing transfer embargo has yet to set the world alight at Stamford Bridge - hence his loan deal to Craven Cottage. Now billed as a winger, Kakuta arrives at Fulham on the promise of some first team action, but unless he hits the ground running it is hard to see how he will get any more game time here than at Stamford Bridge where he has featured in a dozen games this season. Irritatingly he is also cup-tied for the FA Cup. Another Giles Barnes? Probably not as I think Hughes will play him - I just don't know when while everyone's fit.

Eidur Gudjohnsen - Gratifyingly not cup-tied, the Icelandic striker has picked up trophies at several clubs, although has rarely been a first team regular for his sides over the last five years, which ought to sounds some alarm bells ringing. I last saw Gudjohnsen play live in the Nou Camp where he plundered a late winner against Real Betis and have always been impressed with him. A good showing up front while Bobby Z gets up to speed and he could earn a new contract at the Cottage this summer.

Eddie Johnson - Off to my favoured Preston North End on loan. PNE need a miracle in order to stay up this season and, let's face it, it will be a miracle if EJ can turn it on for them. I don;t expect to see him in a Fulham shirt again. Thanks Eddie, but it just didn't happen for you.

David Elm - Never given an opportunity under Hughes, despite the striker crisis. Despite his obvious limitations he could have been an adequate Zamora stand-in - moreso than EJ. Not under Hughes though and so he had to go.

Frederik Stoor - Another player whom I sense the fans would have liked to have seen given a bit more of an opportunity, but yet another mysterious low-key Hodgson signing who never quite made the grade. Might as well be off the wage list.

Rob Milsom - Was at his Fulham debut at Old Trafford, but that was the last seen of him. Clearly not fancied, which is a shame given his 12 years at the club, but he might find his level in Scotland. Strangely I may see him play for Aberdeen in a couple of weeks. 

Keanu Marsh-Brown - Not yet played for Fulham, but has joined MK Dons for a month, which is a shame as I have a natural revulsion for the club.

Any other business: 
I'm no fan of Liverpool but I think they've done okay business. A want away striker replaced by two eager young things desperate to prove something. To be honest I didn't think there was a need to instantly replace Torres with Suarez coming in, but spunking £35m on an 22-year-old English centre forward isn't as big a risk as it sounds given resale values.
£50m on a Torres without such resale value and fitting him into the current Chelsea set up seems a bit more of a risk, albeit one Roman can afford, but they are looking to secure Champs league qualification for next season as much as win the trophy this year.
However Newcastle are 8pts from the drop. Will that be enough to save them? 

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