Monday, April 30, 2007

Game 36 - Arsenal 3 FFC 1

I've been struggling all week to think about anything else but Fulham and our woeful predicament. Every waking moment that my mind was not fully occupied thinking about something specific I would find myself drifting back to ponder our current situation. Will we stay up? Can we nick a point at Arsenal? Will Liverpool have their minds on a European Cup final thus allowing us a vital win? If we lose the next two games can we get a result away from home on the last day of the season? Aargh! I wasn't sure exactly how I would cope with the actual game itself, I wasn't going and we don't have Sky so I would probably end up relying on the deeply frustrating BBC website "live" text update. In the end my Father-in-law came down for the day and we spent most of a fabulously sunny afternoon at the Great Cockrow Railway. If you're in the Chertsey area and are looking for something to do with the kids, or just happen to be a big fan of miniature steam railways, it's worth a visit. The family Chopper spend quite a lot of time at miniature railways! I got home in time to see we were 1-0 down, and then before my eyes we equalised. Ran off to make a quick cup of tea in an attempt not to jinx us and by the time I came back we were 3-1 down. Sod.

I watched Match of the Day 2 for the highlights, and was surprised to see Chris Coleman on as studio analyst. I thought he came across very well, and have to admit to feeling some massive guilt as he talked. It was very clear that Cookie holds the club very close to his heart, as demonstrated by his constant use of "us" and "we" and his talk of having watched all our recent games on DVD. I don't want to go into who should get the manager's job full time yet, but this was the first time I thought "well maybe we should have let Cookie see out the season". I'm sure he'll be getting a decent job in time for next season though, and I'll enjoy looking out for how well he does.

The game itself was disappointing, we reverted to a 4-5-1 formation in an attempt to stem Arsenal's attacking flair, and finally saw the return of Claus Jensen to the first team. I have been an advocate of Claus being added to the squad, but it might have been too much to ask him to play a major role in his first start for over 6 months. It was clear even from the short highlights that we weren't at the races in the first half, a very early goal, a result of a Boca mistake, must have set alarm bells ringing. Carlos has been one of our best performers this season, so you can't blame him for getting caught, especially when playing in the left back role, and it was a sublime piece of skill that out-foxed the American. Amazingly it was Baptista who scored, now I've seen him play in a few televised matches this season, and reckon he could well be the worst finisher in the English league, true to form he had a couple more clear chances and blazed them both wide. Niemi made good saves from Fabregas and Adebayor, and we just about did enough to stay in the game.

The second half saw a more organised Fulham take the field and we gave the Gunners much less time on the ball. Have we actually strung two half's of good football together this season? I'm not sure we have, even in the games we've won. Liam was replaced, I think for the first time this season, apparently due to illness. It seems he had been poorly all week, and had thrown up before taking to the field in the second half. If this is true I think he deserves great credit, he's had a lot of stick for various reasons this year, and yet he never gives anything less than 100% for the team. Volz came on to fill the right back role, and around the same time Helguson replaced McBride and Dempsey replaced Jensen. Though not obvious from the telly, it sounds like Dempsey had a great game playing in the central role behind the striker. That's quite interesting, and may explain why he's so far made little impact playing on the wing. The lob from Simon Davies was sublime, though admittedly massively helped by Lehmann doing a dying swan impersonation as it sailed over his head. We then started to surge forward more often and had two good chances to take the lead but this, of course, was our undoing. Arsenal are without a doubt the greatest counter attacking side in the league, and with players stranded up-field they took advantage with Adebayor scoring with a well struck shot which arced out of Niemi's reach. To run salt in the wounds, Volzy got caught in the box, and as he fell trying to recover he brought down Alexander Hleb and the penalty was duly dispatched.

Some positives then, I think the most important fact of all is that we didn't get thrashed. Right now our goal difference could play a huge part in keeping us up, and a 5 or 6 goal drubbing would have been like losing another point. Fingers crossed for Liverpool on Saturday, I believe we really need a win to be certain and I don't want to think about having to go to Middlesbrough on the last day of the season still needing one. I'll also be cheering on the scousers against the Blue Poo on Tuesday night, not only would it be fantastic to see the Chavs go out of Europe again, but I think it will help us if Liverpool have their minds on another European Cup Final.

One final post script, whilst I was in agony listening to West Ham take Wigan apart on Saturday, I couldn't help but be pleased for Luis Boa Morte that he finally scored his first goal for the club in such an important game.

Come on you Whites! Keep the faith.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Game 35 - FFC 1 Blackburn 1

I may be in a minority but I thoroughly enjoyed Saturday. I thought it was a thrilling contest in which our endeavour countered Blackburn's quality. The players finally showed the level of passion and fight we've all been crying out for and the atmosphere in the Hammersmith End was fantastic. I really can't remember the last time I heard us in such good voice. All this is a clear indication of exactly how bad our situation is and there's no hiding from the fact that we did let our best opportunity to gain three points slip away. Having said that though, Blackburn were very very good and we rode our luck on so many occasions that just not losing was still a heroic feat.

I was particularly impressed by Radzinski who despite putting in some decent performances this season still comes in for a lot of stick. I've been surprised he hasn't been brought back into the left wing role earlier, as this is a slot we have clearly been struggling with and whilst not a left winger Radz has been the most effective player in that role to date. On Saturday I think he may have put on one of his best performances in a white shirt despite, yet again, coming a cropper against our rock hard electronic advertising hoardings as he chased a seemingly lost cause to keep the ball in play. Big Papa Bouba Diop was also back to his best form. A towering performance from the Wardrobe even though it consisted almost exclusively of winning battles in the air and firing super powered headers in all directions. Zat Knight and Phillippe Christanval were excellent together in defence, Zat doing especially well after a inconsistent season. Boca played well at left back, nothing too fancy just solid defending. Simon Davies looked so much more comfortable on the right wing though again fluffed a decent chance to find the target. Macca worked very hard (as always) with a lot of our balls aimed for his head and Montella sniffing around for the knock downs and oozing quality. I thought Liam did OK as well, though it was his mistake, diving in to try and make a tackle when he should have stayed on his feet, that led to the goal.

The subs were quite interesting too. Volz came on for Christanval which led me to believe PC must have been injured, yet in Sanchez post match interview, he gave the impression it was because he was trying to play the ball out of defence rather than hoof it up field, which is a clear indication of what Sanchez is trying to achieve. This change pushed Liam to left back and Boca to the centre. Now many people claim that Moritz should be our first choice right back, yet, as much I love Volzy, I thought he made 2 or 3 mistakes early on that could have easily been more costly. For me Liam deserves to get the nod at the moment for his defensive abilities, but I'm glad to see Volzy back in the squad and wouldn't be adverse to him having another run out in midfield. Routledge came on for Montella and interestingly played in a attacking role which I think could make very good use of his talent. We are shockingly short of alternatives up front, and Routledge's pace and ability could certainly cause defences some problems. Finally Clint Dempsey replaced Radz and did very little. I don't want to be too harsh on Clint as I am sure he has more to offer, I just don't think he's going to offer it this season. I can't understand why Claus Jensen, a player with massive experience cannot get in the team ahead of him, but for consecutive managers to leave him in the cold, maybe there is something else going on that isn't apparent.

With hindsight I guess the 2nd half was not as good as the first, and the momentum we had early on was lost as we struggled to cope with Blackburn's efficient passing and pacy attack. We really could have lost this game 5-1 and had the woodwork to thank or more than one occasion. Niemi made a couple of impressive saves, and when he was wanting, failing to close down an attack in the 1st half, Zat was there to sweep up behind. Prior to kick-off I felt we had to win the game, yet the manner of the performance has left me optimistic that we can get the points we need to survive. There's nothing to lose at Arsenal and with their season pretty much wrapped up and not being renowned for coping with physical football, maybe we can get an unexpected result at the Emirates. Failing that we've had results before against Liverpool so all is not yet lost.

JINXWATCH: My goal drought is finally over, Vincenzo Montella scoring the first Premiership goal I have seen in 685 minutes of football (I miscalculated in my previous post it was worse than I thought), however we still didn't win which means I have not seen us win a Premiership game this season. Therefore the new Jinx Watch stands at 8 games without a victory. Hope I can knock that one on the head in two weeks time and we can all sleep a lot more soundly at night!

The View From The Hammy End

Second half corner, balloons still floating about, Graham Poll looking imperious

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Jinx Watch - 675 minutes and counting

Way back in January I wrote about my self-imposed ban on attending games due to the fact that I had not seen Fulham score a Premiership goal since the home game against Wigan last season. I had hoped that by not going we'd be safely out of any trouble before I risked another match. Saturday was therefore my first game since Watford on January 1st and, of course, we failed to score again. This means I have now watched 675 minutes of Premiership football without seeing a Fulham goal. I did at least get some relief by watching the FA Cup game against Leicester but Steed Malbranque scoring on the stroke of half-time against Wigan, last season, is the most recent Premiership goal I have witnessed live. Since then I have attended the home games against Chelsea (0-2), Wigan (0-1), Reading (0-1), West Ham (0-0) and Watford (0-0), and away at Liverpool (0-4) and now Reading (0-1) without a single valid goal. The one game I had a ticket for but didn't go to, home to Newcastle on Feb 3rd, we won 2-1 and to really rub it in we *have* scored in every other home game this season.

Well jinx or no jinx there's no way I'm not going to the last two home games, so I've got everything crossed I can finally break my hoodoo on Saturday.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Ladies Football Team

I've been keeping an eye out for the Fulham Women F.C. results this season. It's been pretty tough for them since Mo pulled the plug at the end of last year. Any remaining semi-professional players left for bigger clubs and they were forced to recruit a huge number of new players. However, after an appalling start losing 17-1 to Arsenal Ladies, and then generally losing quite heavily every week, they have worked very hard and slowly improved finally culminating in a 1-0 win away at Sunderland. They lost again the other day but this report from the BBC shows how hard they are trying, with only 11 fit players, they were forced to play without any subs had their normal goalkeeper play up front, and still only lost 2-0 to a decent Everton side. Based on that performance they might actually have more spirit than our first team - I hope the lads can prove me wrong this Saturday. Anyway good luck to the girls, they lost again at the weekend and are one more (inevitable) defeat away from relegation, but it will be interesting to see how they fair in a lower division.

Update: Just heard that Fulham Women are in the Surrey Cup final this coming Sunday against Chel**a.They would love to see big Fulham turn out to help beat that lot from down the road. Kick Off is at 12 next Sunday at Molesey FCs ground, Walton Road,Molesey,KT8 0JG.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Game 34 - Reading 1 FFC 0

"We're shit and we're going down" is the tune that's currently reverberating around my head. This was probably the most anticipated match I've been too for a good five years and was always going to struggle to meet my hopes and expectations. Having had a little time to evaluate what I saw today, perhaps there were signs that we'd got some fight left in us, but I was still left hugely disappointed with the lack of spirit shown by many of the players today. The report on Craven Cottage Newsround sums it up very well so not much point me going into detail. However much we huffed and puffed in the second half we just didn't find the target often enough. I think Sanchez very much kept things as they were today, and I hope that he will have learnt a lot. I would expect to see some changes for the Blackburn game, Davies surely cannot be asked to play left wing again and we need to find some way to get the ball to our strikers in dangerous areas. I would like to see Claus involved but other than that I think we're stuck with the same group of players. Fingers crossed that Blackburn can draw with the Chavs tomorrow and they'll have they're minds elsewhere next Saturday.

Here's some pictures.

1. Pre-match tension.

2. "Look Boss it's a plane!"

3. Action shot to make Ken Coton proud ... not!

4. Montella on left, Dempsey on right, not sure what's happening though.

5. He might be a Gunner but he sang his heart out today for us. 6. So did I ... got a sore throat now though.

7. Almost caught us in full song.

8. Marcus Hahnemann. I saw this man let the ball go through his legs at Grimsby when he played for us and yet he keeps two clean sheets against us this season.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Reserves 0 Arsenal 1 - Tuesday 10th April

Its the Easter holiday so this was a nice opportunity to go and see the reserves in action and forget about the troubles of the Premiership. My eldest son Ben is "currently" an Arsenal supporter, he's only six so I let him off in the faint hope that he might eventually see the light. Actually the idea that he might eventually abandon Arsenal in favour of the Whites took a bit of a knock when I asked him about why he supported Arsenal and he told me it wasn't because they play in red (his original reason) but because they play good football ... "ah, right son. This is going to be it for life isn't it?". Anyway, I'd never been to a reserves match at Motspur Park and it was a lovely warm evening, with a decent crowd, quite a few of whom were also Arsenal fans.

Fulham featured Claus Jensen, Clint Dempsey and Bjorn Runstrom alongside some established younger players, Arsenal had Mart Poom in goal, Justin Hoyte and Johann Djourou alongside the "new Cesc Fabregras" Francisco Merida Perez. Arsenal played much like their first team, plenty of attractive and tidy football, but fairly toothless in attack. They missed three golden chances to score before Djourou eventually bundled in a scrappy winner on 75 minutes. Fulham had much the better of the game, but failed to score partly down to a lack of sharpness up front, but also some heroic goalkeeping from Mart Poom.

Claus pretty much ran the show, and was ably assisted by Chris James and Wayne Brown, both of who really worked their socks off. James in particular impressed me, getting forward to support the strikers and really driving the team on. Compared to Claus, Dempsey was a disappointment. He clearly needs a lot more match practice, but even so I would have expected him to make more of an impact at this level. He needs some time to adapt, and I'm sure he has a lot more to offer, but right now I would be picking Jensen ahead of him for the first team. Runstrom also did well, he looked pacey and had good feet, if his finishing had been a bit sharper I think we'd have seen a different result. Omozusi looked very solid at centre back, and marshaled the defence well, who as a unit coped comfortably with most things Arsenal threw at them. All in all a good night for £3, and I might even come back for the last game of the season against the Chavs. There's some pictures below that prove pretty conclusively that I am no Ken Cotton.

Chris James attempts to find touch. Hang on ... is that the right game?

There's a ball around here somewhere.


Cookie Crumbles ...

... or in reality gets the sack. I felt after Monday's disaster that if we were going to make a change it had to be this week, and it seems that's what the board thought as well. I think Sanchez is a good choice, completely out of the blue but exactly what we need. It's going to be a scrap until the end of the season, and we need someone who can motivate the players we've got. There's talk that Les Reed could be joining as coach, which can't be a bad thing, and it seems for the time being that Dave Beasant is still in a job. I think if Coleman was going to save his job he needed to get a win out of the last three home games, having only managed 2 points there was no indication that he could get us out of trouble without relying on the misfortune of other teams. I am sad for Chris, he has given us 10 years as a player and manager, and I think always did his best for the club. In the final analysis though, I think his style was based more on motivation and leadership that tactical ability. I wish him well for the future and look forward to an exciting climax to the season.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Game 33 - FFC 1 Manchester City 3

Flippin' heck! There's really not much to say about this is there? We clearly need to get two wins to stand any chance of staying up and today was one of our last good chances. We blew it, as we did against Portsmouth, and Villa. We've only two home games left, against Blackburn and Liverpool, neither of which will be easy opportunities, which in all likelihood means we need a win away from home. Two games ago I still thought Coleman could do the job and we'd probably be fine, now I don't think that's the case anymore.

I'm going to Reading on Saturday, mainly because a friend of mine lives near by and we've planned on going from the start of the season. It now looks like this could be a make or break match. Not sure if Coleman will still be in charge by then, I think any remaining fence-sitter's (myself included) probably fell off today, and Mo may think that the time is nigh. I'm not sure a change now will actually make much difference, our only real option is Ray Lewington as caretaker, but we need something to change our fortunes.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Do Do Do the Carlos Bocanegra!

Meant to add this to the previous post, as further evidence of "where did it all go wrong". Carlos' goal on Friday night makes him second highest scorer in the league this year with 4. Only big Brian McBride has scored more with nine, whilst Heidar is not far off with 3, but with Carlos and the one-legged Ian Pearce being our only scorers in the last four games I think it's time the strikers stood up to the mark.
[*UPDATE: 9th April - Carlos scores again to reach 5 goals, comfortably second and if he keeps it up may stake a claim to pass McBride!]

Carlos scores despite Phil Neville's attempt to scare him by gurning. Picture from BBC Sports.

Game 32 - Everton 4 FFC 1

Another hammering on Merseyside, and yet I'm not too despondent. We were undone by some fine football from Everton in the first half, but didn't give up, and had a real go in the second half. There were some welcome changes to the starting eleven, although much of that was probably down to injuries and suspensions, rather than some sudden tactical revolution. It was nice to see Volz back in the team, and for Routledge to finally get another go on the wing. Disappointing though that Cookie felt it necessary to switch Simon Davies to the left wing, where I felt he was more restricted. I feel pretty certain that Routledge can play with either foot, and would be the more natural choice for that role, but maybe with Liam having to fill in again Coleman felt it would leave us too open on that flank.

As it turned out, despite taking the lead slightly against the run of play, it was probably Routledge's fault that Jolean Lescott was able to rampage forward and play the ball of his life into the box for Lee Carsley to convert. A slight digression here - What sort of a name is Jolean for a man? Maybe his parents were slightly dyslexic Dolly Parton fans. And what is going on with that haircut? I couldn't take my eyes of it, kind of a very straight edge from temple to ear. It looks as if it wasn't trimmed that way he'd have a hairy forehead. All very bizarre, and I'm very sorry Jolean if you somehow read this and there's a genuine reason for it. Great pass though.

Two more goals conceded before half time, and in both, I felt there was some clever movement from the Everton forwards to ensure that nippy but short Andy Johnson played off Zat thus isolating Bocanegra with their big men. This was particularly evident in the killer third goal, in which AJ dragged Zat way out of position, Zat really failed to clear the danger, and the ball was quickly played into the box where what was left of our defence was in disarray.

The game really was over at that point, but we stuck to our guns and created a lot of chances in the second half. More than anything it highlighted our biggest problem of the season, and inability to score. We really do need Montella to get fit and play a few games if we're going to pick up those "two wins" Coleman reckons will see us safe. McBride had the best chance, with a towering header, and if that had gone in maybe we could have got something out of the game. It wasn't a surprise that pushing so many people forward eventually led to a forth and final goal, but I was proud of the way we had fought, and if we can keep playing with that attitude maybe we can pick up the wins we need sooner rather than later.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Game 31 - FFC 1 Portsmouth 1

Another draw then, I was stuck at work yesterday and relying on the painfully slow "live" BBC website updates for the score, so left for home at 5:00 thinking we had lost 1-0. Finding out that we had actually snatched a point put me in a much better frame of mind than I might otherwise have felt about the scoreline. There were mixed opinions on TFi yesterday, but a great report on Craven Cottage Newsround seems to sum it all up very well. I'm particularly pleased for Ian Pearce who's taken quite a bit of stick over the last two seasons. The fact that he was even on the pitch at all shows his spirit and commitment, and I believe we need players like Ian, who aren't going to cost the club a fortune but can be called upon to do a job when required.

So, after yesterday's results are we now involved in a relegation scrap? Mathematically we're not safe, but I think, when you look at the comparative run-in's of the main clubs involved, we'll be OK. They've all got tough matches against "top 4" opponents, as well as tricky games against each other, so despite struggling to see where the Whites can manage much more than 7 points I think that will still be enough.

FFC - Everton (A), Man City (H), Reading (A), Blackburn (H), Arsenal (A), Liverpool (H), Middlesbrough (A)
Sheffield United - Bolton (H), Newcastle (A), West Ham (H), Man U (A), Charlton (A), Watford (H), Villa (A), Wigan (H)
Charlton - Man City (A), Reading (H), Everton (A), Sheff U (H), Blackburn (A), Spurs (H), Liverpool (A)
West Ham - Arsenal (A), Sheff U (A), Chavski (H), Everton (H), Wigan (A), Bolton (H), Man U (A)

I think Cookie's safe until the end of the season, mainly because he's still meeting the objectives that MAF and the board have set him. The quotes in the papers suggest that he has picked up on the criticism from the fans, and with the press also reporting it quite widely, there may be added pressure when the board look at the longer term situation.