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.