Sunday, May 06, 2007

Game 37 - FFC 1 Liverpool 0

So at last, barring some spectacular bad luck, we are safe and to top it all I have finally broken my jinx. Eight games without a win ended on the very last home game of the season. I was not, however, feeling very positive at any point on Saturday. Unlike the Blackburn game there was no sense of excitement of the game to come, I didn't even feel especially nervous, just resigned to the inevitable. This feeling really struck home as the game began and stayed with me until the arrival of a certain Mr C. Dempsey. I don't think I was the only one affected, the atmosphere in the Hammy End was strangely muted as we huffed and puffed through a fairly turgid first half. We seemed to be containing Liverpool despite a couple of chances for Bellamy, both well saved by Niemi, but didn't have a great deal to offer in attack. Liverpool's pace was clear to see, and I lost count of the number of times a ball over the top left Bocanegra struggling to make up ground. Montella was not seeing much of the ball, and when he did it was rarely at his feet. He did manage one moment of sublime skill, when he executed a spectacular overhead kick which either struck a post or a defender before being cleared. The moment that really defined the first half for me was the glaring miss by Robbie Fowler inches from the goal line with Niemi well out of reach.

The second half did not start a great deal better and we were largely reduced to humping long balls forward in the direction of McBride. It was a mere 8 minutes in that Sanchez decided he had seen enough and pulled Montella off to replace him with Clint Dempsey. Montella didn't look best pleased and to be fair hadn't had a great deal of service, but Sanchez was obviously not getting what he wanted and acted swiftly. I had previously doubted that Dempsey could add much to our fight against the drop, but both Coleman and Sanchez saw something that kept him in the squad. As soon as he entered the fray you could tell that here was a player who actually wanted the ball. He had a couple of nice early touches and the belief from team and crowd seem to improve. There was a long delay as Sissoko received treatment after a Davies challenge and during this the atmosphere really started to build as the home fans got behind the team 100%. It was around this time I first noticed Airfix (a TFi poster) banging the Fulham drum in memory of his friend Graham Hooper. Graham was tragically killed in a car accident shortly after the Blackburn game, a game which had seen Graham bang the drum for the first time in several years. Airfix did Graham proud on Saturday and definitely played his part in getting the crowd response the team needed.

When the goal came it was Dempsey who created and finished a fine move. Receiving the ball just ouside the box he burst through the defence before sliding an acute pass out to Rosenior on the right wing. Rosenior played the perfect return pass and, as the Liverpool defence appealed for offside, Clint continued his run to meet the ball, fire past Reina and trigger mass hysteria in the Hammy End. All of a sudden the impossible task seemed achievable. The last twenty minutes were not easy to watch. Diop, already on a yellow, seemed intent on getting another as he put in a series of tough tackles on the Liverpool midfield. Steve Bennett, unusually the most officious of referees gave him a stern talking to after one challenge on Sissoko. Steve Finnan joined the field to a standing ovation from the Fulham faithful and a rendition of "There's only One Steve Finnan", before being booed as soon as he touched the ball - only at Fulham! There was one real heart-in-the-mouth moment as a Harry Kewell free kick was glanced in by Paletta, but thankfully it was ruled offside. With injury time ticking down Papa Diop made one last lunging tackle which finally saw him sent-off. No complaints about that, to be honest he could have gone a couple of fouls earlier, but by then he had already played his part and all on the day after becoming a father.

My Dad (attending his first game since I last saw a Fulham league win!) noted at half time that Liam Rosenior was the only one who wanted to pass the ball, an interesting comment considering the stick Liam's had this year for not passing to a white shirt. Liam had a very good game and yet I still found myself defending him as I chatted with someone on the way back to the car. Christanval is always a joy to watch and Knight is now playing at something like his best form. Boca was too often exposed at left back but is always going to be struggling for pace against the top teams. Diop, like Knight, is playing as well as I have seen, and was a big force in the centre. Brown worked hard throughout, although another moment of madness may cost us his services at Middlesbrough as well. Match of the Day seemed quite certain that he headbutted Xavi Alonso yet from the replays I saw there is a glimmer of truth in Brown's claim that Alonso squared up to him and they just clashed heads.

I may well head down the pub on Monday night to make sure the Spud's do us a favour and finish off Charlton for good. I will certainly be happier next Sunday if there's no chance of a nasty shock ending.

Another poor picture of the crowd at the back of the Hammy End who did so well leading the singing (Next year I'll take my real camera!)

Second Half free kick, which surprisingly was not fired low and hard into the wall.

TFi's Airfix doing a sterling job "banging the drum", we scored shortly after this photo was taken.

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