Sunday, August 19, 2007

Fulham 1 - Middlesbrough 2

How did we lose that? 'Boro were rubbish, really poor and yet somehow a combination of the worst luck I have ever witnessed and a failure to take our chances left us with no points and gifted 'Boro their first win of the season.

We started really brightly. Slick passing, lots of movement and on the few occasions 'Boro did get the ball we'd win it back really easily. Both Davies and Bouazza caused problems on their respective wings, Smertin continued his good form as the lynchpin of the midfield and Steven Davis was looking more impressive than he had midweek. McBride and Healy also looked good together up front. McBride winning a lot of ball, and Healy buzzing around and causing all sorts of problems for the 'Boro defence. Then the bizarre stuff started to happen. Firstly we had a long delay as referee Lee Mason went off with a groin injury and was replaced by old "favourite" Andy D'Urso. Then we scored but in doing so McBride was injured and had to be stretchered off the field. Nice work from Simon Davies on the right wing led to a good cross in which eventually fell at the feet of McBride. Big Brian fired home but, whilst we were all celebrating, Brian remained motionless on the ground. Our new Captain is not a man to stay down and the lack of movement told us it must be something bad. Later reports confirmed that he had dislocated his knee an injury, not dissimilar to Bullard's last year, that must put him out of action for a fairly long time.

After the second lengthy pause in the game, and undoubtedly partly because of the seriousness of the injury, things went a bit flat, both on the pitch and in the crowd. Matters weren't made any better when Hammeur Bouazza collapsed after a fairly innocuous challenge from 'Boro's Andrew Davies. Yet again the player's body language told the story and as he slowly walked off clutching his shoulder it seemed we'd lost another player to a bad injury. This one is a dislocated shoulder which may not be so bad (I feared a broken collar bone) but will certainly keep him out of action for a few weeks. Kamara had joined the fray to replace McBride and Clint Dempsey took the place of Bouazza. The game had become a bit disjointed now, and I had that nagging feeling that having dominated the first 20 minutes we might have missed our chance. Just before the end of the half Healy had a great chance to put us two up but fired directly in Schwarzer's face.

If losing McBride and Bouazza wasn't bad enough the next twist in this match was the real turning point. Mido shot low and hard from the corner of the penalty area and initially Warner seemed to have claimed it comfortably. But, for the second time in two matches, Warner's concentration was not up to scratch. The ball bobbled out of his grasp and rolled into the corner of the net. 1-1 and from nowhere 'Boro had been gifted a lifeline they scarcely deserved. We tried to get ourselves back into the game and seemed to have done so when Kamara fired in from another Davies cross. This was disallowed due to a Dempsey challenge on Andrew Davies who also needed lengthy treatment. The rate it was going I didn't think we'd be leaving the ground before 6:00. During another period of player treatment, there was the bizarre sight of the entire team trooping over to the home dugout for a mid-half prep talk from the boss. I've never seen anything like it but hoped it might do the trick and give us the impetuous we needed to get a result. With around 10 minutes left we should have done. Steven Davis did well to find his way into the box, fired a ball across goal which first evaded Healy (who was subsequently taken out by the 'Boro centre back) but fell at the feet of Dempsey who somehow shot wide of the open net from six yards. It was a bad miss, but it gave him a bit of a spur and, shortly afterwards, he fired another decent shot across goal which Schwarzer did well to reach. Then came the moment we knew it wasn't our day. Aliadiere twisted and turned down the right wing before playing a well weighted pass to the onrushing Cattermole who shot across Warner and found the far corner of the net. 2-1 down and with time running out things looked bleak. Volzy had been warming up but following the goal it was Diop who came on to replace Steven Davis. The all hell broke lose. Healy shot from close range and, whilst the net hadn't bulged, he and several other players clearly believed he had scored. The goal wasn't given but having now seen the replay it was well over the line before Schwarzer clawed it back. The lino wasn't having it though and shortly after that the whistle blew.

It's hard to believe we lost, despite losing our way at times, I felt we were comfortably the better team and really a couple of individual errors cost us at least a point if not all three. The loss of two players is a concern but especially the loss of McBride. It was obvious when he went off that we do not have another player capable of performing that role, and with time still left in the transfer window I think it is a priority to find someone who can fill the gap caused by McBride's absence.

The team lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows;

GK 12 A.Warner
RB 34 C.Baird
CB 06 Z.Knight
CB 03 C.Bocanegra
LB 04 P.Konchesky
RM 25 S.Davies
CM 10 S.Davis
CM 08 A.Smertin
LM 24 H.Bouazza
ST 20 B.McBride (C)
ST 09 D.Healy

Subs: 13 R.Batista, 11 D.Kamara (for 20 on 20), 23 C.Dempsey (for 24 on 35), 14 P.B.Diop (for 10 on 90), 02 M.Volz

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