Thursday, August 16, 2007

Fulham 2 - Bolton 1

Despite a calamitous start and atrocious conditions Fulham somehow managed to complete their traditional opening home fixture win over Bolton. It wasn't pretty to watch and it was never certain until the final whistle had blown but we showed a lot of spirit to get back into the game and once in front hold onto our lead.

A catalogue of errors led to Bolton's opening goal. Konchesky tried to control the ball instead of clearing it, which led eventually to a Bolton throw in. Nicky Hunt placed one of his monster throws deep into our penalty area where Zat had a 'mare, letting the ball bounce and failing to clear the danger. Still there was no immediate danger and as Warner seemed to have claimed the ball everyone relaxed. However, as Warner came down he collided with Zat Knight and lost control of the ball, which then bounced behind him where Heidar Helguson (it was inevitable H would score) was waiting to slot home what could possibly be the easiest goal of his career. After that, and as the rain went from bad to worse, we seemed to struggle to find our rhythm. Bolton had a lot of possession and were passing it around really neatly. Anelka and Diouf were looking dangerous up front and I was beginning to fear the worst.

We won a free kick down in the right hand corner and Chris Baird played a decent ball into the box. Zat made contact with his head to loop the ball high in the air and, under a challenge from McBride, a Bolton defender headed the ball towards goal. With two defenders close by Healy reacted quickest and fired home from the edge of the 6 yard box. This gave the team a lift and suddenly we had more about us and started to look more incisive. The second goal came as a Davies corner was cleared by Bolton. Smertin claimed the ball and with no immediate challenge he had time to take a touch inside before firing a shot towards the right hand post. Bolton defender Cid made contact with it as it flew towards him, but only succeeded in firing the ball into the left hand corner. Just before the break we almost saw a carbon copy of Healy's goal against Arsenal. Jaaskeleinen collected the ball in the corner of his area, but then inexplicably lost control. Healy reacted quickly to nick the ball away but as he moved to pass the 'keeper appeared to be impeded. I think he maybe made too much of the challenge, and even if he had got past a defender was closing on the ball quite quickly, so on reflection the ref probably got it right.

We had our moments in the second half with McBride having a decent chance early on. Warner made a couple of decent saves, and Smertin and Davis were working hard in the centre. With about 10 minutes remaining, Kamara replaced Healy and Dempsey replaced Bouazza. Kamara really looked the business, he's got bags of pace and a decent first touch, I can't wait for him to be back to full fitness so we can see what he's really like. Probably our best chance of the second half came as Steven Davis fired in a glorious cross from the left wing which Kamara, who had done brilliantly well to stay onside, just failed to connect with. After that the latter stages saw Bolton in the ascendancy again as they piled on the pressure in search of an equalizer. Some poor finishing on their part and some dogged defending on ours ensured we claimed all three points. Playing poorly and winning is a not a bad habit to have.

Plus points from the night were that the defence as a unit, barring that early lapse, looked very well drilled. We again played a very high line and this time pulled it off very successfully. Chris Baird was particularly solid, making numerous important tackles and blocks, and Bocanegra had a spell in the first half when it seemed nothing could pass him. Smertin also worked hard all night and deserves to claim that goal however big the deflection was. Healy was lively and as well as looking sharp in the box, worked very hard and covered a lot of ground as he looked to play off McBride's knockdowns. I should also mention Tony Warner who, after that dreadful early error, stuck to his guns and made good saves in both halves to help ensure our victory. I don't want to dwell on the negatives too much but I felt Steven Davis struggled to get into the game early on. He did get stronger as the match progressed though culminating in that superb ball to Kamara near the end. Paul Konchesky also had a poor game, getting caught in the wrong position a number of times, and getting caught in possession at least twice.

A great start to the season though, hopefully we can get an improved performance on Saturday with the same result. Some dryer weather would be nice too. Despite being in row JJ of the Hammy End, my seat is right next to the executive boxes and thanks to a small gap between them and a lack of corrugated iron I was quite wet by half time. Still it can't rain like that again ... can it?

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 9 on 79), 23 C.Dempsey (for 24 on 80), 14 P.B.Diop, 02 M.Volz

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