Having been given the go-ahead to leave for the Footy from my wonderful and beautiful wife, I broke the land speed record to get from home to my seat in a little under 45 minutes. I sat down with the game just 12 minutes old and saw Simon Davies head us in front. 1-0 Bang! Maybe I’ve got the magic touch this season. Of course at the back of my mind I was thinking about how we’d failed to win a match yet in which we’d taken the lead. We’ve got what it takes to create and score goals but it doesn’t need Alan Hansen to identify that our defence is lacking. Looking at our backline though I struggle to see why. I was impressed with Hughes (calm and intelligent just the sort of CB we’ve needed for so long), Bocanegra (hard working and committed, possibly as good a game as I’ve seen him play) and Konchesky (fast becoming the best defender at the club and outstanding again today despite one late error). A lot of fingers are, not surprisingly, pointing at Chris Baird as the weak link. I like to give a player the opportunity to settle in but I do feel Baird was responsible for more than his fair share of defensive lapses. It’s not all about one player though, the team as a whole has a responsibility to defend and I wonder if we’re lacking slightly in physical presence. I’m going to some back to the Baird situation later in the week. The other player that concerns me is Niemi. He had a shocker against Spurs and whilst he was better on Saturday there were still signs that made me think all is not well.
Maybe I am being over harsh. City were a good side. I noticed a significant drop in the number of offside decisions we won and I think this was down to City’s style of neat, first touch football. With some great simple passing moves and intelligent movement off the ball you can see why they are doing so well. Despite this, I thought we still had the beating of them and it was disappointing that our inability to hold on to a lead let us down. City’s first equaliser came as, having received a through ball from "wonderkid" Michael Johnson, Martin Petrov charged down the left wing. Baird backed off and backed off (as he does) allowing Petrov all the way to the penalty area where he was able to cut inside, wrong footing Baird, before unleashing a quick shot with the outside of his left boot. It was good footwork but the shot was not that powerful and I was disappointed that Niemi did not do better. He may have been unsighted as both Hughes and Boca attempted to close the danger and may also probably taken by surprise at the quickness of Petrov’s feet. For the rest of the half City looked the stronger team and created a number of chances that we just about dealt with. The nearest miss was a piledriver shot from Deitmar Hamman, which just shaved the outside of the post.
Kamara replaced Simon Davies at half time to inject some much needed pace to our attack and versatile Clinton Dempsey moved out to the right wing. Straight away Kamara’s direct running caused City problems and he won a free kick in a great position on the edge of the box. The angle seemed all set for the right footed Kamara to take the kick, but catching everyone by surprise it was Hammeur Bouazza who fired a superlative shot with the outside of his left boot to leave Kasper Schmeical clutching at thin air. It actually hit the net pretty centrally, which gives some idea as to how hard it was hit. Unfortunately we were sucker punched within two minutes of scoring a classic case of switching off having taken the lead. Petrov latched onto a good through ball to leave Hughes and Boca trailing in his wake and fired a good shot, which Niemi did well to save. The ball rebounded high though and Mpenza was quickest to react to head home with Niemi stranded. The momentum swung City’s way again and they took the lead on the hour mark as Petrov played a good 1-2 with Elano, left Chris Baird for dead, and fired a scorching near post shot past Niemi. A question mark again over Niemi’s positioning and anticipation but the shot was a particularly fierce one and Niemi would have done exceptionally well to stop it.
Now losing for the first time in the match Sanchez made two substitutions that would play a part in rescuing the game. Danny Murphy and Seol Ki-Hyeon came on to replace Healy (who’d had a quiet game) and Bouazza and Dempsey moved back to a forward role again. Seol, in particular, made a big impact playing wide left. He looked comfortable on the ball and constantly asked questions on the City defence. Both he and Murphy really wanted the ball and added some composure to our attacking movement. Seol created our third and final goal, a well controlled header from Niemi’s route one clearance was (possibly) flicked on by Kamara into the penalty area where Murphy finished exquisitely with a well placed right foot shot. With over 15 minutes still to play it was all Fulham and we had good opportunities to claim the win. Murphy shot over from the edge of the penalty area and Dempsey headed wide after doing incredibly well to get anywhere near the ball. A late (and only) mistake from Konchesky led to a nervous last effort from City, but this was well cleared and we finished three apiece for the second home game in a row.
Fulham lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows;
- GK 29 A.Niemi
- RB 34 C.Baird
- CB 18 A.Hughes
- CB 03 C.Bocanegra (c)
- LB 04 P.Konchesky
- RM 25 S.Davies
- CM 10 S.Davis
- CM 08 A.Smertin
- LM 24 H.Bouazza
- ST 23 C.Dempsey
- ST 09 D.Healy
Subs: 01 K.Keller, 11 D.Kamara (for 25 on 45), 27 D.Murphy (for 09 on 66), 07 S.Ki-Hyeon (for 24 on 66), 06 D.Stefanovic