Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Lazy midweek hyperlink based roundup

I'm writing this on Tuesday evening, and to be honest could do with an early night. "Flight of the Conchords" is on BBC4 in about ten minutes and I really want to see that as I missed it last week. These are my excuses for what is generally just a bunch of links you may well have seen or read already. I'm sorry. I'll try and write something more dynamic tomorrow. Possibly.

Moritz Volz continues to set himself up for a decent career in journalism when he eventually retires from football. In his weekly column in the Times he discusses the issues surrounding the May Day for Nurses appeal. The Times also dug up another interesting statistic suggesting that if the scores at half time had been taken as the results Fulham would be third in the league. I'm really not sure what that says about us.

Martin Jol has been tenuously linked with Fulham this week. The reports were based on this article in the Guardian which says that Jol "has attracted interest from PSV Eindhoven, but would prefer to remain in the Premier League, with Fulham one potential new employer. Lawrie Sanchez is under pressure at Craven Cottage, having won two of 16 League games since replacing Chris Coleman. The surprise choice of managing director David McNally last April, Sanchez was recently called into Harrods to explain Fulham's under-performance to owner Mohamed Fayed". Now that could just be journalistic supposition or possibly someone friendly with Jol throwing his hat into the ring. Either way it's nothing to get excited about yet.

Despite the increasing pressure on Sanchez there are plenty of stories suggesting that we are already preparing for further signings in January. Lafferty, Zamora and Kisnorbo have all been mentioned recently but the one story that did give me a chuckle was that Terry Gibson had been sent to check out a number of Slavia Prague players in their Champions League match against Arsenal but having witnessed Slavia's 7-0 humbling it was unlikely we'd be following any of them any further.

Right, I'm off to renew my subscription to Novelty Music Scene magazine.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Left back crisis?

Carlos Bocanegra will be suspended for Saturday's game having now received 5 yellow cards. This went through my mind as I watched the highlights on Saturday and is now confirmed on the F.A.'s website. With Konchesky still serving a three match ban Sanchez now has an interesting choice to make. Does he use a young inexperienced player in a position he is used to playing or does he move one of the more recognised first team players to fill the gap. The options as far as I can tell are;

Nathan Ashton, the 20 year old left back we signed after his release from Charlton. He was on the bench on Saturday which suggests he is at least in Lawrie's thoughts and would make his club debut if selected.

Aaron Hughes or Dejan Stefanovic. Both have played left back in the past, though of the two I would favour Hughes. In using either player we would be left trying to fill the centre back vacancy. That may possibly open the door for Chris Baird to try his arm at the centre back position where he so impressed for Southampton last season. Alternatively Elliot Omozusi has generally played as centre back for the reserves and could be given a chance with either Baird or Volz (if fit) returning to the right back berth.

Chris Baird has also played left back, though quite early on in his Southampton career. Maybe he could achieve that Rosenior ability of performing better on the wrong side than he does on the right side.

Omosuzi thoroughly deserves to retain his position at right back, but other than that I have no idea what the best selection would be. If Ashton is up to the job then we would at least retain some consistency in our back four, if he's not then I suspect Hughes will get the nod with Baird given his chance at centre back. I wasn't feeling confident about Saturday anyway and this isn't making it any better.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Sunderland 1 Fulham 1 - Belated match reaction

A little late in the day with this thanks initially to Virgin Broadband being out of action from Sunday afternoon through to Monday lunch time, and then, when service had finally been restored, number one son hogging the PC to play his online games. Still, better late than never.

Before I head down a path of negativity I think I should at least state that prior to the game I would have been happy with a point. Yes, we DO need to win more games, but right now I reckon an away draw, against anyone, is not to be sniffed at. That said, and based only on Sky’s hour long Football First highlights, this appeared to be another fairly poor performance from the Whites.

There were some changes in the starting line up, though possibly the only one that wasn’t enforced was Elliott Omozusi who made his Premier League debut replacing Chris Baird at Right Back. Carlos Bocanegra came in for the suspended Konch at Left Back, Simon Davies returned to the right side of midfield and Clint Dempsey switched to the left side due to Hammeur Bouazza’s second shoulder dislocation of the season. Omozusi, still only 18, had an excellent game and hardly put a foot wrong throughout. He’s been on the first team radar for some time and with Volz injured and Baird struggling to adapt maybe he can grasp this chance and claim a regular spot.

The game itself was disappointing. Fulham can lay some claim to being on top for most of it yet we never looked like we could claim a win. Even during a first half in which Sunderland were shocking we didn’t stamp our authority on the match and make it ours. The goal apart we had chances to score more but one way or another fate conspired against us. A early Davies free kick found Dempsey leaping well in the box but unable to direct his header away from Craig Gordon. Then a mix up between the Sunderland ‘keeper and Danny Higginbottom saw the defender play a ball across goal to where David Healy was presented with a completely unguarded net. With two defender’s closing It needed a first time shot but Healy snatched at it and saw his effort go comfortably wide of the post. Dempsey then played a sublime through ball from the left channel for Kamara to run onto. Unfortunately the Senegalese international was either pulled back or tripped over his own feet (replay’s were inconclusive) and crashed to the ground. The goal came shortly after that when Kamara was awarded a free kick. Simon Davies neatly clipping the ball over the wall and into the top corner of the near post. In his post match interview Davies credited Sanchez with suggesting he try, but even so the execution was superb.

Sunderland came out much stronger in the second half and at times we were definitely on the back foot. Kenwyne Jones looked impressive up front and Danny Murphy did very well to charge down one of his shots early on. We still had chances though and when Healy was pulled back by Greg Halford as he was about to run onto to a decent diagonal pass (from Davies?) it was inevitable that Halford would see Red. In a similar position Kamara seemed to dwell on the ball too long but then somehow muscled his way past Nosworthy before firing in what appeared to be our second goal. The ref pulled play back for an apparent foul by Kamara, though the replays suggested there was very little contact. Healy and Kamara eventually made way for Kuqi (making his Fulham debut) and Seol. A substitution that I suppose was designed to help us hold onto to the points but I would have preferred to see what Kamara could do alongside Kuqi. However, having gone down to ten men Sunderland seemed to up the tempo again. Niemi saved excellently in a one on one with Grant Leadbetter, following a looping kick from Jones, but this was a warning sign of more to come. Kenwune Jones finally got the goal his performance deserved when he managed to get his head to a decent cross and brought the scores level. Jones looked every inch the sort of player we could do with (and have been missing since McBride’s injury). We were on the rack now and in the dying minutes Omozusi made probably his only mistake of the game to allow Stokes through for another one on one opportunity with Niemi. This time the Sunderland players shot was poor, but Niemi did very well in that situation again by making himself big and imposing.

Sanchez claimed afterwards that we had dominated the game from the 1st ‘til the 85th minute and had therefore been unlucky not to win. If that’s Sanchez idea of dominating a game then I think we’ve got very big problems indeed. Lawrie might point to the fouls on Kamara and Healy or the disallowed goal as evidence that he is right but I think you make your own luck and we’re still playing without the passion and fight that you need to survive at this level.

A couple of minor bits of trivia to end on. This was a match up between (allegedly) the quietest team in the Premiership (us) and the noisiest (them), yet throughout Sky’s coverage the Fulham songs could be plainly heard. Well done those travelling fans at least we won that contest. The game also saw the first (and possibly last) appearance of our new blue third strip.
  • GK 29 A.Niemi
  • RB 22 E.Omosuzi
  • CB 18 A.Hughes (C)
  • CB 06 D.Stefanovic
  • LB 03 C.Bocanegra
  • RM 25 S.Davies
  • CM 10 S.Davis
  • CM 27 D.Murphy
  • LM 23 C.Dempsey
  • ST 11 D.Kamara
  • ST 09 D.Healy

Subs: 12 T.Warner, 07 S.Ki-Hyeon (on for 11), 08 A.Smertin, 14 S.Kuqi (on for 09), -- N.Ashton

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Bexhill or bust

As the team head up North to face Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, I'll be heading the opposite direction to see my Dad in sunny Bexhill. That means I've not got time to write a preview of the Sunderland game. Rob's got two excellent pieces up on Following the Fulham including his regular and always interesting interview with opposition fans and Rich has a short summary of the likely Fulham team at Craven Cottage Newsround .

One quick item that caught my attention. A quote from the
Mihir Bose BBC football blog that suggests the Spurs board have been playing the same game with statistics that we have this week!

"A measure of their desperation was that the board also pored over statistics - one doing the rounds was that Spurs were one point and four goals down on the corresponding fixtures last season.

"That's fixtures, not the corresponding time of the season. They were clutching at straws."

Dad's got Sky so I should get to see some decent highlights this week. I have a nagging feeling though that I might not want to bother.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Three wins in thirty games

Early this week the Times mentioned this statistic in their daily football email. Fulham have only managed three wins in thirty league games. That's pretty poor and clearly representative of the trough we seem to have found ourselves in during 2007. I wanted to know a bit more about that stat so dug out a few facts to put it in context.

The thirty games is divided equally between Cookies last 15 and Sanchez first 15 (5 last season and 10 this).

Home: Wins 1, Draws 5, Loses 2
Away: Wins 0, Draws 4, Loses 3
Total: Wins 1, Draws 9, Loses 5 - Points 12

Home: Wins 2, Draws 4, Loses 2
Away: Wins 0, Draws 2, Loses 5
Total: Wins 2, Draws 6, Loses 7 - Points 12

That doesn't really say a lot other than Sanchez has yet to show any improvement on the form that saw Coleman lose his job, but to some extent the figures are skewed as Sanchez are split between last season (5 games) and this season during which time he has completely rebuilt the squad. I feel like I'm probably going over old ground here but stick with me.

To get a clearer picture of how the last 30 games compare with other Premier League teams, I picked two other sides of similar stature and checked their results.

Home: Wins 3, Draws 9, Loses 4
Away: Wins 0, Draws 6, Loses 8
Total: Wins 3, Draws 15, Loses 12 - Points 24

Home: Wins 8, Draws 3, Loses 5
Away: Wins 3, Draws 4, Loses 8
Total: Wins 11, Draws 7, Loses 13 - Points 40

Home: Wins 9, Draws 1, Loses 5
Away: Wins 2, Draws 5, Loses 8
Total: Wins 11, Draws 6, Loses 13 - Points 39

Now that really surprised me. Maybe it shouldn't as we've spent the best part of those 30 games in the bottom 5 of the league but I was shocked at the disparity in the number of games won and the corresponding points gained. I'm not sure I can face trawling through soccerbase to see if there's another team with as bad a record as us but I suspect there isn't. We need to start winning games right now and the fightback begins this Saturday. Come on Lawrie show us you've got what it takes and come on you Whites!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Meet the new poll, same as the old poll

I thought the results of my last poll actually DID say something about the confusion most Whites fans are feeling right now. Though maybe my choice of two options that amounted to the same thing had a lot to do with that. Either way it gave me a chuckle that as many people voted in the "I'm really too fed up to Vote" category as any other.

So, partly to keep me amused and partly because I know everyone loves a good poll, there's a new slightly less pointless topic to vote on. This weeks question is "How many games should Sanchez be given to prove he can do a job for us?". Let voting commence ...

Darth Vader awakes, Reserves draw and Collins John goes out on loan.

I'm very tired today. I was awoken at 4:30 this morning by Son number one complaining of a noise in his room. I stumbled down the landing to see what was wrong to hear what appeared to be a small frog croaking away. Now, I'm not a morning person at the best of times and 4:30 a.m. is not the best of times. My brain struggled to cope with what I was hearing. It couldn't be a frog. The sound was too repetitive.

... croak ... croak ... croak,
...... maybe it's the clock?
......... croak ... croak ... croak,, hang on it's coming from the back of the door.

I closed the bedroom door and the noise stopped. I opened the bedroom door and the noise started again. A ha! The source was discovered. Ben's Darth Vader costume was hanging on the back of his door and the Vader breathing noise had somehow been set off and instead of what would have been the sound of Darth Vader waking Ben up in terror the battery had run down and sounded more like a frog but equally scary to a previously sound asleep seven year old.

To try and pull this all round to something related to Fulham, it all goes to prove that sometimes things are not all that they seem. Richard over at Craven Cottage Newsround has written an interesting piece about the comfort that can be taken from looking at the Goal Difference column. Last season, as I was looking for ways to make our situation seem less bad, I wondered if the league could actually be based on goal difference instead of points. Then, instead of people being so fixated on results the games would just be about scoring goals. In the end I convinced myself it was a silly idea, but I agree with Rich that it is a good indicator of how good a team really is. Still I'm not sure that’s going to help us in the next few weeks but I'm grateful for anything that can give me a bit more optimism!

Some news of interest to regular reader Shufty. The Whites reserves played West Ham United at Motspur Park last night and pulled off another draw. The Offal
reports that the game was fiercely contested but Fulham showed a great deal of endeavour going forward. Under 18s 'keeper Neil Etheridge made his second start for the reserves in the absence of the loaned Brookes-Meade. Shefki Kuqi played just over an hour up front, but it was strike partner Bradley Hudson-Odoi who gave the Whites the lead in first half stoppage time. The West Ham website reports that Kyel Reid was their outstanding player, in a side that featured Nigel Quashie, Jonathon Spector and John Pantsil, and it was Reid's strike that levelled the scores in the second half. Both sites praised Fulham's Wayne Brown for another all action performance.

A very short statement on the Offal also confirms that Collins John has joined Leicester City on loan for three months. An interesting move in light of the suggestion that current Leicester boss Gary Megson could well be on the move to Bolton Wanderers. I'm not sure where we stand on getting a fee for CJ who is out of contract in the summer. He's still only 22 so we may be entitled to something, but I imagine our main concern will be to offload him from our wage bill in January.

Further to the Bolton Wanderer's vacancy,
FulhamWeb are reporting that Chris Coleman has now met with officials from the club. I would be stunned if Cookie got the job but it would be very interesting to see how he got on if he did.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Thinking positive

I had a nice day yesterday. It's half term so I was at home with my eldest, and we took one of his school friends over to Sandown to play Golf. It was a chilly day but sunny, the type of typically British autumn mornings I really love. Ben, without me nagging in his ear about keeping his eye on the ball, played the best golf I've seen him play. He hit one drive so well he sheared the plastic tee in two. The shot was dead straight and right down the middle of the fairway. Meanwhile his pal, who hadn't played as often, had to suffer me attempting to "help" him out and subsequently spent a lot more time in the rough ... lesson learnt there I think! Back at our house they had a quick lunch and then went upstairs to play. They were so well behaved I had to go up and check on them a couple of times just to feel I was making the effort.

This gave me some time to myself I wasn't expecting and I had time to read some other people's perspectives of the Fulham situation. There's a lot of doom and gloom about, understandably, but what really took my notice where those people who were being more positive about where we're at. I don't think any one is happy right now, but there are a few who rightly point out that it is still early days, and however bad we are there are at least seven other teams in exactly the same boat. Sanchez is no fool and he will realise exactly what he needs to achieve to keep his job. We have to take each game as it comes and the next match at Sunderland is going to be a tough one. I'm not anticipating a magic turn around in fortune, but a point up there would be a small step along the road to recovery.

Kasey Keller won't be back for sometime having collected a
freak training ground injury that may require surgery. He's likely to be unavailable for some three to four months, which makes Anti Niemi's man of the match performance on Saturday all the more significant. Unfortunately it does leave us back at square one regarding our back up 'keeper, but hopefully Niemi can continue to play the way he did against Derby.

Tonight the reserves take on West Ham at Motspur Park. Kick off is 7:00 if you fancy heading along. I don't think I'll make it now but will report back on the result sometime tomorrow.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Fulham 0 Derby County 0 - Match report

From the moment Paul Konchesky lashed out and was deservedly red carded the result was never in doubt. The first half was almost as shocking as the second half of the Portsmouth game and ten minutes in I'd probably taken more interest in the flights of the paper aeroplanes people had made out of the anti-racism leaflets than the football. When Konch, one of the few players to claim any credit so far this season, allowed Chris Fagin to get him to react to a poor challenge, I knew we were going to struggle. We showed a bit more spirit in the second half but there was never the cutting edge needed to find a way through. Derby had set their stall out for a 0-0 from the start with Dean Leacock playing a holding role in a 5 man midfield. They actually played the ball around quite well and certainly retained possession better than we did. Kenny Miller looked sharp as the lone man up front and was ably supported by the hard working Fagin. Eddie Lewis was largely anonymous though he did test Niemi with a decent shot in the first.

Niemi made a surprise return in goal and had one of the best games I've seen him play for a long time. He even said as much in his post match interview on MotD. This was on the back of his midweek clean sheet for Finland so maybe things are on the up for the veteran stopper. Derby haven't scored away from home yet this season, and whilst none of their efforts were unstoppable, Niemi definitely played a big part in ensuring we weren't the first team to concede against them. Chris Baird also put in a solid performance and during the second half, as he was forced to push forward more often due to our three man midfield, managed what might have been our best shot of the game. The rest of the defence were unspectacular. Stefanovic had replaced Bocanegra in the centre and Hughes claimed the Captain's armband. Konch's moment of red mist let the whole team down, but then I think he's the sort of player who will always have those sort of moments. Bocanegra was brought on at left back in the second half and did a very professional job. I expect he'll continue there for a while as a red for violent conduct usually means a three match ban.

Our midfield was disappointing again. We started with Seol on the right and nothing seemed to go right for him. There were glimpses of the player who excited everyone in the last 20 minutes against Man City, but every little dribble he began he either overran, or gave away the ball. He did have our best shot of the first half but skewed it wide of the post. It was no surprise when he was sacrificed to cope with the sending off. Bouazza seemed unable to find the room to work his magic down the left, partly due to Derby's packed midfield, but even in the second half kept trying. Murphy played some neat football early on but faded dramatically as the game progressed. I was stunned when Sanchez brought Simon Davies on and choose to replace Davis not Murphy. Davies added nothing to an already overrun midfield. Kamara looked threatening at times and his pace was a clear concern for Derby. Unfortunately he rarely took the chance to shoot. He either wanted too much time, allowing the defence to catch him up and close him down, or kept the ball alive only to make a poor decision when he did release it. Dempsey put in another hard working performance and also had a couple of half chances. Healy was brought on with hardly any time to make an impact and no service to help him change the game. Tactically it was pretty aimless and brought back memories of the worst periods under Coleman, in fact this was the first game where I began to wonder whether we wouldn't have been better off if Cookie had stayed.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Brassed off!

In case you were wondering, yes I am pretty fed up after a fairly dismal weekend of sport. I'll depress you with the full Derby match report tomorrow but suffice to say, if you weren't there, it was another disappointing performance. It certainly added credence to my suggestion on Friday that we are in effect just another promoted side and in the same scrap as Derby, Sunderland and Birmingham just to stay in the division. Bizarrely, despite the result we have jumped to 13th in the table but there's no doubt in my mind now that we're in for a fight to survive.

I watched the Rugby World Cup final and whilst England didn't quite have enough to overcome South Africa I was mightily impressed with the passion and commitment they showed in striving to achieve an historic second World Cup in a row. If Fulham could show the same level of passion and commitment we'd be in a much better place. South Africa were unable to show the thrilling game that had got them so far in the tournament but still had just enough to outscore us. Had that try been allowed maybe the story would have been different but I don't actually think so. I'm proud of the way we defended our title and hope Brian Ashton now gets the opportunity to build a side that can match the flair of the Southern Hemisphere sides.

To round off an abject weekend, Lewis Hamilton failed to become the first rookie to win the F1 Driver's Championship and McLaren were left ruing some poor decision making as Kimi Raikkonnen came from nowhere to become the third Fin to win the title.

Hey ho. It's half term next week so apart from tomorrow's report I may not have much to say. It's up to Sunderland next Saturday ... I'm not very hopeful.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Fulham v Derby County - Match Preview

The biggest game of the season so far. A must win six pointer. Am I being hyperbolic or is that true? Well, whilst I agree that it's too early in the season for those statements to really stand up I do think winning this game is going to be crucial in deciding our fate for the rest of the campaign. I've read quite a bit this week from various sources about where we stand and the one point that really struck a chord with me was that if we can't win this game where are we going to get the points from.

Sanchez has been positive in the media today "We have three games over the next three weeks where we are as good as, if not better than, the teams we are playing and then we play Liverpool away, which is obviously a step up. It is very much in our own hands what we get from those games and I wouldn't want to come out of this period in the bottom three. I know they could be famous last words and I'm sure they will be quoted back at me if it doesn't happen but that is what we should be looking to do." He's not wrong. For me we need to get six points from the next three games. A win against Derby would not only set us on the road to achieving that but also give the team the confidence they need to pick up more points. Sanchez was also candid about Chris Baird's culpability in defence saying "I have had a word with Chris. For every mistake he has made there has been a goal, unfortunately. I am not hiding from that but at this moment in time there is no alternative in his position. It does take time to step up sometimes". I'm not sure Sanchez is trying to point the finger here, maybe just deflect some of the criticism as he goes on to add that "He is finding his feet, I know that and he knows that but people will have to be patient. It doesn't help any player if people are getting on his back but he is the only one who can get through it".

As I discussed in my previous post, our record last season against promoted clubs was not that impressive. A grand total of 5 points. If we are to survive more comfortably this season we certainly need to improve on that. The problem is for all intents and purposes we are in a very similar boat to those promoted sides. However poor we were last season we did at least have some Premiership experience. This time around our first team consists of only a handful of players with more than a few months experience, and fifteen players that are new to our club. We need to learn fast how to turn decent performances into winning performances.

Derby will no doubt be looking on this as an away game where they could pick up points. They've not scored away from Pride Park yet and Billy Davies is talking of giving Rob Earnshaw another start. This could be at the expense of alleged Fulham target Steve Hayward, who has started every game for the Rams so far but is yet to score. Kenny Miller has made a big impact since his late arrival and it seems unlikely he would be dropped. In midfield we may see the return of "the American David Beckham" in the shape of Eddie Lewis. Eddie never really impressed for us but it will be nice to see him again. Davies also suggests that County will have more options in midfield with Criag Fagan completing a four match ban and the much coveted Giles Barnes nearing fitness after injury. Another former White, Dean Leacock, should also line up alongside Claude Davis in defence. I liked Leacock and felt he did have to ability to play a bigger part for us, but having had a decent season in the Championship, he's looked decidedly shaky in the glimpses I've seen so far of Derby's season.

Despite Sanchez suggesting he would make changes if he could, it seems we've not got as much choice as we may have thought. I'm expecting Keller to continue in goal despite Niemi making an excellent return to International football in Finland's 0-0 draw with Spain. The back four should also remain unchanged with Baird given another opportunity thanks partly Moritz Volz' injury. We might see some minor tinkering in midfield though I would be surprised if Davis, Smertin and Bouazza did not keep their places. The most likely change would be on the right side of midfield where either Dempsey or Seol could oust Simon Davies. Dempsey played for the US midweek (as did Bocanegra) and was instrumental in setting up their only goal of a 1-0 win. Up front we might see Kamara partner Healy for only the second time this season. Assuming we'll stick to a 4-4-2 this would leave Dempsey either in midfield or on the bench. Whilst Dempsey has undoubtedly been one of the players of the season so far, maybe a rest will do him some good and the impact he could make coming on later in the game could be useful.

I have to admit I'm not feeling that confident right now. Much as I'd love us to cruise to a comfortable win, my gut feeling is that this is not going to be east watching. Fingers crossed though, I'd take three points anyway they come and a scruffy 1-0 win would be just as good as a 4-0 romp.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Sanchez vs Coleman - The story so far

When I start to get a bit worried about how things are going I like to see how our results compare with the previous season. Nine games and almost a quarter of a season gone seemed like a good time to take stock of where we stand. We have seen some entertaining football so far and in many areas I think we have improved as a team but there's a big concern that we're not picking up enough points. My theory was that by looking at how well we did against the same teams last year I might draw a different picture of how well the season is going.

Comparing our results against the same teams last term we are 2 points worse off, which I guess isn't quite as bad as it seems but is still disappointing. However comparing our results against the first nine games of last season shows we are 6 points worse off. Thinking back to last October, I guess the results had been pretty good and it was probably not until Christmas that we started to really go into decline. Our results and performances from then on were appalling and culminated in Coleman's sacking. There was a definite feeling of complacency, and Sanchez needs to ensure that his team does not fail to realise our current predicament and fall into the same trap. There's no doubt our next three matches are crucial. We only managed 5 points against the promoted teams last time around and Reading did the double over us, so if we can pick up a couple of wins I'll be feeling a lot happier. I'm not sure if I've actually proved anything here but maybe there is a bit of hope after all. Then again I could just be clutching at straws.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

News Selection Box

The International break has rather helpfully coincided with me being fairly well occupied at work and at home. There's been little Fulham related news to discuss so I've happily not felt the need to scratch around for something to write about. One or two things have popped up this week though that I wanted to discuss.

Firstly England have made the Rugby World Cup Final! I'm stunned. I know it's not Fulham or even Football related but I'm too excited about this to let it pass. We seemed to have recovered a little during the six nations and I was hopeful we could at least put on a decent display, but then early group results suggested we were as bad as everyone said we were. I watched the destruction by South Africa with a sense of growing realisation that we would be lucky to even qualify for the next round. Even following our stoic victory over the Aussies I could not see us performing that well again, and having been mightily impressed with France's equally stubborn defeat of the AB's was expecting the home nation to take their place in the final. Having already exceeded my expectations I won't be upset if we lose to the South Africans in the Final, but there's also the chance the boys can prove me wrong yet again and claim an historic second World Cup in a row. If you're going to the Derby game you can even stay and watch the final at Craven Cottage.

Tom Willie has written an interesting piece on ESPN soccernet. Tom highlights the need for Fulham to start picking up points and that Sanchez must ensure he guards against complacency. I think he's spot on, Sanchez has removed a lot of the old squad for precisely those reasons and, whilst he obviously needs to keep confidence high, he must ensure the new squad don't fall into the same trap.

Papa Bouba Diop will be booed even louder on his next appearance at the Cottage following the news that he has decided to skip the recent Senegal Internationals because of a slight concern over his hamstring. Right, thanks a lot for that Bouba, and why exactly did you not take this approach when you played for us? Maybe Harry's found a way to make it "worth your while" to stay? *Cough* ... Allegedly!

Following his sterling efforts collecting for Sparks in the Hammy End, Volzy has updated his diary. It doesn't look like he'll be fit enough to replace Mr Baird for a while yet so fingers crossed Chris can show us he really does have what it takes. Volzy has also been having a go at Sepp Blatter's suggestion about limiting foreign players. It's the view I had also held until recently but now I'm not so sure. Either way having a go at Blatter is always to be encouraged so bravo Moritz.

Who Ate All The Pies have been on a bit of a Fulham role of late. A Bullard double with this video of Jimmy cracking up during an interview and this shit lookalike. They also picked up on Volzy's Blatter dig and found a rare picture of our teutonic hero in the current home kit. We get a mention in their Top 50 Footy Chants for our Al Fayed song and finally Chris Baird gets some further punishment by being selected for their team of Premiership Flops. Incidentally Clint Dempsey made their team of Premiership Hits but it's too far back for me to find the link!

The Offal's got some good articles as well. Seol Ki-Hyeon joins the blogging fraternity with his own fortnightly blog. There's a nice "Where Are They Now?" piece about Les Barrett and an equally interesting read about the FFC Academy. One last link of note the Reserves match against Spurs has been moved to Craven Cottage. Jimmy B's return perhaps?

Crikey! That was a bit longer than I intended. Maybe I'll stick to daily posting in future!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Cookie Watch # 5

I haven't checked on Chris Coleman's progress with Real Sociedad for a while so when I noticed the Daily Mail had another Postcard from San Sebastian up I figured I'd take another look. In the short article Coleman sounds like he's finding being away from home pretty tough, however, things are definitely looking up for the team and Sociedad are now looking more comfortable in 5th place. Since my last post they have won both home games (2-1 against Elche C.F. and 1-0 against Albecete) and managed a 1-1 draw at Xerez. They're next three matches are pretty tough though, playing at the teams in 2nd, 3rd and 4th spot. The home game with Sporting Gijon sandwiched between matches at Numancia and Racing Ferrol.

It's been a pretty quiet week due to the Internationals and me finding myself unusually occupied at work. I'm looking forward to the England Football/Rugby double header this weekend. Will be shocked if the Footy side fails to overcome Estonia but I reckon they've got a tough task ahead of them in Russia. I'm hoping we'll see Gareth Barry continue alongside Gerrard, and that Michael Owen doesn't rupture something before the 90 minutes are up. I suspect that Rooney will play up front with Micky O though that's not a pairing I'm keen on. I'd prefer to see a bit of balance, and Owen play with someone he can work together with. It's a desperate shame that Dean Ashton is injured again as I'd really like to see him make his mark for England. In his and Heskey's absence I guess Peter Crouch is the only alternative but I'd be amazed if McLaren picked the ex-Rangers beanpole to start.

Have a great weekend, come on England(s)!

UPDATE: Thanks to White Noise at TFi for providing this link to Coleman's Postcard from San Sebastian No. 10 just to keep things ticking over until I have time to post something worth reading.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

On a more positive note ...

Something to cheer you up after my frankly quite miserable posts of the last couple of days. Firstly there's a great interview with Hameur Bouazza on the Offal about how he escaped life in one of the roughest suburbs of Paris thanks to Football. Bouazza Interview

There's another meaningless poll to vote in to see what you're feelings are on the current state of play at the club. It should be over there on the right --->

Finally a video of a Chinese goalkeeper scoring an own goal with his head that made me laugh out loud when I first saw it on Who Ate All The Pies.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

More thoughts on Grey Sunday

Some random thoughts about Sunday's game.

I watched Match of the Day last night having taped it at the weekend and it gave me the chance to assess my first impressions. Obviously we only got a couple of minutes of highlights but I was surprised by how many chances we actually created in the first half. None were clear cut but the evidence is there that we should have done better. The second half was still shocking and confirmed our lack of fight throughout the team. The Davis/Smertin partnership is my biggest concern as we seem to be desperately lacking a midfielder who can win the ball back. They can play some decent football when going forward but it's when we've lost possession they seem to lack any bite. Looking through our squad though and there's not really anyone else who could come in and do the job. I think Sanchez might have jumped the gun in being so keen to offload Michael Brown and Papa Bouba Diop. Brown in particular was able to do a lot of the hard graft and Diop, whilst not as active as Brown, certainly added some muscle to our midfield. Whilst we are still missing Jimmy Bullard and Lee Cook neither player is going to add anything to our resilience.

Our centre back paring of Hughes and Bocanegra is also an issue. I like Bocanegra a lot but I think he may be a bit too similar to Hughes in style. Unfortunately, and again partly due to Sanchez' decisions to let players go, we really don't have many options. Stefanovic is an intelligent player but again not radically different in approach. I would love to see Phillippe Christanval back in the side but I suspect he is another player off the manager's first-team-selection-radar. Having brought in so many players over the summer it's a concern that I am already looking at the positions I think we need to fill come January. My top three priorities would be a hard grafting midfielder, a mobile and dominant centre back and a new first choice goalkeeper.

Kasey Keller had another good game and could not be blamed for either goal. He looked much more confident than Niemi has in recent outings, but at 37+ I don't think we can expect him to maintain that level of performance. I don't want to write off Niemi just yet but he's no spring chicken either and I think we need to find someone who can be the undisputed number one.

Finally it was nice to see Jimmy Hill at the game. He received a very warm reception from the home crowd and Richard has a great picture (taken by Orm of TFi) of Jimmy holding a copy of The Fulham Review. Moritz Volz also did his bit for the Sparks charity by getting in amongst the fans and bringing his bucket round just about every square inch of the Hammy End.

Reserves Draw, Academy Lose, Paper Talk

The reserves travelled up to Pride Park on Monday night to take on Derby County. A more familiar looking team, first teamers are clearly excused these sorts of trips, managed a creditable 1-1 draw against a strong Derby side that featured Giles Barnes, Jon Macken, Craig Fagan and Andy Todd. The Offal report is here and there's a decent report from the Derby site here.

The under-18 academy team played their "home" match on Saturday at Arsenal, where they lost 3-1. There's a report on, though scant details of our side. The Arsenal goals came from a Nacer Barazite hatrick. He's a decent player who I think may have featured for their reserves against us last season.

Liam's been having a pop at Sanchez. Sentana report Liam as stating “It was my choice to leave Fulham to move to Reading, sometimes you don’t get on with the manager and everyone knows me and Lawrie didn’t see eye-to-eye. He tried to make it into a playing issue like I wasn’t good enough, but that was never the case. I found that hard. I was upset and surprised. For Lawrie to talk about the team conceding certain goals and putting my name to it was pretty disrespectful and I want to prove to people I’m a better defender than that. Steve Coppell is the right guy to take me on to the next level because he has great experience as a manager and a player”. Personally I think Liam would be better off letting his football do the talking.

Who Ate All The Pies kick a man when he's down with a poll to decide if Chris Baird is the worst player in the Premier League. It was pretty close when I last checked, but Chris was just edging it thanks to the likes of Titus Bramble and Danny Collins.

Finally the Telegraph do a bit of a hatchet job on LS, though slightly shoot themselves in the foot by claiming that "it took 42 minutes for [V.I.P. guest and Formula One team owner] Flavio Briatore to be treated to some high-octane action, and even then it was not at Fulham's instigation" before going on to acclaim David James as Man of the Match for keeping a clean sheet and making 11 saves. We must have squeezed 11 efforts into the last 3 minutes of the first half then 'cos I don't remember James making many saves in the second half.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Fulham 0 Portsmouth 2 - Match Post Mortem

There comes a point where you have to consider that maybe instead of trying to defend your team against the media perception that you're likely to struggle this season and accept that maybe they're right. Most of the non-Fulham people I talk to about football see us as a team that's full of Championship quality players with a Manager that hasn't really got experience at the highest level. They try to say nice things to me but generally most of them reckon we're going down this season. I've tried to explain that we've got a good game plan, that Sanchez has a lot of good qualities that could see him succeed in the Premier League, that generally player for player we look better than we did last season. On Sunday, for the first time, I felt they were all right and I was wrong.

Portsmouth are a team in form. Before the game I was worried they might tear us apart with their pace and dominate the midfield. In the end they looked decidedly average but still had more than enough to beat us. We were very poor in the second half and having conceded two goals in two minutes so soon after the restart, never looked like we were capable of breaking down an experienced defence who did not want a repeat of the previous weeks comedy of errors. The first goal came from nowhere as somehow our entire team deserted the middle of the pitch to allow a through ball to reach Benjani. In a one on one against Bocanegra there was really no contest, Boca let himself get dragged out to the right before Benjani swivelled back in side and was past him in a flash. Boca did recover to slightly deflect the shot, but if anything that just made it harder for Keller to save. Ninety seconds later and we were two down. Chris Baird was horribly exposed on the right wing, where he found himself against two players. Hreidarsson out muscled him to win the ball, leaving Baird completely out of the game, and then powered on into the open space to fire home the second. Baird could have done better but my first thought was where was his support. No one reacted quickly enough to help get him out of trouble. Sanchez made three substitutions on the hour mark bringing on Seol, Murphy and Kamara for Baird, Smertin & Healy and we moved to a 3-5-2 formation. It made little difference and to be honest I reckon I switched off for about 20 minutes.

It had all looked so much more positive in the first half. There were chances for both sides but we looked pretty good going forward. Steven Davis looked lively and was combining well with Smertin. Bouazza was having a great day down the left wing and put in several decent crosses. Dempsey worked really hard and won a lot of ball under pressure from Campbell and Distin. The Pompey fans weren't as numerous or as noisy as they had been on previous visits, but they had succeeded in winning the toss and making us attack the Hammy End in the first half. The only other game we've been made to switch ends was against Middlesbrough and we lost that game too. The atmosphere this season has been really good, though that might just be down to a change of seat position, but on Sunday everything went flat. We've got a couple of weeks off now until the Derby game on the 20th. I think we need it. A bit of time to take stock and re-evaluate our position. The next three games are massive.

I met Rich from CCN before the game, which was nice, and we parked for free on the main road. That's about as positive as I can get right now.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Fulham v Portsmouth - Match Preview

Until recently I have always enjoyed playing Pompey. It's a game I associate with sunny afternoons, and decent wins or at least entertaining matches. I remember a 3-0 home win in the early 80's, a match that might have featured Peter Mellor plating in goal for them, and of course that 4-4 draw down at Fratton that I am pretty sure I have mentioned more than once on this blog. Even when they joined us in the Premiership we seemed initially to have the upper hand. Lately however, things have swung back in their favour. Last season we managed two draws, though the more recent one at the Cottage was only thanks to that last minute goal from "one-legged" Ian Pearce. The season before they did the double over us with a 3-1 win at Fulham, a game in which ex-Saint Wayne Bridge had a torrid time, and a 1-0 win down south. Our willingness to sell as many tickets as possible means there'll be a large Pompey support and as always they'll make a lot of noise. That has to be a big help for them, so we'll have to make sure we really get behind the team for this one and make some noise of our own.

Whilst Sky still seem to love him, I lost a lot of respect for Harry Redknapp after the debacle that saw him switch from Portsmouth to Southampton and then back again. I get the impression he holds himself in pretty high esteem and doesn't really care who he treads on to get where he wants to go. In particular I was appalled at his treatment of Jim Smith, who had been a big part of what he had initially achieved at Portsmouth but was cast aside when things started to go pear shaped at the Dell. Actually it's St. Mary's now isn't it, but that didn't really sound right. There's also his obsession with buying new players every season. It's no wonder Panorama tried to finger him for dodgy dealing. That aside you have to admit, whatever his methods and budget, he does seem to get results and this season Pompey look a pretty decent side. However, with seven Africans in his squad, it will be interesting to see if they are able to maintain the form that has seen them claim a top 6 place come February and the African Nations Cup. I'm looking forward to seeing exactly how fast John Utaka really is, when he scored against Bolton he looked incredibly quick. I'm also looking forward to the return of two ex-Whites. Sean Davis has been through it all before and won't be too bothered by the reception, but Bouba Diop may not be ready for the level of vitriol aimed at him.

From a Fulham perspective we really need to start turning performances into points and this is the sort of game we need to win. Keller should continue in goal after a confident display last week, and Baird should get another opportunity to win the boo-boys over. I would expect the team to be pretty similar to the one that started at the Dog Track, with the only doubts being who plays left wing out of Bouazza and Seol, and whether Healy or Kamara partners Dempsey up front. If we can defend as well as we did against Ch*ls** then I see no reason why we can't grab all 3 points.

See you Sunday.

Friday, October 05, 2007

New Book "Fulham - The Complete Record" by Dennis Turner

I don't know how your bank balance is doing but .... there's another new book out in October/November.

Fulham: The Complete Record by Dennis Turner

*SPECIAL CUSTOMER OFFER* SAVE £2 off the RRP and FREE UK P&P by ordering using this page.

Fulham: The Complete Record is the official record of the Cottagers since the club began back in 1879 with Sunday-school boys knocking a ball around a park pitch. Written by experience Fulham author Dennis Turner this book is the definitive guide to Fulham and will be on the wish list of every Cottagers fan. The story of Fulham FC, from its beginnings in the 19th century to the present day, is covered in fascinating detail. Followed by profiles of the club’s great players, the managers, the games that secured trophies and a history of the grounds played on, every game the club has played at first team level, not just League and Cup encounters but friendly and tour matches as well, are detailed. Completed with summaries of matches played, a breakdown of each player’s individual record and full representative appearances, this is a book that provides everything any Fulham fan, indeed any football fan, could want to know about Fulham Football Club. Put simply this is the book every loyal Cottager should possess.

October 2007 • RRP £19.99 • HB • 400pp
240 x 170mm • 400 illus.
ISBN 978 1 85983 513 5

About the Author Dennis Turner is an experienced writer on Football and a Fulham fan. His previous books about the club include Fulham’s Golden Years (A Pictorial Memoir 1958-82), Cottage Chronicles: An Anecdotal History of Fulham as well as the first edition of Fulham: A Complete Record 1879-1987.

And also coming soon Martin Plumb's book on (Sir) Johnny Haynes.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Reserves beat Filth as I follow the road to Wembley

I had a choice of games last night. A short trip to Motspur Park where I could have got in for free to see the reserves play Ch*ls** or a drive down to Camberley Town to see their F.A. Cup 2nd Qualifying Round reply against Dartford. Typically I choose the game with the least goals.

The reserves fielded a strong side featuring both Collins John and Shefki Kuqi up front, as well as Micheal Timlin in midfield and Adrian Leijer in defence. We took an early lead via a Collins John shot. By half-time Ch*ls** had equalised but seen Wayne Bridge (attempting rehabilitation from a hip injury) sent off. Two headed goals from Leijer and Kuqi gave us a 3-1 lead early in the second half and, despite Ch*ls** pulling one back through a penalty in the closing minutes, were good enough to claim a 3-2 win. Good to see the continued use of fringe first team players in the reserves side. Surely something that can only benefit those players and help the younger reserve squad members develop their games. There's a decent report on the Offal here.

My decision to travel down to Camberley was not entirely without reason. My friend Andy is attempting to follow the road to the F.A. Cup Final from the Extra Preliminary Round. This is one of those great Football quests that I'm sure many readers will have considered at some point in their football watching lifespans a bit like trying to go to every ground in the league. Andy's writing a blog called, Wick to Wembley?, about his experiences which is an entertaining read and has already been shocked at the level of interest. The great thing about the early round of the Cup is the excitement it brings to the smallest of teams, dreams of reaching the first round proper and meeting a league side and maybe even beating them. For me it's what the F.A. Cup is all about and why there will always be a special magic about the competition.

So far Andy has spent a disproportionate amount of time in Kent and my attendance at Fulham games had meant I'd not been able to join him so far. However, when Dartford got drawn at home to Camberley Town I thought to myself I might join Andy for the replay. Dartford are a Ryman Division One North side one level higher than Camberley Town who play in the Combined Counties League Premier Division. Dartford have a very impressive state-of-the-art stadium, Camberley don't. Dartford have a reasonably sized and quite vocal fan base, Camberley don't. Clearly I was going to be supporting Camberley. Dartford started strongly and dominated the opening 20 minutes, despite this Camberley defended well and, despite appearing physically much smaller, coped admirably with the bombardment of aerial through balls during this spell. The Dartford travelling army were making themselves heard and were particularly vocal about Camberley's attempts to foul their players. They were well aware that despite dominating the first match Camberley had twice pegged them back with long range shots and also benefited from some generous refereeing decisions. Unfortunately for them their players had not heeded the warning. Star striker Jay May received a straight red for lashing out at a Camberley player who had just kicked him from behind for the third time in succession. For a spell Camberley had started to look the better side, but the sending off galvanised Dartford's approach and despite the numerical disadvantage were again looking the stronger side, and also playing more football, come the end of the half.

Camberley came out a different team in the second half. Whether this was down to an inspirational team talk or the slope in the pitch was difficult to judge, but they started playing much sharper football and making the most of the extra man. Despite most of the action again being up our end, the Dartford 'keeper had few genuine saves to make and the longer the game progressed the more it looked like petering out into a 0-0 draw. Dartford were struggling to create much up front, but still controlled much of the game thanks to midfielder Alex O'Brien. The game went into extra time just as the coldness of the night really started to hit home. Camberley continued to create and still playing down the slope had two great chances to win the game before the turn. The slope factor was evident in the final 15 minutes of extra time as supremacy again swung back towards Dartford. They also had their chances to win it but were denied by a combination of poor finishing and good goalkeeping. Inevitably the game did indeed finish 0-0 and we went to penalties where Dartford showed their composure to claim a 4-1 win. As we left the Dartford team were piling into the little covered stand to join in the celebrations with their supporter's. It was clear how much the win meant to them and they now face a trip to Bromley F.C., who may or may not be in Kent, of the Blue Square South division.

Despite the lack of goals it was a good night out, and a nice reminder of what it's like in the lower reaches of the football pyramid. As Andy continues his journey he will eventually leave behind the world of non-league clubs and I know he thinks that to some extent he'll miss the passion they bring to the competition. I'm just looking forward to seeing where his route takes him and wondering if it will coincide with the route that Fulham take.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

A quick one while I'm away

A couple of snippets that have been widely reported across various Fulham sites over the last two days but I wanted to include so that I have a bookmark for them!

First another humourous interview with Moritz Volz, in the Times, about the problems over who controls the stereo in the dressing room before games. Further proof that he is indeed the new Simon Morgan.

Then an excellent interview with Lawrie Sanchez, originally from the Independant.

Reserve team goalkeeper Corrin Brookes-Meade has gone on a one month emergency loan deal to Darlington. Corrin has been pretty much an ever present for the reserves over the last couple of seasons, so this is a great opportunity for him to test his skills out in a competative league.

Also a reminder that the Reserves play Ch*ls** tonight at Motspur Park. Kick-off is 7:00. I was planning on going but now hope to make it down to Camberly for their F.A. Cup 2nd Qualifying Round replay against Dartford, for reasons that will hopefully be more fully explained tomorrow.

FFC and Ramadan

At the weekend I read an interesting article in the Daily Mail (still the cheapest way to pick up the television schedule for the coming week) about Watford striker Nathan Ellington. I've been interested in Ellington's progress since reading in a local paper about his transfer to Bristol Rovers from local side Walton & Hersham, and had thought he might do a job for us, however, he seems to have struggled to establish himself at a club since first playing in the Premier League. Ellington is a recent convert to Islam and talks about the need for him to pray five times a day, something that Watford boss Aidy Boothroyd has been supportive of and he has been able to work around his football regime. However, he is currently observing Ramadan , considered the most venerated month on the Islamic year. As part of this observance Muslim's are expected to practice daytime fasting, which Ellington suggests will not affect his football as he eats before dawn and then again after sunset.

The Fulham interest in all this is that both Hameur Bouazza and Diomansy Kamara were mentioned amongst the names of other Muslim Premier League footballers. I wondered if they were also observing Ramadan and if so, whether that has been one of the reasons Kamara has not started much and both players ended up on the bench on Saturday. This year Ramadan runs from September 13th to October 12th, so both players have already played a big part, and done well, in the games we've played during this period. They may not be fasting but if they are then fair play to them for continuing to be able to perform at the top level whilst doing so. It all goes to show that in today's game there are so many more factors for a Manager to consider than just weather he's picked his best side.

New Fulham Book by Alex White

A quick mention for another new book about Fulham.

Esteemed author and archivist Alex White has just published a new book "Fulham FC, 1879 - 1979" with quality photographs covering the first 100 years of the club. There are 128 pages and 250 photographs in a 164 x 235mm book. Published by Tempus Publishing. This is NOT available from the club as they have sold the distribution franchise to a new company, and Alex has decided to sell directly to the fans. His only means of advertising this is via TOOFIF, word of mouth and the various message boards.

To purchase, please send a cheque made out to Alex White, 9 Bingham Road, Croydon, CR0 7EA for £15.49 (£12.99 + £2.50 P&P) Overseas post add £3.50, and overseas airmail add £5.50.

The book is also currently available for only £8.57 (plus postage & packing) from Amazon, although I doubt Alex gets as much out of the sales from there. Amazon offer free delivery with orders over £15 though so if you can find something else you like you can save yourself a bit of money. I noticed one of Alex's previous books was also available, as well as the excellent "Match of my Life" by Micheal Heatley.

"Fulham F.C. 1879-1979" by Alex White

"The Men That Made Fulham Football Club" by Alex White

"Match of my Life - Fulham F.C." edited by Michael Heatley

Monday, October 01, 2007

Mid-morning tea break

A quick cup of tea and a trawl through the Internet revealed some interesting headlines today.

On Sky they have some quotes from Mohammed Al Fayed stating that he is still committed to the club and hopes to stay for many more years. He also backs Lawrie Sanchez stating that "[he] is doing a great job. I'm encouraging him, I'm behind him. He's spent a lot of my money this season, but I don't regret it because we have a good team now. He's intelligent, he's committed, and he wants to prove himself. I'm behind him and I hope we finish in the top ten". Sky also confirm Fulham's position as best team in the borough by reporting on the dismissal of John Gregory as QPR boss and fragile little John Terry's hope to recover from his cheek surgery in time to play in Wednesday's Champions League tie.

Who Ate All the Pies round up the weekends action with a fitting picture of a bunch of Ch*ls** fans realising they might have picked the wrong team in Hammersmith & Fulham to support. The Times just about manage to mention Fulham in their report on Saturday's goalless draw. They seemed to feel it was more important to twist the knife a little more rather than actually report on the match. The Guardian manage a little more football discussion but still revel in the chaos that has enveloped Walham Green of late. Finally the stateside view from ESPN and an excellent report from Tom Willie on FulhamUSA.

Better crack on with some work then, I thinkit's going to be a good week. Now, there must be a Ch*ls** supporter nearby in need of some system support ...

Ch*ls** 0 Fulham 0 - Match Reaction

What a great response. A really solid defensive performance from the whole team and still enough creativity to fashion 2 or 3 chances to win the match. As Sanchez said post match, if we can play like that every game we'll pick up points anywhere. I only really caught the second half, thanks to the wonders of the Internet and even then was trying to keep my boys amused and catch up with our mountain of washing, but what I saw looked very impressive.

Keller replaced Niemi in goal and, whilst not actually having much to do, looked more confident than Niemi has of late. He made a couple of decent saves from distance and reacted smartly to block a shot from, I think, Kalou which glanced the post before being cleared. I'm not sure that goalkeeper's react well to competition for the starting spot but it's pleasing to see Keller can do the job and for now I reckon the shirt is his.

I cannot say a thing about the defence without heaping credit on Chris Baird. He's taken a lot of stick over the last week, not least from me, but yesterday put in a top class performance that was a contender for man of the match. He dealt well with all that came at him on the right flank, and was involved in Drogba's second yellow card, getting a nasty boot in the head. From my view it seemed we didn't play such a high line, which I assume was a tactical decision, and this may have left Baird less exposed. Both Hughes and Smertin worked hard and Smertin in particular helped out at the back a lot, Konchesky was his usually effective self.

It wasn't just Smertin the midfield as a unit worked hard to win possession and made sure they did not leave the back four unprotected. Steven Davis had exceptional game, possibly his best performance in a white shirt. I saw Seol make one good little run, but reports on TFi suggest he maybe wasn't as good as the 20 minutes he played against City promised. Murphy replaced Smertin and Bouazza came on for Seol, both players showing the genuine depth we now appear to have. Bouazza looked sharp and had a decent chance which he fired well wide.

Dempsey did well again up front, working hard to win and retain ball and being very close to scoring at least twice. I didn't see the elbow on Terry so won't comment about that yet. Didn't really see much of Healy either but when Kamara came on we seemed to step up a gear in attack. Kamara's pace and ball retention are impressive and it's wonderful to have a player like him on the bench, a real handful for any defence to deal with. Our best two chances came in those frantic last 5 minutes. First Konchesky playing high up the field, latched onto a poor defensive back pass, burst pass the defender and with only Cech to beat tried to place his shot around the 'keeper. Cech did very well to close the angle and stretch out a foot to save, but in my head I had visions of Konch breaking the back of the net with a cannonball. Then Kamara wriggled through again, should have shot early but got pushed wide from where he played a tricky cross box ball that Dempsey was desperately unlucky not to connect with.

All in all a very good performance that can hopefully form the foundation for a decent run. We've got some games coming up that are very winnable and we need to put some points on the board. This game made me feel we good really start doing exactly that.