Friday, November 30, 2007

Sanchez makes himself look stupid

I’ve been disappointed with Sanchez’ post match comments. I think he’s spent too much time looking for blame elsewhere, usually the refs. This Daily Mail article discusses his dossier of refereeing mistakes which he plans to send to referee supremo Keith Hackett. It's been done before Lawrie and I can't believe you really think it's going to make any difference. In my view it just shows Sanchez to be a bit of a tit. I’d much rather hear a manager take a few defeats on the chin and accept his own responsibility in the result. I don't mind the occasional rant of righteousness or better still a moment of unbridled anger (who can forget Coleman storming across the pitch at Middlesbrough ready to rip Uriah Rennie's head off) but not every week. You make your own luck and bad decisions normally even themselves out, get over it!

Rich has a slightly different view over at Craven Cottage Newsround and makes some excellent points about his possible reasons for doing this. I’ll try to listen with a fresh ear the next time I hear him speak.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Craig Johnson gets quite heated about England and the FA

Sorry to wander off topic again, but this bit of video caught my attention thanks to Who Ate All The Pies. It's a bit long but stick with it as Johnson really builds up a head of steam towards the end. Two things struck me about this. Why couldn't the Sky newsreader just shut up for a second and let Johnson get his point across and how passionate does Johnson sound about the state of the English game? I think there's an element of self-publicity about him, he does mention his database of skills that sounds like his latest money making scheme, but a lot of what he says rings true.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Reserves 3 Portsmouth 0 - Volz makes return in comfortable victory

A very strong Fulham side eased to a 3-0 victory over Portsmouth at Motspur Park tonight. I had hoped to attend, but was diverted (after some gentle persuation by Mrs Chopper) into running some pre-Christmas errands instead. Mortiz Volz made his return from injury, playing 61 minutes at right back. The folk at will be pleased that Alexey Smertin has at last been located, managing 67 minutes before being replaced by Lino Goncalves who came on to score our third and final goal. More surprising was the inclusion of Seol Ki-Hyeon who played the full 90. Maybe this suggests Sanchez is unhappy with his fitness levels, but he was instrumental in setting up one of the goals. Wayne Brown put in yet another impressive performance being involved in much of Fulham's attacking play, he scored the first goal after 50 seconds and doubled the lead midway through the second half.

Report from Fulham Offal HERE and from Portsmouth HERE.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Fulham 2 Blackburn Rovers 2 - Signs of improvement?

Despite being outplayed at times and twice conceding the lead I feel quite positive after that. I thought we looked more comfortable on the ball and were working harder as a team to defend. My expectations have lowered in the last few weeks, maybe that altered my perception of the game, but I enjoyed it more than the win over Reading.

Blackburn seemed to have set their stall out for a point right from the start with Benni McCarthy the sole striker and a five man midfield. This tactic took a knock early on when Dejan Stefanovic caught McCarthy high on the leg and after a long period of treatment McCarthy had to be replaced. This made me briefly think we might snatch a win as Rovers, also missing Santa Cruz and Derbyshire seemed short of striking options. Jason Roberts, however, came on and played a blinder. He worked incredibly hard up front and teamed up well with the two wingers and Bentley in a free role behind him. When Rovers attacked us we looked fragile, the periods after both out goals saw Rovers attacking at will and I felt had they maintained that attitude beyond their equalisers they probably could have won the game hands down. Instead they sat back seemingly content with the point.

The first half was patchy but Fulham had the better of the first fifteen minutes. A glorious ball from Dempsey set Kamara through on goal for a one on one with Friedal. Kamara earned my wrath (yet again) by not shooting first time and attempting to side step around Friedal. He eventually aimed a fairly tame shot past the 'keeper's right hand which the American comfortably saved. Blackburn then got themselves back into the game and spent far too long in our half for my liking. Bentley, who was roundly booed every time he got the ball after a poor dive for a penalty claim, was causing us problems playing in a free role where he was difficult to pick up. Kamara did break free down the left wing firing in a dangerous ball across the face of goal which Friedal did well to palm away from a rampaging lunge by Dempsey. Just before the break we had a real eye opener as Blackburn had two excellent chances blocked just short of the line. The first was, I think, well saved by Niemi, the second blocked by Baird.

Blackburn were looking threatening again at the start of the second half when Clint Dempsey found a bit of room on the left and sent another excellent pass through for Kamara to chase. Ryan Nelsen clattered into him taking man and ball and, with a little assistance from an outraged Hammy End, the Ref awarded us a penalty. Danny Murphy slotted this away extremely well sending Friedal the wrong way and finding the bottom right corner of the net. We knew it was coming but that tricky 5 minutes after scoring proved too great an obstacle for us to deal with. Blackburn attacked at will and it was only a matter of time before the inevitable happened. An unimpeded Warnock crossed from the left wing, Jason Roberts (later shown to be offside) flicked on and Brett Emerton controlled with his chest before firing home past a helpless Niemi.

I was worried now that Rovers would go on and win, but instead of going for our jugular they relaxed a little and thus allowed us the opportunity to get back in front. An excellent passing move saw Danny Murphy find Simon Davies on the right wing, Davies sped on before firing a low testing ball across the face of goal where Kamara was waiting to tap home a chance even I could have scored. Brian Q at Craven Cottage Newsround makes an excellent point about Kamara's celebration which I completely agree with. In an attempt to hold on to the lead Sanchez made a change, bringing Kuqi on to play lone front man in place of the disappointing Bouazza. Kamara moved to the left wing (where I felt he actually looked more effective), Dempsey to the right wing, and Davies, Davis & Murphy formed a tighter central three. Kuqi was again excellent in this role (though I doubt he'd ever be up to playing much more than 20 minutes) and you could see the whole team trying really hard to defend the lead. Kuqi almost won it for us, racing on to a lose pass and doing very well to be first to the ball, but an advancing Friedal managed to get a hand to his first time shot and the opportunity was lost. Somehow, whilst I was concentrating on my clapping, Jason Roberts found a way to get the ball across goal where a completely unmarked Steven Warnock arrived to slot home a second equalizer. Healy and Seol replaced Murphy and Kamara as we reverted to 4-4-2 again, but this time Blackburn stood firm. 2-2 at full time and it was hard not to feel a little disappointed.

A game of contradictions in many ways. Niemi made several excellent saves throughout the game, but is still shocking at claiming crosses. The defence as a whole looked solid but were seemingly incapable of stopping Blackburn from scoring if they really went for it. Murphy was a key player, picking out a number of excellent passes and Steven Davis looked sharp early on, but neither player seemed alert to attacks down the middle. Dempsey was excellent wherever he played and Simon Davies was again our most creative attacker. Bouazza and Kamara were less impressive but shown flashes of the ability they clearly have. I'd have taken a point before the game, but felt we were pretty close to a very important win despite Blackburn's obvious superiority.

Gavin Peacock astutely picked up two areas of concern on MOTD2. He noticed that Steven Warnock had acres of space almost every time he got the ball, a fact that was exploited in both Rovers goals. Simon Davies has been one of our best players over the last month or so, but I'm pretty sure he's the man that should have been closing Warnock down. Baird did better on Sunday but was in a dreadful position when the second goal was scored. The other thing Peacock spotted was the gap between midfield and defence. I don't think we are playing as high a defensive line as we were at the start of the season, which is fine, but the midfield need to respond to where the back four are and close the gap between them. We are desperate for a decent holding midfielder but that won't happen until January. Right now we just need to be more organised and that's one thing I thought Lawrie would have sorted out.

I'm back on Lawrie's side for the moment, a bit more time and maybe it will all fall into place, but he must be feeling the heat. Billy Davies was sacked by Derby County yesterday following their 2-0 defeat by the Filth. That comes after Chris Hutchings was sacked by Wigan followed by their 2-0 defeat by the Filth. Come New Years Day I reckon Sanchez might just be feeling a bit vulnerable.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Sir David of Healy

Whilst England were crashing out of the Euros in abject manner, our own David Healy was setting a new European qualifying goalscoring record for Northern Ireland. His 13 goals in this campaign eclipsing Davor Suker’s previous record of 12 goals in 1996. There’s a great piece about "the greatest striker in Europe" on this blog which emphasises the pride all NI fans must be feeling about the performance of their national side. NI really showed what you can achieve if all your players know the role they have to play and do so with passion and commitment. England could certainly learn a lot from watching their last two games.

Bizarrely my disappointment over England this week has made me feel more positive about Fulham and Sanchez’ ability to get us moving in the right direction again. In Healy we clearly have someone capable of scoring goals and if anyone can find the way to get the best out of him it must be Lawrie Sanchez. Healy’s scoring record at International level (33 goals in 62 games) has always been greater than his achievements at club level, but I believe once we have found the right partner for him (either McBride if he successfully recovers from injury or a new signing in January) we will start to see the best of him.

Just found this staggering stat on the UEFA website. Healy almost outscored Holland who only scored 15 goals in their route to qualification despite a tally of 79 shots on target which was more than any other nation.

Captain Wales and other Super Heroes

Simon Davies

Simon Davies was made captain of the Welsh side that earned a very creditable draw in Germany. Wales have been almost as poor as England recently and whilst Germany had little to play for I’m sure Davies will have been immensely proud to have led his country in a much improved performance. Really pleased for Simon who has been excellent for us in the last few games.

New Fulham Blog

There’s another new Fulham blog on the street. It’s called White Lines and has started with an interesting post about Sanchez attempting to beat the second of his stated role models when we play Blackburn Rovers, having already achieved victory over Reading.
Welcome on board smfifteen – I’ll add a new link to the ever expanding list as soon as I can.

Blackburn on Sunday

Looking ahead to the weekend we have a tough game at home to Blackburn Rovers. It’s hard to judge what sort of performance we’ll get as both teams will be suffering a little from the loss of players to international duty. That added to a late Sunday kick-off and the possibility of a dark, wet and cold evening ahead may make the chances of a quality game of football fairly slim. Blackburn impressed me on their last visit to the Cottage and I felt we were very lucky to escape with a point. Their form is looking good again so it certainly won’t be easy but I’m hopeful we can put up a good fight and get something positive out of the game.

(Yeah - I know I didn't mention any other Super Heroes - I just liked the headline. Sorry if you were disappointed)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Like a pub team

Apologies for the temporary obsession with England, but in many ways it seems they are to International Football what Fulham are to the League. Tonight was shocking. I wasn't really surprised but when Peter Crouch scored that equaliser I did allow myself to believe that against all expectations we were going to manage to qualify. However, just like Fulham, England always revert to type and having got ourselves back in the game by attacking we tried to sit back and defend, against a team that was technically, organisationally and passionately better than us, and paid the price.

I've criticised England for their lack of passion before tonight and there wasn't much in evidence again tonight, but I actually think the biggest problem we had to overcome was (as former Fulham manager Mickey Adams would have said) the fear of failure. You could sense it as soon as Carson made that mistake on 8 minutes and again when having levelled the scores we tried to stop Croatia from attacking. Where were our leaders on the pitch? Gerrard, Lampard, Campbell? Nowhere. The root cause of our problems come from poor management though, and if McClaren hasn't been shown his P45 by lunchtime tomorrow I'll be very disappointed. Frankly the entire F.A. management board needs to be given the boot and replaced with a more efficient organisation but we all know that won't happen.

I really don't know who we get to take us on from here. I was keen on Martin O'Neil before McClaren got the job but would be happy with Hiddink or Scholari. There are few genuine English candidates but, despite really disliking him, I'd even accept Sam Allardyce as a move in the right direction. Whoever gets the job needs to build a new team around our younger players and move away from the reliance on supposedly star players. We need 26 players who we know can do the job they are asked to do, something that seems to have found difficult to achieve with 11 players.

A day of sulking then I'll be back to talk about Fulham ahead of the weekend fixtures.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

New Team Sheet tracker

It's been another quiet week on the Fulham front so I took the time to change my team line up spreadsheet. A Mackem at work lent me a copy of the programme from the Fulham match and I liked the format of their team sheet. It still needs a bit of work but I've amended my link in Hammy End Features to pick up the new version which also includes cards and a top goalscorers chart. Players are identified by initials as Google Docs doesn't allow me to rotate the text through 90 degrees and I've hidden the squad members who are yet to feature this season. There's a link and a preview glimpse below.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Is it really over?

So, just like an annoying ex-girlfriend who you just can't shake off, it seems England still have one last chance to make it to the alter. Just when you thought you're best days were in the past, that there would be no more nights like the time David Platt volleyed home against Belgium, or Gazza dinked the ball over Colin Hendry, you're drawn back in to the relationship you thought you'd left behind. Somehow, not only did Israel manage a win over Russia, but Croatia lost to Macedonia. A point would see us through, a 2-0 win and we could top the group. Croatia have qualified but I'm sure they won't give us an easy game. We'll be missing Rooney, Owen, Terry and Ferdinand but maybe perversely that will make us stronger.

In many ways it's just prolonging the agony, as I can't see us doing very well in the finals, but I will be a lot happier if we're there than if we're not. I feel huge sympathy for Scotland who fell at the last hurdle and, whilst David Healy grabbed that scoring record with his 13th goal of the campaign, Northern Ireland are bizarrely going to need the luck of the English to qualify.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

George Cohen tells it how it is

So England beat Austria 1-0 in a meaningless friendly the day before we get knocked out of the European Championship by Russia winning in Israel. I didn't see it, I'm too tight to pay for Sky and too disinterested to go down the pub. I could have stayed up until 12:45 for brief highlights on BBC2 but I don't think I really missed much.

Sir George Cohen (yes I know he isn't but he ought to be) says here on the BBC what an entire nation has been thinking.

"Qualification should have been a matter of course but what is obvious now is that we're not as good as we were. We have been awful."

"Ordinary teams give us hard work. Some of them are no better than Championship sides and the fact we can't see them off is unacceptable"

"I found the last World Cup to be abysmal and embarrassing. Our stars were dreadful."

"I can't imagine anything less passionate than the way we play now, they don't want to play badly, but you can't say they're up for it."

"[McClaren's] position becomes untenable if England fail to qualify, if they gave Sir Alf Ramsey the sack, they can get rid of this guy. He's been around the England team for several years, yet in the last four major competitions we've been outrageously poor. Morale is obviously poor and that's down to the manager. We look depressed. McClaren just has plan A - there's no plan B. I'd appoint Martin O'Neill to replace him - if he wants the job. He'd be strong enough to tell the players they're not giving enough, doing enough or maybe not even good enough."

That's all spot on as far as I'm concerned. Tonight Scotland play Italy at Hampden needing at least a point to ensure qualification. A few weeks ago I would have found it quite funny if they'd failed to qualify, but having seen that James Fadden wonder strike help beat France in Paris my view has changed. Scotland have been everything England have failed to be. Hard working, passionate and fun to watch. They deserve to be in the finals and come 5:00pm I'll be cheering them on.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Cookie Watch #6

It's been a tough couple of weeks for Chris Coleman in Spain. Fulham Rookie on TFI picked up on some Spanish reports suggesting that Coleman had arrived 90 minutes late for a press conference in a somewhat dishevelled state initially claiming this was due to a problem with his home plumbing. The following day he was forced to admit that he had been out very late on the Thursday night with friends. Current Real Sociedad president Maria de la Pena is also due to be replaced and, believing his time to be limited, Coleman submitted his resignation but was turned down by the club.

Amid all this Chris has continued with his weekly postcards (links below) in the Daily Mail. Reading them it's clear he remains remarkably candid about his situation. It sounds like he is feeling a bit isolated. Living in a foreign country where he does not speak the language well and he is away from his wife and children. Not only that but he is trying to get a team of historic stature back on track with no funding to back him up. It was never going to be easy and right now it seems like everything is working out as many would have expected. Postcard 13 may be out next week I'll update this post when I get a link.

Postcard from San Sebastian No. 12

Postcard from San Sebastian No. 11

Postcard from San Sebastian No. 10

Since my last Cookie Watch Real have fallen to 13th in the league with the following results;
Lost 1-2 Away to Numancia
Lost 0-1 Home to Sporting Gijon
Drew 0-0 Away at Racing Ferrol
Drew 1-1 Away at Hercules
Drew 1-1 Home to Celta Vigo
The signs are not good, but there may be some hope in the current directors wanting Coleman to stay on. They always knew this was a long term project and maybe, if Chris can keep his nose clean and the board of directors aren't replaced, he can still achieve something special.

The Peterborough Effect

Something a bit different. This is an article written by a good friend of mine for a fan written book of anecdotes and reminiscences of Peterborough United's away games. The book is being sold to raise money for the Peterborough United Supporters' Trust "Smile Tickets" appeal, The East Anglian Air Ambulance and The Free Kicks Foundation.

Martyn was a big factor in my return to Fulham after a number of seasons away (chasing girls and watching bands!) and if it wasn't for him and the 1990 World Cup I might not have got back into football. The events Martyn describes are pretty accurate and I still cringe whenever he mentions the bit when I left them in the pub (and he mentions it quite a lot!). I'm yet to see Fulham beat Peterborough which leaves me hoping every year for a home draw against them in the cup (though even then I'm scared we'll just lose again). I still go to Fulham with Gibbo we just don't spend quite so long in the pub. Should you know any Posh fans this could be the ideal Christmas present for them - Over to Martyn ...

Fulham Away 1992

I always find it enjoyable to go to a match with someone who supports the opposition, especially if we’re playing away from home…….and especially if we win. If you work in West London you’re bound to come into contact with the odd Fulham fan…..and believe me, most of them are very odd. I’ve found a few amongst the Ch*ls** and S***s fans at my place of work, a couple of whom are good friends (Dave and Gibbo). When Posh got promoted to the 3rd Division in 1991 I was delighted to see that we’d be playing them home and away in the League, and so were they.

They both travelled up to London Road to witness Posh’s 4-1 win, which was all the more enjoyable for the fact that we sat together in the main stand. After Posh had taken a 3-0 lead, Fulham pulled one back and Gibbo jumped to his feet with a cry of "come on Fulham we can do it", almost immediately Posh put away the 4th and I’ve never let him forget it since. So you can imagine the anticipation for the game at Craven Cottage. Dave and Gibbo desperate for revenge and me quietly confident but not wanting to say too much in case we lose.

The day arrived and we started off at The White Horse in Parson’s Green, which, at the time this was a spit and sawdust pub noted for their ‘big breakfasts’. After a couple of hours and too many pints, it was off to the match. Dave and Gibbo in the Fulham end, me, Richard and Brian (two more friends from work) with the Posh fans.

To be honest, I can’t remember much about the game but it finished 1-0 to Posh. I’ve watched the goal being scored by Tony Adcock many times on the end of season video.
We met up with Dave after the match, Gibbo had gone home in a sulk but he did tell us later that Dave had berated his fellow Fulham fans by shouting "Come on make some noise, this is a Football match, not a bloody library!".

Minus Gibbo and Brian who also disappeared, the three of us headed for the nearest pub. Several beers later and Dave announced that he was going home. At this point I had succumbed to the warm fuzzy feeling that only alcohol can induce and it seemed like a great idea to remind Dave of the score. With arm extended and finger pointing towards Dave, I broke into a chorus of "one, nil…one, nil…one, nil….one, nil", Richard was quick to join in whilst Dave struggled to disentangle himself from his chair.

We hadn’t noticed the group of large chaps sitting a table some 10 feet away. They were immediately on their feet regarding us with some interest, and it wasn’t friendly. One of them asked us if we were Peterborough fans. Dave, quick as a flash, pointed towards me and Richard and uttered what have become immortal words, "I’m not, but they are", and with a laugh he was off!
I suddenly felt quite sober as visions of a broken nose and black eyes flashed before my eyes. A couple of them walked over to us in menacing fashion and it was obvious they hadn’t come to discuss the price of beer.

At this point I have to mention that Richard suffered from a terrible stutter and conversations with him were sometimes slow and difficult. Maybe it was the beer or maybe it was the fact that he’s an extremely intelligent chap, for he was quickly into his stride and invited their leader to sit with us and have a drink. I really can’t remember much of the conversation apart form the Fulham ‘fan’ telling me how they had tried to fight with Posh fans that just weren’t interested, I remember gibbering something about us all being softies. Apart from that, I left it to Richard to smooth talk to the guy round, which he did with great aplomb. The only other thing I can remember is that I was bursting to visit the Gents but was too scared to go.

We eventually walked out of the pub unscathed and the evening ended with a visit to one of Richard’s friend’s houses where I had another beer and spent the rest of the evening yodelling down the big white telephone.

Afternote: Dave and Gibbo are still good friends and I occasionally go to Fulham matches with them, they still long for the day when Posh meet Fulham again.
Nobody’s seen Richard for years, but I heard that he was running a Diamond mining operation in Africa and we all saw a picture of him on the Internet, he was holding hands with the transsexual from Big Brother (Nadia).

Written by Martyn Wilcockson from the book "Posh Away Days"

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Liverpool 2 Fulham 0 - Match reaction

The one time when I really miss having the Sky or Setanta sports channels is when Fulham are away from home. I've watched Match of the Day 2 and seen the goals but little else. I had a fairly busy Saturday and not wanting to jinx the result I tried to avoid checking on the game at all. I couldn't resist a quick peak though, and was happy to see us holding them 0-0 after an hour or so. With the kids fed and ready for bed I had another check on 70 minutes and we're still hanging in there. Great effort lads! I get ready for a night out with my pals and whilst doing so see we're still level on 80. Start thinking we could nab a point here. That would be a massive boost. Big mistake. Never count your chickens before the referee's blown for full time. All ready for a few beers and one final check on the score. F*%&! 2-0, Torres on 81, Gerrard on 86. B*££*<&s!

Went to a pub in Wimbledon, had a nice pint (or five) of Adnam's Broadside and a good chat with a group of friends I've know since primary school. One of them had been up to Stockport to see his non-league side Staines Town claim a very creditable 1-1 draw with County. He's a Derby supporter and took the news of their 5-0 humbling in good spirit. My best pal is a Southampton supporter, they also lost 5-0 and we met a Bristol City fan in the pub who'd been up to Ipswich to see his side lose 6-0. All in all by the time I get home I'm feeling a lot better about our result. We've not been destroyed and must have put in a decent effort. I read the CCN match reports and pictures which seemed to confirm this, and check through The Fulham Independant in which opinions were mixed but generally positive. I hadn't given us much hope before the game but we held out for longer than I'd expected. At the end of the day we've still lost and that is really all that counts, but at least we've done so with a bit of spirit.

A quiet couple of weeks ahead during which we can watch England's failure to qualify for Euro 2008 confirmed and maybe get excited about who the next national manager is going to be. I'll probably only post occasionally between now and the Blackburn game just to give myself time to catch up on some long overdue domestic chores. Keep the faith.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Liverpool v Fulham preview - On a hiding to nothing?

What happened to the week? I’ve just not found any time to make any comments this week, though it has to be said it’s been pretty quiet. The only piece of news worth mentioning is that the reserves took a bit of a thumping at Birmingham City on Monday night. Due to first team call ups of several reserve regulars, a younger side than usual lost to an experienced Brum side 5-1. Reports can be found here from the FFC Offal and here from the Birmingham City site.

The only statistic you really need to know about our forthcoming trip to Liverpool is that Fulham have never won in any competition at Anfield. In the six seasons we’ve been in the Premiership we have managed two 0-0 draws, but the other 4 times we’ve been beaten fairly comprehensively (2-0, 3-1, 5-1 & 4-0). It won’t help that Liverpool managed a stunning 8-0 win over Besiktas midweek. Sanchez is well aware of the task ahead and says on the Offal that “Liverpool are probably the most difficult team in the Premier League to prepare for. I’ve got no idea what their team will be but you’ve got to give credit to a man who has won the UEFA Cup, was a Champions League finalist and has won the Spanish League twice – he obviously knows what he’s doing. He doesn’t fit in with what people do in this country but at the end of the day, they’ve just won a game 8-0”. We know we’ll be facing quality players, whoever is selected, so it has to be a case of making ourselves hard to beat. Even managing a point in this game would be a great result.

Not much point then in trying to anticipate the Plod’s starting line-up, but ours is almost as difficult to pick. The right back slot was a concern, Omosuzi is suspended for one match, and both Volz and Baird were struggling with injuries, but it sounds like Baird is now fit and will return to the side. Bocanegra returns from suspension and will almost certainly return at left back. Following his comments early in the week about Smertin, I wonder if Sanchez may consider playing with a five man midfield. Maybe Davis, Smertin and Murphy in the middle with Davies and Bouazza on the wings. Dempsey has been outstanding and can play just about anywhere, he could fit into a central three or play wide left. Though unimpressive in recent performaces Seol may also be pushing for a starting place (possibly on the left instead of Bouazza) as Sanchez seems to view him as being stronger defensively. If we do play with five in midfield than I have no idea who would get the nod up front. I’m pretty sure Kuqi hasn’t got the legs quite yet for a full 90 minutes, Healy looks our best bet for a goalscorer but would struggle on his own, and Kamara was shocking last weekend but may be required for his pace.

I used a lot of words there to basically say I don’t know what team Sanchez will pick so here’s my choice:





I can’t believe I’ve just picked Kamara after slating him last week and dropped Danny Murphy for his return to Anfield. Think we may see the Kuqi & Healy double act brought on at some point if we’re still in the game late on. Whoever makes the side good luck, work your socks off and make us proud. If you’re travelling up for the game have a good time. I went last year and, despite the result, really enjoyed the day.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Fulham 3 Reading 1 – Papering over the cracks

It really felt good to see a few goals and a win at the weekend but the performance was still far from convincing. That aside, the three points and confidence gained from achieving a win could prove to be very important to the long term future of the current side. We have a horrible run of games coming up (Anfield, Old Trafford and Goodison), the sort of games I wouldn’t expect us to win even if we were playing well, and those three points may just give the team enough breathing space to cope with what is bound to be a tough month.

There were signs of greater passion and a bigger desire to win on Saturday. Maybe the players understood just how important the game was as well. There were a few key men who played very well and pulled the whole team along with them and, whilst we struggled to claim possession and retain it when we had, it was at least clear that we were trying to do the right things.

Antti Niemi seems to have re-found his Mojo, making a number of excellent saves to keep us in the game when things were tight. He did very well to tip a second half freekick wide of his left post and just out of reach of the lunging Micheal Duberry, and followed that up with a superb dive to his right to save another decent shot from distance. Where Antti seems less confident is in dealing with high balls in his box and in failing to get anywhere near the corner that led to it he may have been partially culpable for Reading’s equaliser. Overall though Antti looks back to his best.

Aaron Hughes and Dejan Stefanovic appear to be forming a pretty useful partnership in the centre. Hughes, in particular, really impressed me. He covered a lot of ground across the whole backline and made a number of excellent challenges. Stefanovic is harder to judge but he clearly has a good football brain. The MotD highlights showed him make one very important and well timed and well executed headed clearance late on. When Reading’s equaliser came though, it was probably Hughes who was caught out as Kevin Doyle nipped past him to reach a far post corner with his head.

Our two young full backs did themselves proud after slightly nervy starts. Ashton was full of pace and not frightened to get forward and Omozusi looked better the longer the game went on. It’s pleasing to see young players given a chance and showing they are up to the task. Omosuzi’s undeserved late sending off was the only disappointment in his game.

Despite Reading’s possession they never looked much like scoring from open play, but were definitely a danger from corners, free kicks and long throw’s. Unfortunately, for a spell at least, they had a lot of corners, free kicks and long throw’s to work with. This is where our entire defence seemed to struggle and there were a number of opportunities where we were lucky to get away without conceding.

In midfield the undoubted man of the match was Simon Davies. He pushed forward at every possibility and scored a cracking goal to set us on our way. Ironically, just before he scored I was thinking that his lack of defensive ability might be one of our problems this season but he went on to show me exactly what he brings to the team. The goal was expertly taken flying like a rocket off the outside of his boot to curve around at least two Reading defenders and leaving Hanhemann with no chance as it crashed into the bottom right corner of his net. Steve Davis also did well, like Hughes he worked hard all game and made a number of surging runs down the middle. I still feel he needs to be playing alongside a more forceful partner, though I don’t think that player exists in our current squad. Murphy was fairly anonymous throughout and much as I like Smertin (who was not even on the bench this time) I’m not sure he’s the ideal foil for Davis either. Like Murphy, Bouazza also had a quiet game eventually being replaced by man mountain Shefki Kuqi.

Having confirmed his suspicions that Kamara and Healy can’t play together at Sunderland, Sanchez reverted to playing Dempsey as target man alongside pacey Kamara. Dempsey worked hard as always but Kamara was shocking. He’s got pace and plenty of skill but he doesn’t seem to know how best to use it. Far too often he’d fall over when nudged instead of trying to stay on his feet and out pace the defender. When he did get the ball he’d often end up slowing play down as he decided what to do with the inevitable outcome that he’d be easily dispossessed. He had two great chances to score in the second half that he failed to take. The first came from a right sided cross that it later transpired came off Duberry’s hand. Despite that I still think an alert striker would have been closer. The second came shortly after Reading had scored and Simon Davies mounted a swift counter attack but saw his cross just evade Kamara’s desperate lunge. I watched Kamara in the build up and noticed that he seemed unable to decide whether to attack the box or pull wider, and it was this indecision which ultimately meant he didn’t reach the ball. I think the last three games have raised some serious questions over Kamara’s ability to cut it in the Premier League. I hope I’m wrong about this as seeing a player with that much pace is a joy to behold, but I suspect his speed of thought is not up to that of his legs.

The key moments in the game came after the introduction of Kuqi. Bouazza was the man replaced with Clint Dempsey dropping back into a central midfield role just behind the front two. Kuqi entered the field like a rampaging bull and straight away the crowd were behind him as he chased lost causes and won headers. This is exactly what we’ve been missing. He looks clumsy and un-athletic but on Saturday he was certainly effective. Kamara was given around 10 minutes to benefit from playing with the big man but having failed to do much was replaced on 69 minutes by David Healy. Healy has also struggled to find his feet but you get the feeling however well he plays he’s always going to know where the net is. A couple of early chances fell his way and in at least one instance he choose to shoot instead of pass to the waiting Kuqi. However, it was Healy’s cross, following good work from Davies and Omosuzi down the right flank that led to our second goal. Kuqi leaped like a very large man from Finland and connected with both the ball and the back of Leroy Lita’s head, directing his header down and towards goal. It would probably have been cleared had Dempsey not reacted quickest and fired home from inches out.

We were forced onto the back foot again after that as Reading pushed forward in search of a second equaliser but defended resolutely. We made the most of the space this allowed us by attacking on the counter a number of times. A glorious opportunity was spurned when having been set free by Healy, Davies raced down the right flank but fired his cross just behind Kuqi who was therefore unable to direct his header on target. Eventually we did get a third, following a Fulham clearance. Kuqi won another header in the middle of the park and Simon Davies was there again to out pace the Reading defence and fire a perfect cross field ball to Healy who seemed more than a little relieved to find the back of the net with his first time shot.

So we have at least stopped the rot and gained only our second win of the campaign. Despite my feeling that overall we were poor there does seem to be plenty of individual positives. I hope that the confidence gained from this win might go some way towards us picking up a few more in the difficult matches to follow. We have a number of key problem areas not least up front. Kuqi deserves his share of the limelight, but looking out of breath after his first 15 minutes I suspect he’s still not quite ready for a starting place. There’s a lot of work to do but maybe the signs are there that we can start to turn our season around.
  • GK 29 A.Niemi
  • RB 22 E.Omosuzi
  • CB 18 A.Hughes
  • CB 06 D.Stefanovic
  • LB 38 N.Ashton
  • RM 25 S.Davies
  • CM 10 S.Davis
  • CM 27 D.Murphy
  • LM 24 H.Bouazza
  • ST 23 C.Dempsey
  • ST 11 D.Kamara

Subs: 12 T.Warner, 07 S. Ki-Hyeon, 09 D.Healy (for 11), 14 S.Kuqi (for 24), 37 A.Leijer

Right Back crisis?

I couldn't resist that headline after last weeks similar Left Back related one. I've not really fully recovered from the 4 year olds party we had yesterday, so the full match report will probably not be done until later today.

I did, however, want to assess the likely impact on our starting line up at Anfield after referee Mark Clattenberg completed a rotten performance by sending off the impressive Elliott Omozusi. I still have no idea why he was sent off, most of the people around me didn't even notice that a card had been shown. Watching television replays it was clear Omosuzi was a long way from making contact, and the reaction of Reading's Harper and Murty showed how poor a decision it was. To make matter's worse, Clattenberg, who had just completed a one match Premier League suspension of his own for an equally shocking performance in the Merseyside derby, showed just a red (which would mean a three match ban) but seems to have stated in his match report that it was for a second yellow. This is confirmed on the F.A. website where they show a one match suspension.

With Volzy
saying in his diary that he could be out for at least one more week and Chris Baird also seemingly injured as well, we now have to find a way to fill the right back slot. I reckon we have two options. Aaron Hughes can certainly play that role, and with Bocanegra returning from suspension he could combine with Stefanovic in the centre leaving Nathan Ashton at left back. However, Sanchez may prefer to retain the improving Hughes-Stefanovic partnership in the middle, and could offer a debut to Australian Adrian Leijer in the right back slot. If that happened I would expect Bocanegra to return to the left back role.

A couple of links I thought were interesting. Bill Edgar picked up on the impact Shefki Kuqi made in his
tactical analysis for The Times though I reckon Bill claiming Sanchez had "reinforced his reputation for long ball football" is wide of the mark. The Fulham Women's team are having a good season and now top their league and look like they may return to the premier division at the first attempt.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Kuqi Kuqi Coo

Tomorrow afternoon I have ten four year olds expected for my youngest son's birthday party so all things considered I won't be able to get a full match report out until Monday. Still I couldn't resist making some comment on today's game. It sure makes you feel a whole lot better when you've got a win to talk about. It wasn't the greatest of games and there was still a lot to be desired in our overall performance but at least we showed a bit more passion and a greater will to win. Of all the team the player that embodied that spirit most of all was Shefki Kuqi. Whilst clearly not the most skillful or most pacey or most spectacular of players it was evident from the moment he joined the fray (replacing the ineffectual Kamara) that he was a player who really wanted to impress. There were other positives as well. Dempsey continued to scrap for anything he could get, Simon Davies was at the heart of most of our attacking maneuvers and Aaron Hughes put in a lot of work to keep our back four together. There's still a lot of hard work to do but this was a much needed boost for everyone. For once I'm looking forward to Match of the Day tonight.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Fulham v Reading - Match Preview

Time to put thoughts of changing our manager out of my mind and concentrate on winning a football match. My expectations are pretty low for Saturday and I have no great anticipation of a turnaround in form. If this is true for a lot of Whites fans then it may be down to the team to inspire us. We're rarely the noisiest bunch in the world but right now we really need to get behind the team and cheer them on to raise their game. The first twenty minutes will be vital, if the team looks sharper and keen to win then the fans will respond, if they look as flat as they have in the last two matches I suspect we could be in for another quiet and depressing weekend.

This is exactly the sort of game we have to be winning, despite the fact that Reading managed a double over us last season. The BBC say that Reading are on a four-game losing run away from home, and have not won a Premier League match in London since defeating Fulham on 25 November last year. Reading's last line up is detailed below and having achieved a 2-1 win over Newcastle I would expect them to remain unchanged.

Goal: Hahnemann
Defence: Murty - Sonko - Duberry - Shorey
Midfield: Doyle - Gunnarsson - Harper - Hunt
Attack: Lita - Kitson
Subs: Rosenior, Long, Federici, Ingimarsson, Convey

Marcus Hahnemann must have surprised any Fulham fan who travelled to Grimsby for his last game in a White (well Green actually but you know what I mean) shirt by impressing last season but has looked less solid this term. Striker Kevin Doyle really caught my eye in both games last season, though at the moment he is having to fill in on the right side of midfield (actually taking Rosenior's place). He did a good job in that role last weekend so unless Liam gets a chance to show us what we lost Doyle should continue in that spot. Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time will know that I was a big fan of Liam's, so to some extent I'd love to see him play against us. To some extent I think he's the sort of player who would actually play very well if he felt he had a point to prove, but I reckon Reading would be a poorer side if they were forced to field him ahead of either Murty, at full back, or Doyle in midfield.

We're short of options at present but I think there may be a chance that Kuqi will start alongside either Healy or Kamara. Whilst the big man may not be the most anticipated of players I think it's been clear that Healy and Kamara don't compliment each other as a partnership and either player would benefit from playing alongside someone like Kuqi. The midfield will probably remain unchanged though I would love to see Smertin back in the side in place of either Steve Davis or Danny Murphy. I cannot understand why Sanchez has chosen to drop him. Defensively things get interesting as I have already considered this week. I think Elliott Omosuzi deserves a second start at right back after impressing at Sunderland. We're without Konchesky and Bocanegra at left back so the choice seems likely to be between youngster Nathan Ashton or oldster Dejan Stefanovic, with Aaron Hughes as an outside bet. Hughes will probably continue in the centre where if Stefanovic is moved he could be partnered by Chris Baird.

I'm not brave enough to make any predictions, just hoping for three points any way we can get them. Come on you Whites!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Delusions of Sanchez - Part 2

So prior to my earlier comments I had run another poll. Sixty one people voted, which is pretty good for this blog but probably not represenative of the global Fulham fan base. However, I'm not one to let actual voting numbers get in the way of an opportunity to do a bit of analysis and produce a colourful graph.

To try and get some more value from the figures I combined the voting options into three less rigid criteria. Basically sack him as soon as possible, give him until some point in December, or give him a much longer term. In doing so it makes it clearer that the majority view is to give Lawrie a bit more time to show he can improve but if he fails to do so get him out before the next transfer window. A fairly high 34% want him out now or fairly soon, interestingly this was much lower prior to the Sunderland game, and only 14% are confident enough to let him have longer.

Don't take this too seriously, I didn't really expect this poll to show any great sea change in Fulham opinion, and to some extent my tounge is firmly in cheek, but I think it is evident to everyone that something has to change if Sanchez is going to keep us in this division.

Delusions of Sanchez - Part 1

As I was commenting on a post on the other day I had a moment of clarity. I realised that deep down I don't really like Sanchez or feel that he's the right man for the job. The great thing about writing a blog is that you have a record of your thoughts at any particular time. I was actually quite pleased with Sanchez coming in when Coleman was sacked but, having seen the lack of a significant reaction in the remaining 5 games and our survival achieved thanks more to a fortunate win over Champions League final bound Liverpool than any improvement in our own team, I was hoping for a more exciting manager to be given the full time post.

Over the summer Sanchez talked a good game, and I fully believed that he could take the players he was buying and turn them into a successful Premier League side. There were quite a few positives in those first few games but the results failed to come. Maybe we're not that far away from getting those important results, maybe we ought to give Lawrie enough time to get his players settled in and finish off what he has started. I feel that I ought to be more positive and ought to just relax a little and see where we stand in a month's time, but I'm already feeling uncomfortable about where we are heading and seeing managers currently available who I feel could do a better job is probably making me less patient than I should be.

If I was confident we could get in another manager with a proven track AND give him the funding to bring in a few key players I’d jump at the chance. The thing is its actually quite difficult to pick out someone who you could feel certain would do a better job. For every supporter who would like Martin Jol (for example) believing he did a great job for Tottenham, seems to be a good coach and has been the victim of the over the top expectations of the board, there's probably another who thinks Jol didn't do that well considering the money he was given to spend.

From a personal point of view I think Sanchez needs to win me over between now and Christmas before I can give him my full support. If he's shown an improvement by then I don't think he could complain if he got the sack. I wouldn't shed any tears if he was given the boot now either but I do think he deserves a few more months to sort things out.