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.


Anonymous said...

Chopper, I've been through this at CCN, but watch the virginmedia highlights of the second goal, Baird's in the middle, stuck like glue to Pedersen. It was Clint who lost Warnock on the far post.


Anonymous said...

Cheers Rich. I did read your match report and realised that it was probably Dempsey rather than Davies who should have covered the run. I pleased Baird was OK as I thought he had a good game.


Nick said...

Guys, in my book it is still Baird who should have that position since we play a zone defence. Baird is "forced" to go in central due to other players not keeping their areas so Baird might no be at fault 100%.

Then again, Konchesky should not be passed that easy in the first plays.


Chopper said...

I know what you mean Nick. Baird is very central, but looking at the replay's Dempsey's body language suggests he knows Warnock should have been his man and he's failed to follow him.

Nick said...

Chopper, I will look at the footage later but even if he feels that way it seems very strange. What sort of coaching is Sanchez doing forour defensive play if a forward would have marking duties in the own penalty box (set pieces aside)?

Oh well, so many things that are strange with our game this season so I'm not supposedto be able to figure it out ;)

Anonymous said...

Clint was on the right wing by then. We'd gone to a 4-5-1 with Kuqi the lone forward and the midfield 3 much more compact. So Clint was due to follow him along.

Good point about the zones breaking down, but as you suggest, if Roberts beats three players in the box then the damage is pretty much already done.