Monday, December 31, 2007

Filth preview, winter breaks and early kick-offs

A 12:45 kick-off on New Years Day. What's that all about? Crikey of all the days in the year to pick for an early kick-off we get the one where more people will be struggling to cope with hangovers and lack of sleep than any other.

I'm in favour of a short Winter break. Football matches on Boxing Day and during the Christmas Holidays seem unnecessary to me. They get in the way of time I'd rather spend with the family and make life much harder for those teams that don't have a squad of 46 full internationals. The FA have at least responded to fan concerns by improving the match selections so that in the last couple of seasons we've not had to travel too far. This year has also seemed slightly less frantic, possibly due to Fulham having two away games, but probably more down to the quirks of this years calender. I'd like to see a two week break, which would give everyone a rest from the relentless grind of the league and allow us time to prepare for the next transfer window in the New Year.

Roy's had two days with the squad to prepare for the visit of the other team in the borough. It's too much to expect him to have really achieved much in the time but hopefully the team can show more of the effort they did at St. Andrew's and combined with the boost of a new man in charge and a game against our greatest rivals can find the way to an unexpected result. Someone on TFi pointed out that whilst it's possibly a good time to play the Filth (missing John Terry, Petr Cech, Carlo Cudicini, Claude Makelele, Andrei Shevchenko, Florent Malouda, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba through injury as well as Carvalho through suspension), it's also a very good time to play us. The Filth are starting to close the gap a little on Arsenal and Man United and are one of only two teams to have so far not lost a game against teams in the lower half of the table.

Fulham will be without Hameur Bouazza who serves his one match ban for the, I thought unlucky, sending off against Birmingham. Murphy, Dempsey, Seol and Kamara have all played left wing at some point this season so we'll have options to fill the role. I'm no fan of Seol so I'd probably go for Kamara who has looked more useful when switched to the wing than he has up front. Dempsey needs to be retained in the centre where he has more options available to use his skill and eye for goal. Hodgson is known as a tactician so it will certainly be interesting to see how he lines us up. I think we've only played with 5 in midfield from the start for one game this season and that was the humiliation against Spurs.

Hope you have fun whatever you're up to tonight and very best wishes to everyone for the New Year.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Birmingham City 1 Fulham 1 - Vital away point gained

No proper match report from me today (check out CCN, Following the Fulham and White Lines for a Fulham-centric opinion). The BBC say some very positive things HERE . I'm just really pleased with what sounds like a very much improved performance from the Whites, especially in the first half. Bocanegra gets back to scoring ways with a first half header, Dempsey puts in another man of the match appearance and we manage to hold on for the point despite Bouazza being the second Fulham player to be sent off in consecutive games. Nice work by Lewington to get the boys pumped up for this fixture, roll on the new Hodgson era.

Birmingham City v Fulham - Pre-kick off lineups and quotes

Birmingham continue to manage without forward Olivier Kapo, who is struggling with a knee injury, and retain more or less the side that started the 3-0 win against Middlesbrough. That's; Maik Taylor, Kelly, Jaidi, Ridgewell, Queudrue, McSheffrey, Muamba, Johnson, Larsson, Jerome & Forssell. Subs: Nafti, O'Connor, Doyle, Sadler, De Ridder.

Fulham are without Moritz Volz after he was given a one-match ban for his red card in the 5-1 defeat against Tottenham on Boxing Day. We're also missing Aaron Hughes who picked up an injury in the same game and line up as follows; Niemi, Omosuzi, Stefanovic, Bocanegra, Konchesky, Davies, Murphy, Davis, Bouazza, Dempsey & Healy. Subs: Warner, Smertin, Kamara, Kuqi, Leijer.

Caretaker boss Ray Lewington continues to be candid. When asked about today's match, he highlighted one of our main weaknesses saying that "The problem with our side is that the team balance is not right. Physically we are not strong enough sometimes and even at set-pieces we always seem to be slightly smaller when we do the match-ups. We need to settle it down and be prepared to roll our sleeves up against Birmingham because it's a massive game for us now". It's something I've really noticed in our last couple of games, and whilst I'm not sure what Lew can do about it, but it's refreshing to hear a Manager talk about such things.

Some interesting quotes on Hodgson

I found some interesting comments about Roy Hodgson from Blackburn Rovers fans over on the Sky Sports website.

Patrick Doolan (Blackburn Rovers fan) said "A surprising appointment i think. But as a Blackburn fan knowing of his time at Rovers. I thought he was a good manager, he just had a split dressing room, a certain Mr. Sherwood didn't like him and caused unrest. As long as he keeps all his players in the dressing room working with him, rather than against him i think he could keep you up! Good luck".

Fraser Ormerod (Blackburn Rovers fan) said "Roy Hodgson was an unknown to English football after managing Inter and the Swiss national side. He started full of promise , but it became all too obvious that he had other things on his mind, i.e. a top four or national team. He was on Sky every other game pontificating about other teams tactics etc and how it should be done to improve things, it didn't take long for him to take his eye from his REAL responsibilities which [in his 2nd year] was to halt a rapid decline. I think Sherwood had too much to do in the dressing room because Hodgson was never there and was lining his nest for his next move. Pity for him it took to long as he'd neglected Rovers for so long he was no longer admired. So, if he keeps his eye on the ball, decent manager! only problem is does he see Fulham, like Blackburn, as a stepping stone to BIGGER clubs! HMMMM sounds like i m talking about Benni McCarthy now, that s a different story".

There's also a very sensible post from Fulham fan Steve Linsell who says "An experienced manager was the prime requirement in Fulham's current position. When you look at the viable alternatives, Roy Hodgson would be high on that list. Steve McClaren; Ericsson, Venables, Martin Jol all have good CV's - but also skeletons in their cupboards. That unfortunately comes with longevity of career. Roy should have good football contacts both home and aboard. Sometimes it is not what you know , it is who you know to get the right people into your coaching or playing squad. Realistically, his first job is to stabilise Fulham and that probably means getting approximately 35 points this season. It doesn't have to be pretty, but with every player needs to work for the team and not individual glory. Roy has Bullard; McBride and Cook coming back from long terms injuries. The players are under performing and with 1 or 2 good new signings his current squad can turn from 'zero's to heroes!' He needs to ensure everyone pulls together and hit hard any negative karma should there be doubters.Results are everything, but confidence must not be undermined even in jest. Fulham fans need to get behind the team and the new manager. It is a new sunrise and perhaps belief comes in front of confidence and getting those vital points.

Some good points to ponder then. It all starts on New Years Day with the SW6 derby of course. Win that one Roy and you'll be a hero before you've even begun!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Roy Hodgson appointed Fulham Manager

Well he's maybe not the most exciting appointment but there's no doubt Roy Hodgson has bags of experience. It's been a fairly depressing couple of days with no sign of an appointment being made and the realisation of exactly what a mess we're currently in really sinking home. My only real experience of Hodgson, as I'm sure is true for most English fans, was an ultimately disastrous period in charge in charge of Blackburn Rovers. I do know, however, that he is highly regarded throughout Europe and has had successful periods in charge of the Swiss national team (with whom he qualified for the '94 World Cup and the '96 European Championships) and Inter Milan.

I would have loved to see John Collins get the job had he also brought Jean Tigana along in a director of football role. Having scoured the message boards for news however, it appears whilst we did interview Collins, Tigana was not part of the deal. That would have meant replacing one unproven manager with another, which I don't think would be a good choice for us now.

It doesn't really matter what I think now, of course. Hodgson's got the job and if he's going to work the miracle that's needed to avoid relegation we're all going to need to get behind him and the team. We are exactly half way through the season with a paltry 14 points. Simple maths says that if we don't improve we'll be a long way short of the likely 40 points required to stay up. The only thing in our favour is that there are six other teams in the same boat. Hodgson's first target then is to gain another 26 points in the remaining 19 matches. If he can do that then he deserves the opportunity to take us on from there.

Ray Lewington gets one final game in charge against Birmingham at St. Andrews on Saturday. The Blues have found a bit of form under Alex McLeish and it's going to be another tough away game, but who knows, with nothing to lose and the new manager to impress maybe we can pull off an unlikely result.

Update: Interesting piece about Hodgson here > from the BBC.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Spurs 5 Fulham 1 - Where do we go from here?

Whoever takes the manager's job permanently can be under no illusion that we're in for a very tough battle to avoid relegation. This was our heaviest defeat of the season and just highlighted exactly how severe our situation is.

As I watched the BBC live Internet updates filter through it didn't take long to realise we weren't going to win. A glimmer of hope when Dempsey pulled a goal back was crushed 6 seconds later with the news a third Tottenham goal. To rub salt in the wounds it sounded like Malbranque was having a field day and returning cult hero Moritz Volz, forced into playing centre back, got sent off.

The Match of the Day highlights didn't give much insight into the way we played so I recommend reading the two excellent reports at
Craven Cottage Newsround and White Lines. Lewington's admirable attempt to play football seems to have only served to highlight exactly how poor we are. It's vital that the board get the manager's appointment right. We need someone who can takes us forward whatever division we find ourselves in next year.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Spurs v Fulham - Team News

I wouldn't normally do this but there's a couple of interesting team selections mentioned on the BBC for today's game. Ledley King is in the Tottenham line-up for the first time this season, while Kevin-Prince Boateng drops to the bench with Tom Huddlestone and Jamie O'Hara starting in midfield. For Fulham, Ray Lewington makes three changes to the side with Chris Baird replacing the injured Omozusi, Seol Ki-Hyeon and Alexei Smertin drafted in to replace Davis and Bouazza and Volz back on the subs bench. No sign of Steven Davis at all.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Christmas Everyone

Are you hanging up your stocking on your wall?
It's the time that every Santa has a ball
Does he ride a red nosed reindeer?
Does he turn up on his sleigh?
Do the fairies keep him sober for a day?

So here it is Merry Christmas
Everybody's having fun
Look to the future now
It's only just begun

It's Kerrr-ist-massss!!!!

Best wishes to all HEC readers and Fulham supporters everywhere. Hope you have a great Christmas Day and an even better Boxing Day ...

Monday, December 24, 2007

Spurs v Fulham - Match Preview

A short trawl through the Internet to see what is being said about the Boxing Day game. The BBC state that Spurs will be without Ledley King, Anthony Gardner, Gareth Bale, Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Didier Zokora. Whilst Darren Bent (hip), Michael Dawson (migraine), Ricardo Rocha (thigh) and Jermaine Jenas (ankle) are all doubtful. Fulham's only new injury concern is Elliott Omosuzi who injured his leg in the game against Wigan. Ray Lewington will remain in charge of the team, will be looking to achieve the seemingly impossible and win away from home for the first time since November 2006.

Spurs Odyssey site point out that "Despite their 2-1 defeat on Saturday, Spurs remain in the top six form sides in the Premier League based upon the last 6 games, with 3 wins and a draw during that time. Fulham on the other hand are in the bottom three of that league, without a win, and having dragged themselves out of the bottom three of the league table with a draw in their last game at home to Wigan" but are aware that "Ray Lewington has had a little more time to work with his squad. Fulham do have good players, including Simon Davies playing some of his best football since he left us".

The Proud Cockerill reckon we'll suffer the backlash of their defeat against Arsenal. "A couple of resounding wins against weak sides will put us in good spirit for a climb up the table and assault on cup glory, while an unthinkable blank period will see us back worrying about the basement battle. The latter really should not occur as Spurs have been on an outstanding run since Juande Ramos took over. Even on Saturday, Spurs proved that they can match any team in the effort stakes and that has been half the trouble over the past couple of seasons at least".

There's a number of new names in the frame for the manager's job. No doubt some are press speculation rather than genuine candidates. For now though Ray Lew's back in the job, I noticed in a recent programme that he's our fourth longest serving manager, and there's a nice interview with him on
the Offal. He's a decent bloke and does know his stuff so we're in safe hands.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Independent on Collins and other potential managers

A well written article on the Independent website about Fulham, John Collins and the shortlist for new manager. Definitely worth a read.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Lewington stakes a claim for the hot seat

It seems Ray actually fancies another crack at the Fulham job. The BBC are now carrying an article with all the quotes from the Radio 5 interview I mentioned earlier. Lewington has apparently been told by Mohamed Al Fayed that he will retain a position on the coaching staff whoever succeeds Sanchez and also expects to be in charge for the Boxing Day trip to Spurs.

"I am realistic enough to know they will probably look outside, and I am OK with that. If that is the case I will just get on with my job."

Lewington believes that with the addition of one or two players in January - he identified a lack of ball-winners as one problem - Fulham have the makings of a "decent little side".

"It is a difficult task but I am absolutely confident we will survive. I have got no doubt about that, whoever the manager is."

Fairplay. I always liked Lewington as a player and a manager. He did reasonably well in his full spell as manager, and possibly only fell short due to the financial limitations of the time. He also served us well in two previous periods as Caretaker Manager. I'm not convinced he's the right man to take us forward, but I'm pleased to see him retain a role at the club.

The Dempsey quotes are really interesting. Clint has been one of the few players to have performed so far this season and yet it seems he was never that comfortable trying to play the style of Football Sanchez was after.

"I am happy with the manager we have right now," Dempsey told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"I like Ray and Billy; they give us more freedom to express ourselves as players; I enjoy that.

"I think we showed a better style of play and I think you could hear the response from the fans, even if they were frustrated we didn't get the win, as the players were.

"I like the style of keeping possession more, not playing so direct, and trying to create chances instead of trying to jump the ball in.

"That is just what I think personally, I can't speak for the team, but I think the fans showed they agreed by the way they got behind us."

I'm looking forward to seeing how Dempsey performs under the new manager. The Tigana/Collins/Clarke triad is still the hot rumour, but we've also been linked in today's papers with Glenn Hoddle, Martin Jol and Slaven Billic.

Fulham 1 Wigan Athletic 1 - Match report

It was always going to be a tough task today. With the drama of the last 48 hours what could Ray Lewington and Billy McKinlay reasonably achieve. However for 45 minutes or so we did manage to play with more passion, freedom and flair than had been seen for some time. The crowd responded and had we taken just one of the chances we'd created in the first half this could have been a different story. The second half was disappointingly flat and the longer it went on the more we reverted to type. We seem incapable of defending balls in the air, something I've noticed before this season, and this proved to be our undoing yet again. The warning signs were there. Wigan had three or four long throws in the first half and every single one found a Wigan player, similarly high balls into our box invariably evaded all our defending players.

When Wigan took the lead it was from a Michael Brown lob which sailed above our backline, before falling to Marcus Bent to volley home. Kuqi came on in his usual smash and grab role and gave us not only an aerial presence but someone willing to chase a few lost causes. We sprung back to life for a bit and put Wigan under pressure again. A couple of near misses from Healy and Dempsey showed the way and soon after, a deep cross from Chris Baird found Kamara who directed the ball back across goal to where Clint Dempsey was lurking and able to slot home the equaliser. It was too much to ask for anything more, and both sides were happy to see the game peter out with honours even.

Listening to Radio 5 on the way home there were a couple of interesting quotes. Clint was interviewed live and following the normal stuff about being disappointed we hadn't made the most of our early superiority he was asked how the players had coped with the sudden departure of Sanchez. Clint was surprisingly candid and talked about how the players had responded to Ray and Billy's approach. He suggested they were given more freedom to play, and where no longer under orders to fire long diagonal balls at every opportunity. He didn't openly criticise Lawrie but it was clear he was already a happier player. The match reporter then quoted Ray Lewington saying that the current team were only a couple of players away from being a decent side. That they had been unbalanced so far this season and that a few key signings would make all the difference. Interesting views and certainly signs that things really weren't working under Sanchez.

Bring it on!

I'm a little hungover following a final working day drinking session, and very tired after a trip down to see The Status Quo in Bournemouth (Yes. I know!), so with only a few hours before I'm off to the footy again I'm not going to write much. I'm really looking forward to today's game, it should be a cracking atmosphere. Fingers crossed we can pull off a win and set ourselves up for the long fight remaining. A few links previewing the game and discussing the manager situation below. Enjoy the game - Come on you Whites!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Sanchez Sacked!

Despite my post earlier this morning I'm still a bit stunned by this. Ray Lewington and Billy McKinlay take charge of the team for the weekend.

I Heard It Through The Grapevine

With feelings running high following last Saturday’s desperate defeat there has clearly been a shift in the number of supporters now agreeing Sanchez’ time is up. That's added fuel to speculation on the message boards that the club are already lining up a replacement. The Internet is a powerful medium, and past experience has shown that much of the goings on at many football clubs are accurately reported unofficially. The problem is for every true rumour you read there are probably 50 false ones.

Posters on The Fulham Independent speculated early in the week that Jean Tigana was in the crowd for the Newcastle game. A photo was found that seemed to prove JT’s presence a few rows in front of Al Fayed. This may not seem like much but if true would suggest a seismic shift in stance between both men. The fallout from JT’s sacking was pretty hefty leading to litigation and lengthy court proceedings. Having seen the relationship between Tigger and MAF turn so acrimonious it was hard to believe we'd see him back at the club at any capacity other than opposition manager. The photo is not conclusive but it does look a lot like Tigana, and if so suggests a definite reconciliation between the two men. Coincidentally, I’ve been thinking about the Tigana years a lot recently. The last few months under him were difficult but I strongly believe that under Tigana we would at least be trying to play good football. We might not always win, and surviving in the Premiership would be no less certain than it is now but we'd be better placed to come back should the worst happen.

Prior to this exciting piece of news my leading contender for replacing LS was Martin Jol. I like him a lot, he's a bit of a character and, I believe, a good coach. Like Tigana I feel he’d get us playing decent football again and would be good for our long term development as a team. My biggest problem with the Sanchez era is my lack of confidence in his ability to develop our team in the right way. I have no proof of that, it’s based on gut feeling and some fairly minor things that have happened so far. However, having reached that conclusion it’s hard to shake off and, when coupled with our poor run of form, is probably magnified out of proportion. Jol had previously talked about being keen to stay in England and the Premier League. This seemed to add credence to a suggestion some time ago that he was being lined up to replace Sanchez. However this week Jol came out with a flat denial that he was interested in the job, stating that he did not want to be involved with a team in a relegation fight.

In between the speculation there was some good news in the shape of returning cult hero Jimmy Bullard. JB played for the Reserves against Reading where he completed 60 minutes and scored a goal. Great news for Jimmy who must have begun to wonder whether he would ever play again, and great news for the club. I’m sure his recovery has a long way still to go. However desperate our need for a player of his calibre we must make sure his return to full league football is managed at a sensible pace. Having been out for so long it would be foolish to rush him back into first team football. But still very good news.

Today it’s all kicked off on The Independent Fulham Forum with the news that John Collins has resigned from Hibernian. People “in the know” are suggesting that Sanchez had been dragged off the training ground for show down talks with MAF and was soon to be fired with Jean Tigana returning as Director of Football and John Collins becoming the new manager. I am ridiculously excited about this and have been trying to calm myself down since first reading it. For me the Tigana/Collins combination is a dream team that would mean a return to classy passing football and genuine development of young talent. I would feel the club was back in safe hands and we could enjoy the football again whatever our final position in this years Premiership.

It’s all just rumour though. No actual facts. We’ll have to wait and see.

Whatever happens, I can’t wait for the Wigan game.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Cookie Watch # 7

Whilst our current manager comes under increasing pressure our former manager sees a slight up turn in fortunes. Its interesting that despite feeling it was the right decision to sack him, I still keep an eye out for his progress in Spain. I think this shows that, whatever his shortcomings as a manager were, as a person and former Fulham player he was held in high regard. I'm not sure the same is true for Sanchez. I'm also developing a bit of a soft spot for Real Sociedad. Sociedad remain in 9th place in La Liga 2 but are only 3 points away from a promotion place. Coleman is still in a slightly vulnerable position as there are club presidential elections due in January which may see a new regime take charge, but for now he's quietly getting on with the job. A last minute winner in their recent away game at Grenada, and an eight game unbeaten run, will go a long way towards improving his position.

Results since last post

17/Nov/07 - Gimnastic 1 Real 1
25/Nov/07 - Real 2 Malaga 0
2/Dec/07 - Athletico Seville 0 Real 0
9/Dec/07 - Real 0 Cadiz 0
16/Dec/07 - Grenada 74 1 Real 2

Chris Coleman's Daily Mail column links

Postcard from San Sebastian No. 13 (Weds 21st Nov)

Postcard from San Sebastian No. 14 (Tues 11th Dec)

Postcard from San Sebastian No. 15 (Tues 18th Dec)

Monday, December 17, 2007

This is a low

It’s late on Monday night. I’ve been tentatively checking the BBC Sports page all day half expecting to hear that Lawrie Sanchez has been called to an emergency meeting at Harrods. Its not happened yet, but I’m not ruling it out before the end of the week. As previously posted I didn’t go on Saturday as it was Mrs C’s birthday weekend. It looks like I picked the right game to miss.

My friend Mark turned up to collect my season ticket about an hour before kick-off. He was cutting it fine and didn’t look particularly excited about going. It was cold and getting dark and for the first time since I can remember I didn’t feel a pang of regret that I was not going as well. I might have missed a key game, a turning point in the season, a dramatic return to form, but my gut feeling was that I wouldn’t. I avoided checking on the score until quite late on. Still 0-0 but not much to write home about. I turned off the PC and waited to hear from my “roving reporters”.

Mark’s text summed it up fairly succinctly, “Lost 1-0, Sanchez Out”. Bugger. I got a late text from my Dad along similar lines, which he followed up in the previous comments thus “As for the game, I have never felt so disappointed with our team. Nothing to cheer or get excited about to make it worth going. You know my thoughts on LS from the first day he was appointed and he has done nothing since to prove me wrong! I don't hold out much chance of us beating Wigan next Saturday unless the players start playing football - on the ground with some decent passing instead of this persistent head-tennis. Junior was really unlucky if the penalty was down to him but he is the only one who seems to know what they should be doing. Also who advised Al Fayed that LS was the manager we needed? Also who persuaded him to spend more money than Chris Coleman saw in his entire management period? That is someone else who should be given his cards!”.

Not good then. Our worst fears realised. The end of the road for Sanchez? I think it’s certainly close. If it’s not then he has a massive task to pick the team up ahead of Wigan on Saturday. I will be going to that game and, perversely, I am actually looking forward to it. Wigan are in a bit of form, I watched a very entertaining MOTD on Saturday which included their 5-3 goal-fest against Blackburn. We’ll have to up our game 200% if we’re going to win but I wonder if having reached a new low we might find we can play with less fear of failure.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Fulham v Newcastle - Not a preview

Having already attended two works Christmas do's this week, heading out tonight for a mates 40th and with Mrs Chopper's birthday on Sunday, I've not got time to do a proper preview of the weekend's game. In fact thanks to the rearranged kick-off and Mrs C's aforementioned birthday, I'm not even going. Funnily enough I didn't make last years fixture either and seeing as how we won that game (leading to me dancing in the streets of Ryde!) maybe it's a good omen I won't be there.

I do recommend you read Rob's excellent pre-match interview with a Newcastle fan and I'm sure the Craven Cottage Newsround boys will be providing an appropriate build up to the game as well.

Come on you Fulham - we need this one big time.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Trying to make sense of it all

This week I’ve been struggling to make sense of my thoughts about Lawrie Sanchez and his future as Fulham manager. I knew two weeks ago the chances were high that this week would see the pressure for his removal reach a new high. We played two tough back to back away games and as expected lost them both. Before those games I thought there were signs (in performance if not results) that we were improving. However, I now find myself in the build up to Newcastle feeling this is a make or break game. To try and make sense of all this, and think with my head instead of my heart, I thought I’d try to compare the current team with where we were before the arrival of LS.

We've stayed much the same as we were under Coleman. Niemi has looked solid since reclaiming his spot and all Sanchez has really done is shuffle the back-up 'keepers a little. It was sensible to bring in Kasey Keller as a reliable back up, but having survived an early season wobble there’s no serious threat to Niemi’s number one position.

The right back slot has been full of controversy. Chris Baird has taken a lot of flack and has now been usurped by a player from our youth system. Moritz Volz has been ignored when he could have made a difference, and then injured when he could have played. Liam was sold as Sanchez cleared the decks, and whilst I'd have liked him to stay, Sanchez' faith in our younger players has so far paid off. Aaron Hughes has been consistent and a good purchase. Stefanovic is ok but has looked a little of the pace in recent games. I’d rate Christanval as better than both but it’s unclear whether he fits into Sanchez plan or not. Bocanegra has been fairly reliable, and whilst I like Stefanovic's football brain, it could be time for a return to Carlos' athleticism. Left back is the only position in defence where I can see an obvious improvement. Konchesky being a mile better than Queudrue.

The midfield was looking pretty poor during the last days of Coleman. Radzinski and Jensen were sensibly moved on. Bullard remains injured where he has been joined by new signing Lee Cook. Our wings look better with Simon Davies settled in and playing the best football of his Fulham career, and Bouazza much livelier and capable than anyone who has filled that role since Boa left. Other than a 20 minute cameo against Man City Seol has looked poor but it’s in the centre where our biggest problems exist. The sale of Papa Bouba Diop and Michael Brown removed our physical presence. Smertin had looked good in a holding role early on but now seems to have fallen out of favour. Steven Davis has shown signs of promise but not really enough and whilst Danny Murphy has been improving he just isn’t capable of bossing the midfield. We desperately need a ball winner in the middle, an enforcer to do the dirty work.

Our attack was also struggling under Coleman. Helgusson has been moved on and Collins John won't be far behind him. I do regret our decision not to pursue Montella but even if Coleman had remained he would have probably been a luxury we couldn't afford. McBride was looking like being an important player again and has been a massive loss which has only served to highlight Sanchez' failure to find a suitable backup. Kuqi has done a decent job in this role for little outlay but is not a long term solution. Healy has not had the opportunity to really shine and I’d like to see him used more often than he is. Kamara has been very poor indeed though both might benefit from a big centre forward to lead the line.

The results speak for themselves and have been the most disappointing aspect of the season. Our worst ever start to a premiership season and, most damning of all, we've only managed two wins.

I can only really judge performance for the eight games I’ve been to.
v Bolton – We were ok. We did enough and got the win.
v Boro – We started well and looked sharp, but then following the injuries to McBride and Bouazza fell apart and were very poor.
v Spurs – We were poor until the last stunning 20 minutes when we suddenly found an extra gear and were very good.
v City – We were good. I was disappointed at the time but this was a decent performance against good opposition.
v Pompey – Poor, got mugged and caved in.
v Derby – Poor, failed to grab a good opportunity.
v Reading – Despite winning I was not that impressed. We tried very hard and got the result and there were a few signs of an upturn in form.
v Rovers – Rode our luck, but a great effort and for me a better performance than the previous game.

Individually I don’t think we’ve made any great strides in the quality of player in our squad. Possibly the biggest indictment of the Sanchez era is that our best players so far (Niemi, Davies & Dempsey) are all Coleman signings. As are the two injured players we are missing most (McBride & Bullard). Konchesky, despite a recent dip in form, has probably been the best of the new players and Aaron Hughes has looked good as well. As a team we have possibly looked a little more organised and have fought harder in games we've gone on to lose. With so many new players in the side, many of them from the Championship, we are very much like a newly promoted side. Maybe with time and a couple of key signings we could see the team click into shape. The bottom line is we're not winning enough games and we need to change that soon or we'll be adrift at the bottom with no hope of salvation.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The right man for the job?

The last 3 months have seen a fairly high turnover of managers throughout the English leagues. Unlike players, who can be judged on actual performances, assessing how good a manager is can be a more nubilous task. Watching your own players week in week out gives a much clearer view of their style and ability than you can gain for players of other teams who you only see play occasionally. With a manager, whilst you can see certain characteristics in the way his team plays, it’s more difficult to judge exactly how good he is at his job. Most of what he does on a day to day basis is done away from the public view, and so opinions tend to be based on 5 minute post-match interviews or rumours picked up from people "in the know". The bottom line for all managers is that, no matter how good you might be as a coach, you will be judged on results and often won’t get much time to change things if those results are not going well.

What I am trying to get to here is how do you judge when enough is enough and it’s time for a change or when giving a manager more time will yield the right results. It’s clear the best managers around now tend to be the ones who have been in their jobs for longest. A quick look at the League Managers Association website shows the current top 10 to be thus;

I think it’s surprising to see that it’s possible to make the top ten after only 3 seasons but It’s also interesting to note that, with all but a couple of exceptions, the clubs involved are currently in the top half of their respective tables and several of them pushing for promotion or silverware.

Just giving a manager time does not, on its own, mean you’re going to do well. You need to pick the right man for the job in the first place and THAT is the crux of my post. How do you pick the right man? What indications are there to know you’ve found someone who will take the club forward? I think many recent premier league appointments have shown how difficult that is.

Bolton Wanderers are a good example of the quandary. When Sam Allardyce left I think everyone expected them to find life difficult. They choose Allardyce’s assistant Sammy Lee in an attempt to maintain consistency. It didn’t look good from the start, and as Lee tried to introduce a more classic passing style of football to the side, the results were poor and papers were full of reports about fall outs with senior players and disharmony in the squad. When Lee was subsequently sacked Bolton fan’s must have been hoping for a "name" manager to fill the role. Someone with a "proven track record". Instead they got Gary Megson who was instantly derided in the media and not given a particularly warm welcome by the fans. Less than two months in and, following some great results in Europe and at home, Megson’s name is being sung with gusto. Megson does have a track record, but bar two promotions to the Premier League with West Brom he's not looked that impressive. Has he learnt from past mistakes? Should he have been given more time at previous clubs?

Down the bottom of the Premier League Derby, Wigan, Birmingham, Bolton and Spurs have all changed their manager this season. Arguably those five clubs have all seen an upturn in fortune. It's still early days but I reckon the fans of those teams are happier now than they were. That leaves only us, Middlesbrough and Sunderland sticking with the men that began this campaign. I’m sure Roy Keane will see the season out whatever happens to his team (if nothing else keeps him in the job, who would have the guts to sack him?) and Southgate has a very supportive chairman who would not make any changes rashly. Does Sanchez have the support of our board? They certainly backed him in the summer with a decent investment, but are they prepared to stand by their man in the longer term.

Is Sanchez the right man to take us forward or should we fire him now and begin the search again? There are some interesting names out of work right now; Billy Davies, Martin Jol, Martin Allen, Paul Bracewell, Roy Hodgson, Gerrard Houllier, Leroy Rosenior, Terry Butcher, Glenn Hoddle, Joe Royle, Berti Vogts, Marcello Lippi even Jose Mourinho. Probably reading that list there are names that get you excited and others that make you cringe, but I wonder how many we’d all agree on. Being realistic we’re unlikely to see Mourinho or Lippi rolling up at Craven Cottage any time soon but there are some good options should we (or in reality the board) decide it's time for a change. For now Sanchez is still the man but, if he’s going to stay in the job, he needs to get some results very quickly.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Everton 3 Fulham 0 - So much for sneaky feelings

Despite my hint of optimism on Friday that we might sneak something out of this game, it wasn't really surprising that we were comfortably beaten at Goodison again. It's a tough place to go at any time, and right now Everton are a decent side. That doesn't make it any easier to take though. If this team is going to retain it's status winning games your not expected to is pretty much essential. Various reports I read suggest we actually played quite well and had a go which is encouraging. From the brief highlights I saw this morning it looked like we failed to clear our lines properly for the first goal, Junior lost his man for the second, and we'd lost heart by the third. My Dad watched the Sky Football First highlights and thought they'd played as well as he'd seen them all season but didn't know how to score.

It's all quite disappointing but the most important thing is how we react. We're down to 15th (following 'Boro's win over Arsenal) and only 2 points away from the relegation zone. With new managers involved at four of the five clubs below us, it's essential we find a bit of form and start winning games. We've got a good chance to do this with consecutive home games against Newcastle and Wigan. I'm not saying either game will be easy, but if we don't win at least one of them I really fear for our future.

Pre-match an Everton fan site had these choice words to say about us; "Really, what is the point of Fulham at all? It's not even as if they are proper, grindingly dull, like Aston Villa. It's just they are hardly even there. Until they are put out of their misery though, Everton have to face them. Lawrie Sanchez - the Kray brother who couldn't stand the sight of blood and so got his head down and did an electrical engineering course at polytechnic - brings his team of players too good for Watford but not quite up to Reading's standards to Goodison, in danger of dropping into the bottom three should they dip and results elsewhere go against them". Cutting, but right now it's hard to argue against it.

UPDATE: Flippin' heck! Two more results in, Spurs beat Man City 2-1 and Bolton beat Wigan 4-1, and we're now down to 17th and only staying out of the drop zone on goal difference. What a miserable weekend.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Everton v Fulham - Match Preview

The BBC never provide the most accurate of match previews but occasionally there are interesting facts to consider. According to the Beeb "Fulham have made their worst ever start to a Premier League season with just two wins and 13 points from 15 games". Is that really true? It's not been great for sure but is it really that bad? If it is there must be at least another 6 teams who have started just as badly. Everton's not a place you really want to go with that sort of record. I'm sure anyone reading this already knows that "all 12 Premier League fixtures between Everton and Fulham have been won by the club playing at home" and Rich's article on CCN identifies that the last time we even got a point there was in 1959.

So, I'm clearly not expecting a win. In fact, if we got a point it would be a massive result. Everton played in Europe on Wednesday night, which might help. However, it was at home and they won so it probably won't. They've got a good side with a lot of players I like (Cahill & Arteta to name two) and they know how to play to their system. They're solid and reliable at the back, but have a really good mix of midfielder's and player's capable of scoring all over.

According to the Everton official site they've got a fairly full squad to pick from (only Stubbs and Turner the reserve keeper injured, and no suspensions). Based on their last three games I think the likely side will be;

Goal - Howard,
Defence - Neville, Yobo, Lescott, Baines,
Midfield - Arteta, Osman, Carsley, Pienaar, Cahill,
Attack - Yakubu
Subs from; Johnson, Anchibe, Vaughan, Jagielka, Valente & (GK) Wessels.

The Fulham side is unlikely to see many changes. Niemi has been looking very good in goal and the back four seem fairly settled now. The only doubt is over the right back spot and whether Omozusi was brought in specifically for the United game (and the threat of Ronaldo) or has genuinely usurped Chris Baird. In midfield I would expect Davies, Davis & Murphy to retain their spots, with Bouazza likely to edge out Seol or Dempsey on the left wing. Kamara was apparently injured for the United game and if he's unavailable again we've got to find a workable combination between Dempsey, Healy and Kuqi. I'd go with Dempsey & Healy as I think Kuqi is more effective as an impact player. It's going to be a tough game but I have a sneaky feeling we could nick something.

Transfer rumour round-up

I'm a sucker for a bit of transfer rumour mongering and there's been an increase in these recently as we approach the next spending window.

It seems Fulham really want Burnley's lanky Northern Irish centre forward Kyle Lafferty with a price of £3M now being talked about. I can understand the interest in Lafferty, who has already shown he can combine well with Healy, but I am concerned that we're spending too much on a player with no top flight experience. We desperately need a big centre forward, whether McBride is fit to play or not. I'm keen on Nikola Zigic who may be available having struggled to impose himself at Valencia (sorry about the music in the following clip - turn the sound down).

We're also keen (and there's been quite a few rumours to suggest this is a "done deal" already) on West Ham's Bobby Zamora. I like Zamora. He's a hard working forward who gets his share of the goals, but again, with a reported fee of £3-5M, wonder if this is the best use of our transfer fund. Lawrie may be thinking ahead to the African Nations Cup and the loss of Zamora.

Finally, (a Fulham fan site I'd not seen before) suggest that we are interested in both Chris Gunter (Cardiff RB) and Wayne Hennessey (Wolves keeper). Both players are Welsh which makes me wonder if that is what Sanchez REALLY meant by saying "we will probably cast the net wider [this window]". Hennessey has been linked before and it makes sense that we'd be looking at new 'keepers. We've also been linked to Joe Aylon at Port Vale. I've not heard of Chris Gunter before but can't see that signing another ex-Championship right back is going to help us out in that position. looks a little too much like Vital Football to me but might be worth keeping an eye on.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Reserves looking strong with a win over Spurs

A very short post to congratulate the Reserves on another good win. The announcement some time ago that this game was to be played at Craven Cottage had me expecting a return for the prodigal Jimmy Bullard but it was not to be. Jimmy's probably a good couple of weeks away from an actual game. Volzy continued his rehabilitation with another sixty minutes, but the rest of the team (Warner aside) were fairly young and have done well to nick a win in the last few minutes.

Fulham report HERE

Spurs report HERE

UPDATE: Nice report from White Lines HERE

Monday, December 03, 2007

Man Utd 2 Fulham 0 - Match Report

A 2-0 loss in which Man Utd hardly broke a sweat and we never looked capable of creating an upset. We avoided a humiliation which is not a bad thing, yet somehow looked lifeless and impotent going forward.

Sanchez stuck with the 4-4-2 formation, bringing Omozusi in to replace Baird at right back, and Kuqi in for Kamara up front. Kamara failed to even make the bench and the suggestion is that he's picked up an injury, but his absence left our replacement options pretty bleak. United got off to a fearsome start and when Steven Davis failed to clear a Giggs corner, the ball eventually fell to Ronaldo who fired in a blistering volley. Fulham's best spell came in the latter stages of the first half. First Danny Murphy had two decent attempts, the first well saved by Van Der Sar the second inches wide. Then Shefki Kuqi failed to make the most of Simon Davies deep cross.

The game was effectively over early in the second half as O'Shea sent in a cross and Ronaldo comfortably beat Stefanovic to the ball for an easy second goal. Niemi was solid throughout but was lucky to stay on the pitch after left facing Ronaldo in a one on one. He probably escaped thanks to the theatrical nature of Ronaldo's fall, but in my view had clearly obstructed the striker. Ronaldo got a yellow and maybe that's a little bit of karmic payback, we'd have been counting the cost if Niemi had seen red. Niemi made several decent saves after that, including an amazing stop when faced with another one on one with Saha. It looks like Antti is back to his best. Fulham brought on Healy for Dempsey and Seol for Bouazza but neither player could really make much impact on the game.

There are easier places to gain your first away win for 15 months so this was always going to be an unlikely place to triumph. Next stop Goodison, which on past experience may be even trickier...

Man Utd v Fulham - Preview (almost)

My whole day has been out of kilter thanks to the Nursery where my youngest attends having to close. I thought that might mean I'd get a bit of time to knock off a quick preview of tonight's game, but somehow I've achieved very little and have just run out of time. I'm not expecting us to get much out of the trip. One win in 25 or so years at Old Trafford, no sign that Sanchez has been able to fix our travel sickness and United on the back of a 1-0 loss at home to Bolton all points to another fruitless journey for me. I hope we put up a bit of fight, the 5-1 loss at the start of last season really was the first time I began to question Coleman. It would be nice to think we've improved. On a more positive note we've not been thumped at any of the big four so far (Arsenal 1-2, Filth 0-0, Liverpool 0-2) so maybe we can turn in another stoic performance and get something out of the game. In the meantime, seeing as a picture is worth a thousand words ...