Monday, December 29, 2008

We are top of the (London) league!

Brilliant article from Rich at the Times here who also points out that we're the unofficial best team in London. I might start tracking this although it could well be downhill from now on. In similarly trivial fashion we're also still the "Unofficial World Club Champions".

He scores with his left, he scores with his ... head - Fulham 2 Chelsea 2

That boy Clint Dempsey produced two moments of magic to help snatch a point that felt more like a victory. Despite Chris Baird's impressive performance at Spurs it was a relief to see Brede Hangeland striding out at the start of this game. Jimmy Bullard, although involved in the pre-match warm-up, wasn't fit enough to play and his place was filled by the imposing physical presence of Dickson Etuhu.

The opening exchanges were a little ragged as we struggled to get our passing game under control and Chelsea were in the ascendancy by the time Clint popped up to put us ahead on ten minutes. Simon Davies curling in a free kick which evaded everyone bounced in the six yard box and was flicked home by an alert Clint Dempsey with the outside of his left boot. That goal only spurred Chelsea into action and we survived a catalogue of near misses as they searched for an equalizer. Drogba dragged a shot inches wide of the post when it seemed certain he'd score. Anelka (on for the injured Malouda) fired a blistering shot straight at Schwarzer who somehow managed to punch it clear. Lampard had a (deflected) shot from distance tipped over the bar by the big Aussie. It was pretty much one way traffic. Chelsea were forced into another change as centre-back Alex hobbled off to be replaced by Carvalho (hardly weakening the side but maybe slightly reducing their aerial prowess).

A moment of humour was provided by a couple of Deco corners directly in front of the Hammy End. Andy Johnson took up his usual (seemingly pointless) position 10 yards from the corner. Deco sent his first attempt straight into AJ's stomach. A second corner was eventually won only for Deco to smash his second attempt into AJ's head.

We made it to the half time break with our lead still intact but within 5 minutes of the restart were back on level terms. Having survived so many decent efforts on our goal it was disappointing to concede in such a sloppy fashion. A ball was whipped high into the box towards the ever dangerous head of Didier Drogba, Schwarzer and Hughes collided as all three players stretched for the cross, and Frank Lampard was lurking to tap home into the open net. It was all Chelsea now and for the first time at home this season we were genuinely outplayed. We continued to try and do the things we normally do but found it desperately hard to get hold of the ball. When Chelsea had the ball they moved it quickly and efficiently and had us chasing shadows, when we had it they closed us down smartly and limited our passing options. Etuhu grew into the game, standing off players too much early on but gradually growing in confidence. Murphy, despite his lack of possession, had that sense of calmness when he did get the ball that made a big difference.

We were being battered and when the Chelsea got their second goal it seemed the game was beyond us. Coming from a free-kick just outside the penalty area, Lampard sent a decent but not unstoppable drive straight into the net. It bounced and ricocheted on it's way through our wall and yet somehow eluded the outstretched hand of Mark Schwarzer. Lampard, who'd been booed throughout by a loud and passionate home crowd, ran towards the away fans pounding his chest and kissing his badge. There was no surrender though we were now being forced into hoofs up the pitch as the Blues piled the pressure on. With about ten minutes to play Hodgson made a double substitution bringing on Nevland for Zamora and Andreasen for Etuhu. Both players, whilst not directly involved in the final coup d'etat, made a significant difference to the game bringing fresh legs and enthusiasm to the team just when we needed it. Simon Davies also played a big part in swinging the impetus back in our favour and it was his corner that curled majestically over the penalty area to find a spring heeled Dempsey at the far post who headed home from a difficult angle. Dempsey charged towards the home end, shirt swinging above his head as the Cottage crowd went into meltdown. Chris Baird replaced Danny Murphy as we survived the tense final minutes of added time.

The celebrations as the whistle blew showed how much this point meant to us all (fans and players). It really felt like we'd won the game. It's been a great Christmas and a wonderful year, roll on 2009.

Fulham: Schwarzer, Pantsil, Hangeland, Hughes, Konchesky, Davies, Etuhu (Andreasen 78), Murphy (Baird 90), Dempsey, Johnson, Zamora (Nevland 78).
Subs Not Used: Zuberbuhler, Gray, Stoor, Kallio.

Goals: Dempsey 10, 89 Booked: Dempsey

Chelsea: Cech, Bosingwa, Ivanovic, Alex (Carvalho 37), Ashley Cole, Deco, Mikel, Lampard, Joe Cole (Kalou 72), Drogba, Malouda (Anelka 30). Subs Not Used: Cudicini, Ballack, Ferreira, Belletti.

Goals: Lampard 50, 72 Booked: Drogba, Bosingwa

Att: 25,462

Ref: Andre Marriner (W Midlands)

League Position: 9th

Friday, December 26, 2008

Tottenham Hotspur 0 Fulham 0

A fourth consecutive goalless draw away from home made all the more impressive by the absence of Hangeland (due to flu) and the loss of Jimmy Bullard (dead leg) after just 37 minutes. Baird filled in superbly for the big Norwegian whilst Dickson Etuhu replaced Bullard. Spurs seem to have most of the game but Dempsey (with a spectacular overhead attempt) and Johnson (unable to find a way past Gomes neat the close) spurn decent chances to snatch the points.

Coincidentally we've also been Last on Match of the Day four times in a row.

Tottenham: Gomes, Corluka, Dawson, King, Assou-Ekotto, Lennon, Zokora, Huddlestone (Jenas 20), Bentley (Campbell 58), Modric, Bent (Pavlyuchenko 72). Subs Not Used: Cesar, Bale, O'Hara, Woodgate.

Fulham: Schwarzer, Pantsil, Baird, Hughes, Konchesky, Dempsey, Murphy, Bullard (Etuhu 37), Davies (Nevland 90), Johnson, Zamora. Subs Not Used: Zuberbuhler, Gray, Stoor, Andreasen, Kallio.

Booked: Konchesky

Att: 35,866

Ref: Peter Walton (Northamptonshire)

League Position: 8th

Monday, December 22, 2008

The numbers game - Fulham 3 Middlesbrough 0

Biggest win of the season so far and we're sitting nicely in 8th position, seven points off 5th yet six points clear of the relegation zone. We're unbeaten in seven and have only lost once in eleven.We've got the best home record in the division (albeit Man United's might have been better had they not been off on a mid-season jolly to Japan) and the fourth best defence. Things are good.

I didn't make it to this game due to the traditional pre-Christmas lurgy taking down the rest of chez Chopper and meaning I had to stay and mop various fevered brows. Just to make it worse I spent most of the afternoon at a 5 year old's party trying to convince my youngest (and second most healthy of the household) that he really did want to go and play with his friends. I'd spent quite a bit of the morning in man-to-man chats with George to make sure he was keen to go to said party and that he understood I'd just be dropping him off. Daddy's not going to stay OK? Yep. You definitely want to go? Yep. Great. Yet we pull up to the school and I already know things aren't going to go to plan. Are you going to go and play? Nope. Don't you just want to go and say hello? Nope. So I end up staying and after about 10 minutes of complete failure on my part to convince him he should join in a small miracle happens as his best friend finally manages to get him to start playing. It's too late for me now, I know I'm stuck here until the bitter end, but somehow after giving in to the inevitable I actually have a good afternoon as well. Talk to a few Mum's and Dad's I know, have a surprisingly decent cup of tea provided and enjoy watching my little terror run around and have fun. If I'm honest I've only got myself to blame, at the same age I doubt I'd even have left the safety of my Dad's leg, it's in the genes!

We got home about half past four and I managed to pull up a stream of the game (oh how I love the marvels of the Internet at times like this) and watched the last 15 minutes with a smile on my face and the contentment of knowing I'd done the right thing.

For those that like reports try the following fine establishments

Craven Cottage Newsround - Fulham 3 Middlesbrough 0 - As easy as 1, 2, 3 - Middlesbrough Player Ratings

And the view from our opponents here.

Boro Mania - Weak Boro easily beaten by Fulham

Have a very fine Christmas and I'll be back with news of our London double header after the break.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Dull-lilah - Stoke City 0 Fulham 0

The brightest thing about this game were Fulham's new Yellow away shirts. It was a familiar story the Whites managing lots of possession but unable to find that spark of ingenuity or quality finish to claim a goal.

I managed to catch the second half thanks to the wonder of the Internet. First half talking points had been a possible (but not cast iron) penalty claim after Andy Johnson took a tumble in the box. That was swiftly followed by a much stronger shout following a blatant handball as a Stoke defender tried to reach a cross from our right flank. Stoke lost centre forward Sidibe to an early injury and were also unable to fully utilise the threat of the Delap long throw thanks to an arm injury. Who would have though an arm could ever be an impediment to an outfield player's effectiveness.

The second 45 got off to a feisty start after a clumsy challenge from Ricardo Fuller on John Paintsil led to the players squaring up. Fuller pushed his head into Paintsil who did himself no favours by exaggerating the impact and earned the wrath of the Stoke fans for the remainder of the game. Despite this Paintsil played well down the right wing, linking up with a refreshed and newly positioned Gera whilst Simon Davies continued to suffer the consequences of being versatile on the left wing. Oddly our best chance of the half came was created by a moment of class from Gera on the left side. Davies took a quick throw in to Gera who had tracked over from the far side to find a bit of space. Gera looked certain to cross but then played a delightful ball into the path of Andy Johnson. AJ sprinted into the box before cutting the ball back to Dempsey who saw his shot pushed wide for a corner.

Chances were few and far between for either side. Hangeland looked his normal imperious self, soaking up everything Stoke threw at us. A ball from midfield gave AJ something to chase but his shot was well blocked. Ricardo Fuller went down in the box as Danny Murphy shepherded him away from goal. A moment of concern, but the ref waved play on, Fuller went down easily and had probably marked his card after the earlier spat with Paintsil but I've seen them given. Then another heart stopper as Fuller found space on the left and played a ball across the six yard box where Cresswell was waiting. Thankfully the ball again ricocheted away to safety. The final chance of the game fell to Dempsey who saw his shot to the top right hand corner drift harmlessly wide of the post. Soon after the game drifted equally harmlessly to a close. Another point away from home, another clean sheet, six games unbeaten and our first point claimed so far from promoted opposition. Some positives to take but this was a dull game and another missed opportunity.

The late review - Fulham 1 Manchester City 1

An early start on a cold and sunny December morning and I felt I ought to be taking a leisurely walk by the river before popping into a pub with a roaring fire instead of watching a football game. Based on the opening few minutes it seems the players might have felt the same.

Five minutes in and we paid the price for not being fully switched on as a cross from the impressive Pablo Zabaleta found Benjani at the far post who rose between Aaron Hughes and John Paintsil to head home unimpeded. To Fulham's credit no one panicked. We stuck to the passing game plan. It took a bit of time, but gradually, pass by pass, we found our rhythm and took control of the game. AJ chased onto a through ball from Paintsil but was beaten to it by an advancing Joe Hart. Later AJ almost nicked past City centre back Richard Dunne but the ball caught Dunne's hand and the defender was extremely lucky to get away without conceding a penalty. We were very much in the ascendancy now and shortly afterwards claimed a deserved equaliser. Zamora played a neat reverse pass down the wing to find Bullard in space on the right. Jimmy cut inside to the penalty area and, just as it looked like he'd send a pass across the six yard box, he lashed home a screamer into the far side of the City net. A spectacular finish that I suspect 8 times out of 10 would have ended up by the corner flag, but a great goal none the less and Jimmy's first of the season.

It all seemed set for an exciting 2nd half but that failed to transpire. Hughes and Hangeland remained efficient at the back, Murphy did what he does, controlling our movement very well, Bullard took and missed a couple of freekicks, AJ looked dangerous and Zamora put in another man of the match performance with great control and interplay. We dominated the possession but couldn't find that spark of magic to find a way through. As the game drew to a close the crowd were flat and so were the players. A game crying out for an injection of something different from the bench, 15 minutes of Gera maybe or a short burst from Andreasen, but no, Roy decided to stick with what we had. It felt like an opportunity missed, a game we could have won if we'd just put that extra bit of effort in. Instead we extend our unbeaten run to five games and travel to Stoke looking for that elusive first away win of the season. Not brilliant but not that bad either. Let's hope that doesn't end up being the epitaph for our season as we've seen that at our best we can be so much more.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Just like watching Brazil - Shirt Lookalike

I'll be back later in the week with a match report for the City game but in the meantime this caught my eye. An interesting article on the BBC website about the current state of Brazilian league football accompanied by a picture of Sao Paulo's striker Borges in a shirt that suggests our sponsors LG have a penchant for teams that play in White, Black & Red. I think I've just found my Brazilian team!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The new Finland? - Aston Villa 0 Fulham 0

Another fantastic point away from home. It's difficult to claim an informed opinion from Match of the Day highlights, but it seemed we weren't at our best yet stuck to our guns and made it difficult for Villa to break us down. Villa created plenty of very good goalscoring opportunities but the loss of John Carew (who was injured and left Villa playing Agbonglahor up front on his own with Barry and Sidwell supporting him from midfield) and some decent saves from Mark Schwarzer ensured they were unable to take them. Clint Dempsey struck both of our best attempts. The first, a looping shot as he was tackled by Ashley Young, stretched Brad Friedal making his 167th consecutive league appearance. The second, a powerful shot straight at the Villa 'keeper, was comfortably stopped.

There's a part of me that feels we're unlikely to keep this run going. Possibly a natural reaction for every Fulham fan. Selfishly I'd have settled for losing at Villa Park to increase our chances of winning at home to Man City next week. That said you can't knock another away point and we go into next weekend full of confidence. Four games unbeaten and eighth in the league is all very pleasing but, as someone pointed out on TiFF yesterday, we're four points off 4th and four points off 18th. It's going to be a long a season and we shouldn't go taking anything for granted. That aside, we're doing incredibly well and should also try and enjoy it while we can.

I'd meant to link to an old post on CCN in which Rich first discussed Roy's achievments with Finland being largely based on not conceding goals. I forgot before my initial post and now can't find it anyway.

We've drawn Sheffield Wednesday away in the 3rd round of the F.A. Cup. Nice to get a team we've not played for a while but at the same time I can't shake the feeling we'll be lucky to progress. Still, a trip up North in early January is quite tempting, wonder if I can convince Mrs C to let me go?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Memories of '83

This is worth a read. The excellent TwoHundredPercent has an interesting article about Fulham's near miss in the 1982/83 season. Whilst with hindsight I suspect the conclusion is probably true I still carry some righteous anger about what happened at the Baseball Ground. That was a miserable drive home, the faint hope that maybe the FA would step in and give us another chance, the anger at the victory for mob rule and general nastiness directed at us from Derby supporters, and the gut instinct that we'd blown it and might never get the chance to reach those heights again. Makes our current status all the more enjoyable.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Hard to beat - Liverpool 0 Fulham 0

With two home wins under our belt, losing at Anfield would have been neither unexpected nor all that concerning. To go and snatch a point, against a Liverpool side that looks more capable of winning the league title than any they have fielded since the dawn of the Premiership, was really quite remarkable.

Match reports and post game analysis on Craven Cottage Newsround here and here and at here and here.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Performance & Cocktails - Fulham 2 Spurs 1

Simply thrilling. Fulham's best performance of the season so far and a joy to watch. Pre-match we'd discovered the cocktail bar in the Duke's Head. A retro styled oasis tucked away within the the lower levels of the riverside pub. We were, therefore, in good spirits when we arrived at the ground.

Fulham started well. The same style of play we're now used to under Roy but at a faster pace and with more accurate passing. For the first 20 or so minutes we seemed to be dominating. Dempsey, who had replaced Gera but was playing on the right wing (Simon Davies switching to the left), looked on top form and an audacious bit of skill, cutting the ball back inside his own legs, left two defenders out of position and allowed him to fire in an excellent shot with his left which Gomes did well to tip onto the crossbar. As the half hour approached though Spurs seemed to be getting back into it. David Bentley received a cross field pass from Modric and fired a shot centimetres wide of Schwarzer's right hand post. Then Darren Bent found a bit of space but could only toe-poke his shot into Schwarzer's arms. I began to worry that we might regret not scoring early when we had been so dominant. That all changed from the unlikeliest of opportunities.

Simon Davies cut in from the left wing to send a looping cross towards the penalty area with his favoured right foot. Not a spectacular ball and one which neither AJ nor Zamora were likely to win, however as it dropped, seemingly destined for Heurelho Gomes' arms, it took a slight deflection off Woodgates head which Gomes failed to react to. The Spurs 'keeper looked shell shocked as the ball bounced off his hands and into the back of the net. A shocker. The Fulham faithful were in full voice and making the most of their new "hero". On the pitch the goal led to renewed vigour and again the game swung back in our favour. Johnson's pace was causing all sorts of problems to the Spurs back four and he was combining well with strike partner Zamora.

Jimmy Bullard was having his best game since the Arsenal match that had resulted in his England call-up. His dead balls have been disappointing of late but, following a foul for a push on Dempsey, he took a rocket of a free kick that seemed destined for the bottom corner of the net but was well saved by the under pressure Gomes. Murphy continued to pull all the strings in midfield and with Simon Davies also back to his old self (despite playing left wing) our midfield looked impressive throughout. I was particularly pleased to see Dempsey finally get a deserved start and have no doubt he's done enough to retain his position.

The game was a real end to end thriller now. Spurs had switched to 4-4-2 at the break with Lennon and Pavyluchenko replacing Modric and Huddlestone. Lennon in particular was causing problems with his pace down our left flank. With the game delicately poised it seemed certain the next goal was going to be crucial. Thankfully it came our way. A Konchesky corner aimed to the far post saw Simon Davies rise above Gareth Bale to head goalwards. The ball was partially cleared but only as far as Davies' head again. This time he did enough to nod it into the danger area, where Andy Johnson reacted quickest to lash home from 2 yards. 2-0 Fulham and we were in ecstasy. In fact we celebrated so much that my friend Gibbo's phone took a trip over the barrier at the side of the Hammy End, to nestle safely, but completely out of reach, on the concrete ledge that runs down the side of where we sit.

It was nail biting time after that. Spurs pushed forward with greater intent and for a while we were on the back foot. Hangeland was immense during this period, seemingly winning every thing Spurs threw at us. Hughes, who'd also had a great game, was equally busy. Inevitably Spurs did score, Frazier Campbell firing home from the edge of the box to make the final ten minutes even more tense. Bobby Zamora, who had worked incredibly hard all game, almost restored our two goal advantage straight away. A high ball was nodded towards his own 'keeper by Ledley King, but it was Zamora who was closer and, with Gomes hopelessly out of position, he was unlucky not to find the target. Gera replaced Dempsey, Andreasen replaced Bullard, both departing players receiving rapturous applause. Zamora had one last moment of magic collecting the ball deep in the Spurs half, he held the ball up faked a step over once, then did it again, then a third time before playing the ball neatly back to another midfielder. The home end lapped it up.

A glorious game and a terrific result. As the full house cheered off our heroes, and John Paintsil went on another lap of honour, Gibbo did a bunk over the railings to retrieve his lost phone (still in one piece and in full working order). Nothing was ever going to spoil a day like this.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Dream Academy

A vibrant youth system producing a stream of home grown footballers good enough to make it into the first team. It’s the dream of every club from the top half of the Premier League to the lower reaches of the Conference, yet very few English teams have found a way of achieving it. Outside the top four in the Premier League there’s possibly only Manchester City, Southampton, West Ham United (historically at least) and, thanks to the magic of Dario Gradi, Crewe Alexandra with the consistent ability to produce good young players. There might be others doing well but the point is there’s not many. It’s not easy to get right especially when most of the focus is on first team results.

I think Roy Hodgson touched on this at one of the recent meet the manager forums. Modern managers don’t have time to look at the youth or academy set up. The need for getting positive results, and getting them in a relatively short time span, means they have to think about the here and now. They can’t worry about picking up players who might be good in five years time, when they might (in fact probably will) be out of the job by then.

Juande Ramos has already been a high profile casualty of the need for instant success. I read this article recently that suggests Sevilla fans were not surprised he’d failed to achieve the success he had seen in Spain. He was not considered a great coach but was able to benefit from the excellent structure Sevilla have in place, under the guidance of long standing Sporting Director Ramon Rodriguez Verdejo. Sevilla’s success (and it’s interesting to note that they seem to be having a decent season so far) is based as much on their excellent scouting system as their youth team but both are aspects of the club that can be developed independently of the first team manager.

So it seems, if Fulham want to survive at the top level and be successful in the longer term, we need a youth and scouting structure that can operate irrespective of the current incumbent of the manager’s post. At the start of the season Fulham filled the vacancy created by the departure of David McNally to Arsenal by bringing in Alistair MacKintosh as CEO. MacKintosh had recently left a similar post at Man City following his opposition to the sacking of Sven Goran Ericksson. A man of principle maybe? A man also with some input to the very successful youth scheme being run at City. A few weeks back we also filled the vacancy for Academy Director by bringing in Huw Jennings from Southampton. The role had previously been temporarily filled by Gary Brazil (coach for the under-18 squad) and Lee Hagger (Head of Education & Welfare). Brazil and Hagger were supposedly doing an excellent job but the arrival of Jennings allows them to concentrate on their primary roles. Jennings has been at Southampton for some time where he was a significant influence on the structure that has seen so many former Saints players (Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale and a certain Chris Baird) break into the top levels of the game.

There have been many false dawns, I’ve certainly thought we were getting things right before, but hopefully this time we really can put together an organisation that will stand us in good stead further down the line. I’d like nothing more than to see a team which features a decent proportion of home grown players. Maybe that’s just a pipe dream - we can but try.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mickey Mouse Refs

A very short post to suggest you point your browsers in the direction Mike Whalley's excellent World of Sport blog, to read this article about Joe Kinnear's rant at the Ref following Newcastle's defeat at the Cottage last Sunday and the general state of the "Respect" campaign. It pretty well sums up my own opinions on the topic and saves me the effort of writing one for myself!

Also, while I'm randomly linking, there's another new post from White Lines here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Rules for modern living - Fulham 2 Newcastle United 1

Late kick-offs on a Sunday afternoon are rubbish. One more reason to hate Sky’s influence on the English game. Part of my argument to convince Mrs Chopper that parting with £330 is a worthwhile expense includes the suggestion that I won’t actually go to EVERY game and will therefore be “flexible” when required to do jobs at home or take the boys to some event or party. Of course we both know that I don’t ACTUALLY mean this and I will, when it comes down to it, try quite hard to make sure I do go to EVERY game and maybe a couple of away ones as well. That said one of our unwritten rules is that I won’t go to late kick-offs on a Sunday. Sunday’s are pretty busy in the Chopper household, sporting activities to take the boys to, washing, ironing and tidying to get done, a roast to cook, kid’s homework to finish off (under duress) and generally a lot of activity to get everything ready for the week ahead. So, nipping out for 4 or 5 hours to watch the football late in the day is often something I have to forego … unless it’s Chelsea … or Arsenal … or, well you get the idea. This might be a good point for me to mention that Newcastle United didn’t make the cut, if you’ve wandered this way in search of a concise yet interesting match report you’ve come to the wrong place. In fact if that IS what you’re looking for, try HERE.

So that was just a rather long winded way of saying that I didn’t actually go to the game. Somehow I always seem to miss the visit of the Toon. Last year it was a 5:30 kick-off on a Saturday, it was cold and late and I didn’t fancy it. We lost 1-0 and Sanchez got the sack shortly after. The year before, with Coleman still at the helm, we won 2-1 but I was on the Isle of Wight to celebrate a pal’s birthday. In fact the last time I saw Newcastle we won 1-0 thanks to a goal from Malbranque and a battling performance from Ian Pearce against Alan Shearer’s elbows. I’m more than happy missing a game though if it ends up with us getting the three points. With a resurgent Spurs due at the Cottage this Saturday, I was concerned we’d take nothing from back to back home games. Instead we’ve already banked three vital points, ridiculously find ourselves in tenth position and can head into the weekend full of confidence.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

No surprises - Everton 1 Fulham 0

My expectations proved pretty accurate. Fulham lost, my youngest had a fab day and me and Mrs Chopper were knackered by the end of it. I did manage to stay awake long enough to see the highlights but fell asleep on the sofa shortly afterwards. Fulham clearly had some chances and the late goal (Saha's first for Everton, inevitably) and narrow margin suggests we gave as good an account of ourselves as we've managed so far in the Prem.

Another considered and balanced match report from CCN here.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Never in my sweet short life have I felt like this before

An away trip to Goodison, broadcast live on Sky and with an early kick-off. These are all factors that point to a nil return on the points front. My expectations are low so whatever the result I won't be disappointed.

It's my youngest's birthday today. He's 5. Could be a long day for me one way or another. I suspect he might be up quite early (despite another night of not going to sleep when he's told!). There's a swimming lesson at 9:30 and the frightening prospect that he'll be opening his presents BEFORE he goes. A party for some 18 kids around tea time and the likelihood that if we do manage to get the boys off to sleep at a reasonable hour I'll be asleep on the sofa before Fulham make an appearance on Match of the Day.

In the meantime, if you're looking for something to do with your Saturday morning, SMfifteen provides an eloquent and accurate assessment of how things stand at White Lines. Well worth I read I think.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Something to build on - Fulham 2 Wigan 0

As Andy Johnson was poking home his first goal for Fulham and his 100th in the league I was somewhere along the Lower Richmond Road. A later departure than intended and unexpectedly dreadful traffic meant I missed most of the first half. That didn’t stop me and my passenger Gibbo, longstanding pal and Fulham compatriot, celebrating as though we were there. We didn’t care that we’d missed the goal and were just pleased we’d taken an early lead.

By the time we got to our seats Fulham’s initial good play had somewhat dissipated and Wigan were in the ascendancy. Just before half time Zaki made use of the space out wide, evaded Paintsil and fired in a great cross which was too high for Schwarzer and found Paul Scharner unmarked at the far post. The Austrian saw his header fly just over the crossbar, it was a big let off for the Whites.

The second half saw Fulham have a very early chance to increase the lead. Zamora did well out wide on right, evaded a Wigan defender and sent a dangerous ball across the six yard box. This eventually fell to Gera who was unlucky to see his shot come back of the post before eventually being cleared. Bullard seemed to having another game where things just weren’t quite working for him. However, on the hour mark, Jimmy saw Andy Johnson make a smart run and took a swift free kick to set the striker clear in the box. Johnson, showing a goal scorer’s instinct, turned sharply towards goal and fired home from an acute angle. Two goals to the good and life became a little easier. Wigan were now forced to attack with more intent (bringing on Jason Koumas, who has played well against us on more than one occasion in the past, for a defender) and Fulham looked more confident on the ball and benefited from the additional space they were given up front.

Clint Dempsey arrived to a good reception when he replaced Gera on the left. Andy Johnson had a great chance for a hatrick when Bobby Zamora sent him through with just Kirkland to beat. His touch let him down and Kirkland came off worst as the striker stretched a desperate toe out to reach the ball. AJ made a good job of his apologies and got away without a card. Chris Baird must be doing the right things to impress Hodgson, coming on for Bullard to play a defensive midfield role and see out the final ten minutes. With the clock ticking down AJ was taken off to receive a standing ovation and was replaced by the ever popular Eric Nevland. Dempsey had our last chance to make it three, showing neat touch to create an opportunity but sending his curling shot just wide of the post.

An important win then, one I wasn’t confident of before the game. We didn’t really play any better than we had against Sunderland or Portsmouth but we took our chances and grew in confidence as the game went on. Johnson took all the headlines but it was Danny Murphy’s performance that stood out for me. Working hard throughout and orchestrating not just our forward play but our defensive work as well.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Time to rest Bullard? - Portsmouth 1 Fulham 1

For the second game in a row we’ve claimed a point when we’ve maybe not completely deserved to. That could be an encouraging sign that we’ve become difficult to beat, or a worrying sign that we’ve been poor but lucky. I don’t suppose we’ll really know the answer to that for a few more weeks, maybe not until the end of the season.

Hopes were raised prior to the game with the breaking news of Harry Redknapp’s departure from the Pompey hot seat to take on the poisoned chalice at Spurs. Surely if ever a club and a manager deserved each other it’s these two. It's impossible to tell how these sort of things can affect a team. They'd played poorly in Europe on Thursday, and I was hoping we could nick a point even before the management change was announced. In the end it probably all evened out.

My view of the game was limited to brief highlights on Match of the Day 2. It looked like we started brightly but were under the cosh for much of the game before a late revival. The goal conceded came after Jimmy Bullard attempted to dribble through the centre of the Pompey midfield. He ran straight into trouble, was easily dispossessed and remained sitting on the floor as the Blues counter attacked swiftly and scored. Not good. A quick ball had been played through to leave Defoe and Crouch in a face off with Hangeland and Hughes. Defoe dragged Hangeland right before playing a neat ball across the penalty area for Crouch to fire home. Hughes was helpless to react.

Hodgson reacted by first bringing on Dempsey for Gera (who had been playing on the right wing), then gambling on a three man defence by bringing Nevland on for Painstil. It was an uncharacteristic change in system but it paid off. A through ball was nodded down by Nevland (playing wide right) to Andy Johnson, AJ made a quick return pass for Nevland to chase. The Dane Norwegian then fired a perfect cross into the six yard box where Clint, timing his arrival perfectly and completely unmarked, was ready to slot home with a lovely half volley. Nice crisp passing and great movement off the ball, this is exactly what Hodgson wants them to do.

An important first away point and possibly signs that Roy is thinking about changes to the starting line-up. Since I waxed lyrical about Bullard’s chances in the England set-up he’s not been able to put a foot (or a pass) right. Reports suggest he had another poor game and was certainly at fault for the goal we conceded. Time to give him a break I think, even if just for one game, with Wigan on Wednesday night followed by Everton at the weekend, we need to use the squad. Dempsey seems the most likely candidate to fill the gap. I think he usually plays best when he's central, and his reaction to his goal on Sunday indicated a man ready to show his true worth.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Not very good - Fulham 0 Sunderland 0

A dreadful match. One of the worst games I've seen in recent memory. On the day the marvellous statue of Johnny Haynes was finally unveiled, you'd have been hard pressed to find a less fitting game to pay tribute to the Maestro. Crikey, I enjoyed losing to West Ham more than this snooze-fest. The fact that we could feel some relief in claiming a point from the game and the visiting team could justifiably claim they should have taken all three shows how really shocking we were.

During a shockingly poor first half both teams seemed to be struggling to find any spark. The only talking point that still lingers in my memory was a Sunderland freekick a few minutes before the break. Two Fulham players (Hughes & Hangeland?) combined to make what had appeared to be a good tackle, but the referee saw things differently (possibly feeling that two against one was not quite cricket) and awarded the kick in a dangerous position on the edge of the D. Kieran Richardson, who was lively throughout, sent a shot screaming towards Schwarzer's left hand side where it rebounded off the post, over Schwarzer's head, and seemed to nestle in the net on the other side. Except it didn't, it bounced of the right hand post too before eventually settling in Schwarzer's grateful hands (having possibly - if BBC reports are true - hit the left hand post yet again). This all happened almost too fast for my brain and eyes to keep up. Just to add to the humour, as the freekick was struck most of the 4000 strong Black Cat's support, were otherwise engaged chanting at a group of Fulham supporters on the riverside who had clearly done something to upset them. This meant most of them didn't even see the ball hit the first post. As they began to celebrate en-masse, the Fulham end had suddenly realised it hadn't gone in and were able to have a bit of a chuckle at the Wearsiders expense.

The second half began much as the first had ended. Fulham passing the ball neatly but aimlessly, Sunderland defending well and catching us on the break whenever they could. The few chances that were created seemed fall mainly Sunderland's way. Dean Whitehead sent a fierce drive just wide of the Fulham post and Kieran Richardson sent a lob over a scrambling defence only to see the ever reliable Aaron Hughes arrive to save blushes by clearing off the line. Then Kieran Richardson lined up to take another freekick, again on the edge of the penalty area, though slightly further out than his first half attempt. A bit of pushing and shoving between Pascal Chimbonda and the Fulham wall caused the Ref to step in and have a few words. Richardson then sent a rocket of a shot flying past a very static Schwarzer, for what seemed to be the goal to finally break the deadlock. But wait, no, the goal was disallowed, apparently because Chimbonda was backing into the wall. This sort of thing rarely goes our way and I was beginning to wonder whether we were going to use our entire season's luck up on one game.

This did at least finally fire Fulham into some sort of response. We started to attack with more purpose and created a few half-chances to give the home fans a glimmer of hope that we might find a goal to win a game we scarcely deserved too. Dempsey came on for an inconsistent Gera, but then made his first pass an overambitious cross field effort that gave it's intended recipient little chance of reaching. David Healy made his first return to the Cottage (receiving a generous round of applause, which I felt must have rubbed the salt into the wounds of poor Steed Malbranque who had been booed at almost every touch of the ball he made) and it seemed inevitable that he'd pop up to score a late winner. Thankfully this didn't happen, but he did get his head to a ball that fell to Djibril Cisse who smacked a stunning half volley over Schwarzer and almost cracked the cross bar in two (I'm beginning to suspect we might have signed up the goal posts from Reading after their impressive performance against us at the Madjeski last season). The final word in the game fell to Jimmy Bullard, who took a well placed free kick in the dying minutes for what was clearly our last chance to win the game. With a certain inevitability he smacked his effort straight into the middle of the Sunderland wall. This seemed to sum up our day and it wasn't long afterwards that the Ref took pity on us all and blew the final whistle.

There were very few positives to find although we did at least put an end to our four game losing streak. We also managed to pick up a point in a fixture that we'd lost last season. Aaron Hughes worked very hard at the back as did his partner in defence Brede Hangeland. John Paintsil had a shocker, not just defensively, where he was run ragged by a vibrant Richardson, but also going forward where he didn't seem to have complete control over his own feet. I guess we always knew he'd be this type of player, but I've been worried about his performances for a few weeks now. A lot of work to be done on the training field it seems, maybe a full week together will restore that spark to the side we've not really seen since Bolton.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Back to the Cottage

With the International shenanigans finally out the way (for a few weeks at least) we can get back to fretting about the state of our League campaign. It seems a long time since the disastrous 5 minutes against West Ham and, following the loss at the Hawthorns, we find ourselves fourth from bottom with both Newcastle and Spurs below us. Precarious to say the least. My sense of optimism is hardly helped by our impending visitors. Last April the home game against Sunderland seemed to be a must win game. It was a game we ended up losing with very little fight and was the point at which I finally put my hands up and accepted relegation. The benefit of hindsight eh?

My expectations for this weekend are pretty low. Our current form doesn’t suggest a team capable of improving on last season’s effort and it seems to me that Sunderland have made some very good additions to their squad. They won on their last visit to London (a 2-1 win at Spurs, but who doesn’t win there this season) and put in a very creditable performance against Arsenal (a 1-1 draw) in their last home game. I’m not confident. We need some big improvements to pick up a much needed win.

Before the game there will be the excitement of the
Johnny Haynes Statue unveiling. Tosh Chamberlain and Johnny’s wife Avril will be in attendance for what will, no doubt, be an emotional occasion. Fans are invited to gather in front of the Cottage from 12:00 onwards for a 12:45 ceremony. Much credit for all this should go to the Johnny Haynes Statue Action Group who have put in a lot of work to make sure it has happened.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Stand by your man-ager

Sometimes it's not individual games that highlight a problem but a cumulative effect over a number of matches. The 1-0 loss at West Brom was individually no worse than losing at Hull on the opening day or losing to West Ham last week. But coming, as it did, on the back of three straight league defeats (and four in total) it became a more significant event. The Blackburn game could be explained by a little bit of misfortune in the last few minutes, the West Ham game by a five minute period of chaos. Add them all together though and they start to point towards a more serious problem. We've had a healthy share of possession in these games and can even claim to have been a bit "unlucky" at times but we're not claiming points.

Despite this I'm happy to trust that Roy is doing the right things and these will eventually lead to the team getting it right on the pitch. I'm possibly helped in this by an acceptance that being relegated from the Premier League wouldn't cause me any serious anguish. I'd resigned myself to our fate last season, before the miracle of Kamara turned things around, and it seems to have stuck with me this season. Supporting Fulham has never been about chasing success or winning trophies for me. I'd love us to do well, I want us to make a bigger effort in the cup, but dropping down a division no longer holds any dread. We'd just get the chance to have another go, begin a different stage of the Fulham F.C. adventure. There are some problems with the side, I doubt there'll ever be a time when there aren't, but I'm content in the knowledge that Roy can see them as clearly as I can and will be working out what he can do about rectifying them. We've got a couple of weeks off until the next league game, and unusually I think this might help us out a little. It gives Roy a chance to assess his options and see what changes he can make to re-focus the team.

I want to see Fulham move away from the cycle of hiring and firing managers at regular intervals. I think I've talked about this before but in general successful teams have managers that have been with their clubs for a long time. Every club wants to find their Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger and I think Roy could be that man for us - I don't think we're realistically going to find much better - and I'm going to stand by him until the end (bitter or otherwise).

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Failure, more on how to cope with it - Fulham 1 West Ham 2

Three losses in eight days is the sort of form to test even the most optimistic of supporters. The 1-0 defeat at Blackburn Rovers was disappointing, losing to Burnley midweek was even harder to take. This game therefore took on greater importance than it might have otherwise done. An opportunity to show it had been worthwhile resting so many first choice players in the Carling Cup. An opportunity we blew against a West Ham who, though they should be applauded for taking their chances, rarely looked capable of beating us.

In fact we beat ourselves. A period of madness in the last 5 or 6 minutes of the first half saw us concede two poor goals and have Andy Johnson sent off. Game Over and still 45 minutes to play. In a fiery opening half hour, Fulham were unusually reckless in their challenges with three other players finding their way into the referee's book along with Johnson. It was Johnson though that defined what went wrong in the game. Having made a poor pass that fell well short of it's intended recipient, he dived in much too high on West Ham left back Ilunga, making no contact with the ball. It was a shocking challenge that on second viewing was worthy of a straight red. To make matters worse, as the clock ticked down towards half-time, Johnson made another unnecessary lunge across Lucas Neil to get an equally deserved second yellow and effectively ended any chance we had of salvaging the game. This had followed our concession of two goals in which we conspired to do so many things wrong it was difficult to lay the blame on any one individual.

On 43 minutes Carlton Cole out muscled Brede Hangeland to push the ball out wide to Matthew Etherington. This left the Norwegian horribly out of position and struggling to get back to defend. Etherington left Konchesky cold as he out paced him down the wing then cut inside where Hughes was attempting to cover for the still absent Hangeland. A poor cross come shot was fired across Schwarzer who could only palm it out to the feet of Cole, the striker gleefully accepting the gift and firing home under little pressure as Paintsil looked on. Fulham had probably just edged the game up to that point but the goal gave West Ham new impetuous. Within two minutes they caught us with a sucker punch, a long ball from Mark Noble had our defence back peddling and Paintsil was caught out again as Etherington surge passed him. Schwarzer came rushing out of his goal only to see Etherington clip a shot around his out-stretched arm and nestle in the back of the net. We'd just imploded for no obvious reason.

As the second half got under way it seemed a forgone conclusion that we'd already lost the game. Incredibly though, we played really well and were comfortably the better team despite the numerical disadvantage. This was the Fulham we'd seen against Arsenal, working hard, passing quickly and controlling the match. A clear handball from Lucas Neil led to a penalty which Danny Murphy duly dispatched on the hour mark and suddenly it seemed like we might still get something. We certainly had our chances but nothing went in. Would we have stood any better with AJ still on the pitch? Hard to say, maybe the work rate wouldn't have been quite so high, but you have to think it would have helped. For the second Premier League game in a row Roy decided against making any subs. I briefly glanced at TiFF to see the usual outrage at this, but felt at the time he was right to stick by the 10 on the field. I didn't think they were noticeably running out of legs and I didn't think we had anyone on the bench who could have swung the game our way.

It's been a disappointing week no doubt, yet somehow I feel fairly upbeat about our situation. We do appear to becoming more and more like a mini-Arsenal. We're playing some neat football that I can really enjoy but we've got a soft underbelly that can leave us exposed if we're not focused 100%. The second half was exciting to watch, it flew past very quickly (inevitable when you're losing the game) but there was always the chance of an equalising goal. Had that arrived I think we'd have celebrated it like a win, in the end we didn't manage it but there was promise in the way we tried. Keep believing and the results will come, no one ever said this was going to be easy!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

That Turf Moor Jinx

We never bloody win at Turf Moor. We might say this about a lot of grounds, but in the case of Burnley's home ground it's actually true. This has been on TiFF before but it emphasises the point so well I thought I'd reproduce it here as well - a total of 28 consecutive games in the league and cup of which we have drawn just five and won none. Roy's stated the importance of the cups to us already and it would be fantastic to go on a proper cup run this season. Fingers crossed eh?

English FA Cup Burnley 3-0 Fulham 26-02-2003
Football League Championship Burnley 2-1 Fulham 20-02-2001
Football League One Burnley 1-0 Fulham 01-05-1999
Football League One Burnley 2-1 Fulham 18-04-1998
Football League One Burnley 3-1 Fulham 11-09-1993
Football League One Burnley 5-2 Fulham 17-10-1992
English Division 2 (old) Burnley 1-0 Fulham 05-03-1983
English Division 3 (old) Burnley 2-2 Fulham 24-10-1981
English Division 3 (old) Burnley 3-0 Fulham 07-03-1981
English Division 2 (old) Burnley 2-1 Fulham 02-02-1980
English Division 2 (old) Burnley 5-3 Fulham 18-11-1978
English Division 2 (old) Burnley 2-0 Fulham 25-04-1978
English FA Cup Burnley 1-0 Fulham ------1977
English Division 2 (old) Burnley 3-1 Fulham 24-08-1976
English Division 2 (old) Burnley 2-2 Fulham 30-12-1972
English Division 2 (old) Burnley 1-1 Fulham 25-03-1972
English Division 1 (old) Burnley 2-0 Fulham 30-09-1967
English Division 1 (old) Burnley 3-0 Fulham 23-08-1966
English Division 1 (old) Burnley 1-0 Fulham 08-01-1966
English Division 1 (old) Burnley 4-0 Fulham 26-12-1964
English Division 1 (old) Burnley 4-1 Fulham 10-09-1963
English Division 1 (old) Burnley 4-0 Fulham 12-04-1963
English FA Cup Burnley 2-1 Fulham 09-04-1962
English FA Cup Burnley 1-1 Fulham 31-03-1962
English Division 1 (old) Burnley 2-1 Fulham 20-02-1962
English Division 1 (old) Burnley 5-0 Fulham 01-10-1960
English Division 1 (old) Burnley 0-0 Fulham 30-04-1960
English Division 1 (old) Burnley 1-0 Fulham 25-08-1951
English Division 1 (old) Burnley 0-2 Fulham 21-04-1951

Friday, September 19, 2008

Who watches the watchmen?

When Willie Young scythed down the diminutive Paul Allen in the 1980 FA Cup final the “football world” reacted with righteous outrage. I was twelve at the time and that moment has stayed with me ever since. Any discussion about the “professional foul” is accompanied in my mind by the image of a giant ginger defender taking the legs away from a young Hammer on his way to score a second and cup winning goal for his side. I think Young got a yellow for his troubles and West Ham went on to win the cup anyway so no real harm done but it did effectively change the rules of association football forever.

This week John Terry’s red card for rugby tackling his opponent was rescinded on the grounds that it was not considered “serious foul play”. There was discussion on Match Of The Day about whether or not Terry had been sent off for a “professional foul”. There’s no mention of this term in the FIFA Laws of the game only a list of reasons to send a player from the field of play. This includes “preventing a goal scoring opportunity” which is the most common interpretation of a professional foul. It’s clear Terry didn’t do that as Ricardo Carvalho was desperately dashing into view to provide the excuse of a covering defender. The Referee stated post-match that he had sent Terry off for “serious foul play”. I really didn’t understand why anyone would have an issue with this. It was after all exactly that. Halsey stuck to his guns, earning in the process some element of respect (from me at least), but was then told by the FA that he was wrong and “demoted” to officiate in a League One match.

I completely fail to understand what the FA feel they’ve achieved by doing that other than to undermine one of their own officials at a time when they are supposed to be encouraging respect from all parties. Personally, I think it was exactly the sort of challenge that should be punished with a red card. It was clearly a cynical foul and completely outside the frame work of anything I think any fan of the game would want to see on a football pitch. To Terry’s credit he didn’t complain too strongly and left the field after only a minor whinge at Mark Halsey. A small gain for the Respect campaign possibly, but wait, here comes Sir Alex Ferguson to exercise his right to operate completely outside the boundaries that other managers attempt to stay within.

Meanwhile, over at the circus that St. James’ Park has become, a more serious offence was also being correctly dealt with. Danny Guthrie’s tackle rightly received a red card. An automatic three match ban – no problem there. However having subsequently discovered that he also broke Fagin’s leg, putting the Hull player out of action for at least six months, further punishment was surely appropriate. I don’t believe Guthrie is normally an aggressive player but the challenge was premeditated and the outcome something the governing bodies should have been keen to do everything in their powers to condemn. The FA didn’t agree. This time they claimed that only in exceptional circumstances could further punishment be applied, citing the Ben Thatcher attack on Pedro Mendes as an example. Well done English FA. One moment your undermining your own referee’s for reasonably interpreting the laws of the game, the next you’re failing to offer any sanctions against those players who might take sporting endeavour a little too far. I’m sure Danny Guthrie regrets what he did, and is unlikely to make a similar rash challenge again, but what sort of message does this send out to the type of player (and yes, even after Roy Keane’s retirement, they do still exist) who see this as part and parcel of the game?

Maybe it’s just nostalgia but back in the day when we allowed Referee’s more opportunity to make their own minds up we seemed to have less controversy. Of course the media is a major cause of this. The growth of digital television and the introduction of more dedicated sports channels means broadcasters need content to fill their programmes with. Too often it looks as though football authorities are just reacting to the media clamour, rather than thinking for themselves. However, it’s just as important that when the FA (or UEFA or FIFA) do have to get involved in decision making, they get it right. I’m afraid from my viewpoint they very rarely do. I think we need an independent body to make these judgement calls, a group unconcerned with it’s own media image, made up of ex-professionals and ex-referees who actually understand and love the game. Can it really be that hard to achieve?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Stockport Moment

Whatever the score might have suggested Fulham completely took Bolton apart on Saturday. It was a joy to behold and brought to mind a match we played against Stockport County under Jean Tigana. We beat County 4-1 that day but passed them off the park. Remarkably it was 1-1 at half time but the second half performance was a special moment, one where I realised we were in for an exciting and successful season. Stockport were left chasing shadows and I can recall actually feeling sorry for the opposition. This game might not have been quite so emphatic a display, but at times it wasn't far off.

Bolton had reverted to the style of football they played under Allardyce. It's not pretty to watch but it can be effective. They're very physical, make niggly fouls that they seem to get away with time and again, and generally spend a lot of time pushing and shoving and getting in your face. Kevin Nolan is the epitome of this. A few years back I thought he was a half decent player. A cut price Steven Gerrard perhaps. Now he looks as far removed from a top class midfielder as it is possible to get. Slow, overweight and ugly. His tackle on Bullard in the second half was cynical and deliberate and got the yellow card it deserved. It seemed rooted in the mind of a player that knows his time has been and gone and he was deservedly heckled from that point on. The biggest cheer of the day came from an appallingly misplaced pass that flew wildly out of play for a throw in. Fulham aren't a team that normally copes well faced with this style of football, but we demonstrated a work ethic similar to that seen against Arsenal, stuck to the game plan and came out on top.

The first goal came after a neat interchange of passes enable Bobby Zamora space to scamper down the left wing. He lobbed in a cross that was initially cleared by a Bolton defender before being slammed home by the right foot of Zoltan Gera. I've been expecting great things from Gera who was a player I'd admired for some time. This was the first game I'd seen where he really looked at home. The goal seemed to give him added confidence and he went on to have an excellent game. He almost took the game beyond reach in the second half, stretching to reach a Simon Davies cross, he somehow directed it back towards goal where it came back off the crossbar before being gratefully cleared.

It was Zamora, though, who was my man of the match. His hold up play is excellent and the interchange with Andy Johnson promised a great deal for the season ahead. Zamora almost opened the scoring when he connected with a high ball into the penalty area before lashing home a powerful volley, but he was adjudged to have fouled Jaaskelainen. Television replays suggest that he did win the ball fairly, but we all know that 'keepers nearly always get the benefit of doubt. Shortly after that a neat one-two with AJ led to him firing a header at Jaaskelainen from point blank range. This time the Fin saved well. With the first half running down, I was starting to worry that we might regret not taking our chances but Bobby popped up with a neat bit of skill to give us the two goal cushion we deserved. Collecting the ball on the left side of the penalty area he turned sharply inside to leave man mountain Danny Shittu all ends up, and gave himself space to fire home a right foot shot into the right hand corner of the goal. A superb bit of skill completed with an excellent finish.

This was another good team display. Andy Johnson looked sharp and speedy (though at one point in the 2nd half he was out sprinted by Shittu, an exception I can only put down to a lack of match fitness) and seems set to be a vital part of the team. I wasn't that positive when we were initially trying to sign him, but in one match he's pretty much convinced me I was wrong. I'm easily swayed! Danny Murphy was imperious in the centre, providing the focus of our passing and working hard for the full ninety minutes. In fact every one of the starting eleven contributed positively to a winning performance. There was a short but disappointing cameo from Seol that may have undone any good will he had salvaged after his effort against Arsenal. We also conceded a somewhat soft goal (announced as Heidar Helgusson's - which would have been his annual goal against us - but was eventually awarded to Kevin Davies) and looked a bit shaky as Bolton started lobbing balls in our box. The important thing though is that we survived it and can now look forward to the next fixture with some momentum on our side.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Late tackle ...

Despite the luxury of making some notes on the way home, I've not found time to put together a proper match report. I figure any later in the week and it would be the written equivalent of a Kevin Nolan tackle, so for now check Craven Cottage Newsround and Following The Fulham for their excellent match reports which pretty much say everything I'd have said anyway. I'll be back at some point this week to discuss what was a very impressive performance from the Whites.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Still no JB but a great result

Jimmy may have missed out yet again but England's unexpected 4-1 victory over Croatia was a huge improvement on recent performances. Technical problems with Virgin Media meant I missed the first half but it sounds like we worked really hard to control the game and this formed the foundation from which we went on to dominate the second half. A great night for Theo Walcott, building on his performance against Andorra with another great game and a thrilling hatrick. It was Wayne Rooney, though, who really stood out for me as the man of the match. He was involved in most of our best attacking moves and capped it off with a well taken goal. If nothing else that should at least prevent commentators from banging on about how long it is since he scored for England.

Hell, whisper it quietly ... even Frank Lampard had a good game.

Hopefully Jimmy will have gained something from his time in the England squad and will be raring to go come Saturday.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Words of wisdom

Time, I think, for me to move on from upsetting Liverpool fans and talk about Fulham again. Last week Roy Hodgson was interviewed by to discuss the summer transfer dealings. He made some interesting points about the size and shape of the squad. The key quote I picked up on was this.

When I came in January we really had far too many players and lots of them just trebling or quadrupling up for positions, never getting a game and obviously costing the Club a lot of money, but not playing any football. Whereas now, with a squad of only 23 players, of which three are goalkeepers, it will give the younger players, like Milsom and Brown, a chance to push forward and show what they can do in the First Team squad. It will give the players on the fringes a greater chance of playing, and although the squad is at the limit in terms of size, at least it’s full of the right type of players that we want to be at the Club.

He makes an excellent point regarding the size of the squad and the subsequent opportunities for young players. I've previously expressed a concern that we might be short of players and yet have also been keen to see our development squad start to make the breakthrough. Clearly you can't have it both ways. There won't be any quick fixes under Roy but this does give a positive indication that he'll be looking to bring young players through which can only be a good thing for the long term future of the club.

Moritz Volz has also written another excellent piece for The Times, talking about the uncertainty of the transfer window, how he's settling in at Ipswich and trying to get the local press to spell his name right. It doesn't sound like his debut for Town went all that well but I'll be keeping an eye on Volzy and the other loan players as the season progresses.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

He's better than Steve Gerrard, he's thinner than Frank Lampard

Jim Bullard, Bullard!

So another hugely unimpressive England game comes and goes. We did a "professional job" and won the game but it wasn't pretty and it certainly wasn't fun to watch. Maybe we are too impatient, want too much too soon, but I saw nothing to indicate we were making any steps towards having a team capable of winning (or even performing well) at a major competition. After the excitement of Jimmy's inclusion in the squad, it was a huge disappointment to see him fail to even claim a place on the bench. It looks pretty unlikely now that he'll feature against Croatia and I'm beginning to wonder whether I really care about England anymore.

There were a few bright points. Theo Walcott looked very lively in the first 20 minutes, Joe Cole added some much needed invention when he came on (and of course took both goals very well) and ... well that's it really. There seems to be a lack of balance in the side, a failure to step up a level and really take a team on. We just do enough to get by. I know I'm biased, but I couldn't help feeling Bullard would have added something to the centre midfield. Lampard was largely anonymous and even his free kick that lead to the first goal was miss hit. On paper both Lampard and Gerrard are better than Jimmy, but they've failed to show that for England. I think it's about time they got the kick up the arse they deserve and started having to actually win their place again.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Taking Stock

The hours following the end of the transfer window felt very much like the calm after the storm. The arrival of the Abu Dhabi Group at Man City and their shock purchase of Robinho from Real Madrid, followed by the resignation of West Ham manager Alan Curbishley and potential departure of Kevin Keegan from Newcastle seem to point to shift in power in the Premier League.

Fulham, meanwhile, were quietly streamlining the squad. I like this. It makes things neat. There's not much point in retaining players at the club who would only ever play in the very worst of injury crises. That said, by my calculations, we're down to 25 first team players which might be leaving us a little threadbare should that injury crisis suddenly appear but also seems a respectable number of players to work with.

Players Out = 29 for approx £3.5 Million
Brian McBride, Kasey Keller, Tony Warner, Carlos Bocanegra, Philippe Christanval, Ian Pearce, Simon Elliott, Bjorn Runstrom, Jari Litmanen, Ismael Ehui, Bradley Hudson-Odoi, Corrin Brookes-Meade (all released). Dejan Stefanovic (Free transfer to Norwich), Michael Timlin (Free transfer to Swindon), Paul Stalteri (Loan return), Ricardo Batista (nominal fee to Sporting Lisbon), Nathan Ashton (undisclosed, but small, fee to Wycombe), Steven Davis (£3M to Rangers), David Healy (undisclosed fee to Sunderland), Alexey Smertin (contract cancelled by mutual consent), Antti Niemei (Retired). Plus the following players on loan; Elliott Omosuzi (Norwich), Lee Cook (QPR), Hameur Bouazza (Charlton), T.J. Moncur (Bradford), Eddie Johnson (Cardiff), Moritz Volz (Ipswich), Gabriel Zakuani (Peterborough) & Collins John (NEC Nijmegen).

Players In = 12 for approx £21.4 Million
Mark Schwarzer (Middlesbrough, Free), David Stockdale (Darlington, £600k), Zoltan Gera (West Brom, Free), Andranik (Bolton, Free), Chris Smalling (Middlesbrough, Free), Bobby Zamora & John Paintsil (West Ham, £6.3M), Frederick Stoor (Rosenberg, £2M), Pascal Zuberbuhler (free agent), Andy Johnson (Everton, £10.5M plus), Dickson Etuhu (Sunderland £2M), Julian Gray (Coventry, loan).

I wrote a piece in The Fulham Review about the players that left last season and called it "The Sanchez Cull". By comparison that was small fry. The big difference is Roy has generally cleared out players lower down the pecking order and found replacements for the key positions. One of the best bits of news not covered above is that we still have Jimmy Bullard in the squad. England International Jimmy Bullard, that is. I doubt we've heard the last of that particular story but for now we can revel in watching the first Fulham player to claim an England spot since ... err ... Zat Knight.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Niemi Retires

Sad news from the Club today announcing Antti Niemi's retirement from football. I don't think anyone really expected him to feature in our first team again but I had hoped he'd find another club to play the final years of his career with. I was there the day he injured his neck against Watford and, whilst the injury might not have been quite as bad as it appeared, I don't think Antti ever fully recovered his form. I'll remember him for the good times though, he was a great buy when he first arrived and a very good 'keeper at his peak. I'll also remember that goal he set up (and almost scored himself) against us at Loftus Road in a 2-2 draw with Southampton.

I wish him the very best for the future, whatever it might hold.

Nice touch by the Club to wait until the hub-bub of the transfer window and died down a bit too. There's a farewell interview with Niemi here and a photo special here.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

FFC Deadline Day round-up

A little like Mark Hughes, I spent the morning on the golf course. Unlike him, I didn't attempt an audacious bid to snatch Dimitar Berbatov from under the noses of my greatest footballing rival. My department's 6-a-side team could certainly do with a little Berbatov magic, eight games a season and only 15 minutes each way wouldn't be too onerous, but I suspect the lack of any salary and minimal opportunity for European competition (actually none at all) might put him off. Shame, we've probably got a better chance of claiming silverware this season than either Spurs or Man City (though following the late breaking news that City have managed to sign Robinho for a British record £32.5million transfer fee, I might need to reconsider their chances!).

Gabriel Zakuani was first out the door joining Peterborough United on a one month loan. The short time span might be something to do with the complicated rules of loan deals currently in place, so I'm not sure what Gaby's long term opportunities are at the Posh. He could do a lot worse, they're a team on the up and could well challenge for Promotion this year, at least it gives him a chance to re-establish his credentials at a level he has performed well at before.

An overdue mention for Dickson Etuhu who signed from Sunderland for £2million on Friday. He's had a lot of stick on TiFF already but plays defensive midfield which is an area we needed more options. There had been rumours that Leon Andreasen was not happy with his lack of game time, and that Etuhu was viewed as a replacement but it seems he is just here to add depth to the squad which must be a good thing.

Collins John returns to his home land to sign with NEC Nijmegen for a season long loan (or on a free transfer if you believe the BBC - who knows what's going on there, his contract was supposed to have expired in June). We'd all seen CJ's potential early on but for one reason or another he seemed unable to take this on to the next level. I know there's a lot of fans who still felt he had something to offer but I think having failed to set the world alight at either Leicester or Watford it really was time for him to start again somewhere else. Nice that he's gone to a team who we have quite amicable links with, he's still a young player and I hope he's found a team where he can really make an impact.

A bit out of the blue - we've signed Julian Gray on a season long loan from Coventry. The 28 year old was linked with us back in his Palace days, and featured in the Premier League for Birmingham City between 2004 and 2006. He can play left midfield or left back, so will provide cover for Kallio whilst Konchesky is injured and could also be used as back up to Gera.

There'd been rumours that Alexey Smertin was heading to Cardiff but was awaiting work permit clearance. Not sure if that move is still on (turns out its not - he didn't want to go) but Fulham have confirmed Smertin's contract has been cancelled by mutual consent. Easy come, easy go.

A fairly quiet end to the window then. Someone on TiFF suggested Roy was probably tucked up in bed reading P.G.Wodehouse which made me laugh. He was actually at Motspur Park, where the reserves lost 3-1 to Portsmouth. In many ways good to see that Roy felt he'd got the job done already. Rushing around in a panic trying to buy something before the shops shut is rarely a recipe for a successful purchase. He has certainly used the day to clear out any players he didn't want, we're looking decidedly trim. I think we could do with another centre back and maybe an extra striker but that will just have to wait until January now.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Jimmy Bullard in the England squad!

Just had a text out of the blue from a mate to tell me that Jimmy's in the England squad. I'm absolutely stunned. Really pleased for Jimmy who thoroughly deserves his chance. The full England squad makes pretty great reading;

Robinson (Blackburn), James (Portsmouth), Green (West Ham); Lescott (Everton), Bridge (Chelsea), A Cole (Chelsea), Terry (Chelsea), Brown (Manchester United), Ferdinand (Manchester United), Johnson (Portsmouth), Upson (West Ham); Barry (Aston Villa), J Cole (Chelsea), Lampard (Chelsea), Bullard (Fulham), Beckham (Los Angeles Galaxy), Downing (Middlesbrough), Bentley (Tottenham), Jenas (Tottenham); Walcott (Arsenal), Rooney (Manchester United), Defoe (Portsmouth), Heskey (Wigan)

Full story from the BBC HERE.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The value of the League Cup

I saw this article on Two Hundred Percent about what to do about the League Cup and felt obliged to reply. It raises some interesting suggestions but makes me wonder if anyone outside of the media actually care about the size of attendances at these early season games. My reply is below;

I’m a Fulham season ticket holder and can assure you I do care about the League cup. I didn’t go to our second round game with Leicester City though. Not many people did - in fact only 7,584. We closed one whole stand and from the pictures I’ve seen had another end almost empty. Does that really matter though. In today's credit crunch climate is it really that big a surprise that people cannot afford to go to EVERY game their team plays. I have a wife and two sons and whilst a Fulham season ticket is excellent value compared with most other Premier League sides find it hard to justify going to many additional games not covered by that initial investment. I’m elated that we got through to the next round, however lucky we were to do so, and maybe I will go to the next round (if it’s not too far and an affordable price). I won’t be too upset thought if it’s another low crowd. It wasn’t that long ago a crowd of over 7000 would have been a great turnout for Fulham and who really hurts if there’s not a packed stadium? The club maybe doesn’t make so much money and it’s possibly harder for the team to put in a top class performance but it’s really not the end of the world - is it? I’m happy that the League Cup continues just as it is, because winning it IS important and an attempt to remove the bigger clubs from it would devalue the competition much more than a few low attendances.

Friday snippets

Catching up with things that have happened since my last "news" post.

Fulham 3 Leicester City 2 - Good to see Roy playing a full strength side for this game. I know we've got almost three weeks until our next match but I believe he would have fielded a similar 11 anyway. It's easy for managers to claim they're going to take the cups seriously and still field weaker sides. I genuinely believe Roy sees the cups as important matches and we will see near enough full strength sides while we remain in contention. Reports suggest we got away with the result, in a see-saw game that was remarkably similar to the 4-3 victory in the 2006 FA Cup. Whatever the performance it's a great result, Leicester are still a decent side, and to get through at the first attempt is a bonus. Third round draw is on Saturday.

Players leaving - As the end of the transfer window draws near Roy has continued to "streamline" the squad. Can't really argue with these decisions as none of the players were likely to feature in the match day squad.

  • Steven Davis completed his £3million move to Rangers. He's a decent player who out of all the Sanchez signings would have appeared to fit the Hodgson requirements best, but was never going to be happy with just being a squad member.

  • David Healy has joined (and already scored) for Sunderland. He will now, inevitably, score the winning goal when Sunderland visit us at the Cottage. It seems a shame that we never really got to see what he could do, a victim of circumstance to some extent. Too much of an enigma to fit into Roy's style I suspect.

  • Eddie Johnson has gone to Cardiff for a season long loan. I'm not ready to give up on him quite yet, though he hardly endeared himself to the Welsh fans on his debut.

  • Moritz Volz also moves out on a season long loan to Ipswich Town. I think this could be a great move for Volzy and wish him the very best. As last season proved, a year is a very long time in football, so maybe we've not seen the last of him yet.

Finally another shockingly poor photo to add to my portfolio of crap pictures taken with my phone. My early arrival on Saturday was timed perfectly to capture injured new boy Andy Johnson walking into the ground. The camera on my phone really isn't that bad, it just doesn't have a cover over the lens and therefore takes a bit of a pounding in my pocket with the loose change and fluff. I've got a new camera now which will be much better and I'll take that along to a game soon. Ken Coton - watch out!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Johnny Haynes Statue

A quick post to highlight the campaign to raise funds for a statue in honour of Fulham's greatest player "The Maestro" Johnny Haynes. The JHS Action group have updated their website and now have details on how to donate by cheque.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Fulham 1 Arsenal 0 - For whom the bells toll

Football eh? It never fails to surprise you.

I left home with a sense of foreboding. Not the usual high hopes of my first game of the season, but a feeling that we would inevitably lose and the only unknown would be how well we'd perform. The loss at Hull and memories of last season's capitulation against the Gunners combined to make me unusually pessimistic. My mood had improved considerably by the time I entered a packed and buzzing Craven Cottage.

I'd got to the ground much earlier than normal to help the CCN crew sell copies of The Fulham Review. Arriving from the Putney mainline station I was able to make the walk through Bishop's Park, my favourite approach to the ground. The bells of All Saints Church were ringing and the sun high in the sky as I made my way down. These felt like good omens and my spirits began to rise. On the way past the ground heading towards The Crabtree I stopped to chat with a bus driver who was a Arsenal fan. Born in Putney, so a soft spot for The Whites, he thought they'd win 2-0. I said I thought they'd win 3-0. At the pub, during a typical failure of bar staff to actually know who was next, I made sure an Arsenal fan got served before me. It crossed my mind in doing so that I may have accumulated some positive karma points. Back at the ground we spent an hour or so selling Fulham Reviews. It went well and I enjoyed meeting a few people I'd only previously known online. Thanks to everyone who bought a copy (I don't think I'm ready to set up a market stall quite yet) and to those that said hello or that they'd got a copy and enjoyed it.

The game was a tight affair, Arsenal not at their best, Fulham passing well but adding hard work and endeavour to the display we'd seen at Hull. The goal came from a corner won after Zamora, turning neatly to find a bit of space in the box, saw his shot deflected behind. Bullard and Murphy combined to fire the ball towards the Arsenal near post. The cross probably should have arrived at head height but this didn't stop Hangeland, having shown great determination to force his way past Gallas, from connecting with his studs to stab home his first goal for the club. Shortly afterwards, in a move eerily familiar to last year’s fixture, Adebayour rose to head firmly against our post. Schwarzer was down quickly but we were spared an equaliser by inches. After that there were few scoring chances from open play. 1-0 up at the turn Fulham were the better side right up to the 70th minute. Arsenal did begin to force us onto the back foot in the final 20 minutes but struggled to find a way through our industrious midfield and weren’t on song with their dead ball opportunities.

Davies, Bullard, Murphy and Gera formed an effective and tight midfield unit. Bullard in particular worked extremely hard defensively suggesting he had taken on board some of Hodgson’s criticisms of his game. Jimmy put in his best performance for some time and was my Man of the Match. Tony Kallio made a surprise debut for the club at full back (Konchesky presumably injured) and was very solid. He didn’t offer much going forward, not surprising for someone primarily a centre back, but he looked comfortable on the ball and coped well defensively. He had just begun to look a little tired when Roy replaced him with Chris Baird. An even more unlikely appearance but, playing out of position Baird did very well. We’re short of options in defence so Chris could have a significant part to play this season. Nice for him to be involved in such a remarkable win. Finally a mention for John Paintsil who seems set for cult hero status already. Before kick off he stood arms aloft and head bowed like a boxer preparing for the greatest fight of his life. During the game he was all action, bombing forward at every opportunity but doing his share of defending as well. He reminds me a little of Gus Uhlenbeek, a player who could thrill you with his pacey runs down the wing before slicing his cross into row Z or falling over his own feet. I’ve a feeling Paintsil may have his moments of comedy error but I think we’ll enjoy watching him try. At the conclusion he did an Olympic style lap of honour round the pitch and deservedly received a standing ovation. Brilliant stuff, can’t wait to watch him again.

So having begun the day with low expectations I returned home full of joy and hope. We won’t play like this every week but knowing that we can helps a lot. I missed our last victory over Arsenal (at the tail end of 2006) and when relegation appeared a certainty last season wondered if I had forever lost the chance to see us claim a win against the Gunners. That makes this win all the sweeter and our next league game cannot come soon enough.

Friday, August 22, 2008


I've not had the most productive week. Failed to do all sorts of things I really should have done. Somewhere in the midst of all this procrastination I found time to update my statistics pages. They're really for my own benefit but are also there for anyone who might find them useful.

Fulham Squad Details 2008/09 provides a list of our current playing squad and a record of those that have moved on in the current transfer window.

Fulham Team Sheet and stats 2008/09 is my attempt to keep track of match statistics and provide a record of player appearances similar to the back page of the programme.

I've also reinstated my New Signing Tracker with links to the Wikipedia page for each of our new recruits. There are links to all the new players so far over there, on the right, just below the Hammy End Features.

If you spot any mistakes let me know.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Midweek ruminations on losing to Hull and how to cope with failure

If there's one thing thirty three years as a Fulham supporter provides you with it's how to cope with failure. Maybe this is true of other teams as well (in fact it surely must be unless you support one of the Big Four). I'm sure I'm not in a minority when I say that I expect us to lose those games that to the neutral observer would appear to be our easiest. If we're set up for a prat fall then we'll take it head over heels.

As I alluded to last week we couldn't have faced Hull City at a more unfortunate time and I felt a certain inevitability that we'd come out of it badly. Thus it proved. Match of the Day must have suspected this as well, making us the first game of the new season. Those highlights are all I've seen but based on good reports from Jamie and Rich at CCN it sounds like we at least started brightly. In the end we were undone by an uncharacteristic mistake from Paul Konchesky. Maybe if he hadn't slipped we'd have held on for the point. A point would have been great. I think we'd all have settled for that, not the end of the world and something to build on. Now we go into Saturday's late kick off against Arsenal starting to worry where our first points might come from. The Man Utd game is postponed (not that we'd stand much chance up there) and with an International break just after it will be the 13th September before we play again.

The key area of concern is the lack of a ball winner in midfield. Yet this isn't anything new. Roy brought in Andreasen last season and he looked good in the few games he played, but following his sending off against West Ham he rarely featured for more than a few minutes from the bench. It's difficult to work out where Bullard stands in Hodgson's plans but it seems whilst he's with us, and with Murphy Club Captain, it's unlikely we'll see their partnership dissolved. Having spent big money on two new strikers as well I'm not convinced we're going to see a switch to a five man midfield either. For the time being I think we have to accept that we'll be sticking with a possibly lightweight midfield. That aside, I'm determined not to get caught up with panic about how well we're doing. Roy has earned my trust for a while to come and I am happy to leave things in his capable hands in the knowledge that he won't be panicking either.

Next fixture
Saturday sees the visit of Arsenal. This is normally one of my favourite fixtures though coming on the back of the opening defeat and with an annoyingly late kick off thanks to Setanta's miserable TV schedule it could have come at a better time. Before that several of our players will have to survive the midweek Internationals but that has to be a far greater hazard for the Gunners who are supposedly already missing some nine first teamers from their squad. We can only hope.

I may be out selling copies of The Fulham Review before kick-off. Should be fairly easy to spot (unless it's lashing it down) in my new home kit with Chopper and 40 on the back so pop over, say hi and pick up a copy of TFR.

News catch-up
Ipswich Town say they have had a bid accepted (alleged to be around £500K) for Moritz Volz.

Scottish giants Glasgow Rangers finally seem to have scrapped enough money together to fund a £3Million bid for Steven Davis. Or then again, maybe not.

There's also talk that we are considering a swap deal with Sunderland which would see David Healy heading up North and Dickson Etuhu coming South where he might add a bit of bulk to our defensive midfield options. While we're there we may also be taking a look at Dean Whitehead the Black Cat's incumbent skipper (the only link I could find to that story was on Tribal Football so I didn't bother, it seems to have originated from The Sun or The Daily Mail). There's still a few twists and turns to be made before this transfer window is out.

Finally Fulham Football Club have authorised the Johnny Haynes statue action group to begin raising funds towards raising the statue in honour of The Maestro. There will be volunteers with buckets at the game this weekend asking for cash donations. Please give what you can afford. If you want further information or can offer your help, contact them via this e-mail account or check the website at