Sunday, February 24, 2008

Fulham 0 West Ham 1 - Heartbreak and frustration

Whilst a point was never really going to feel enough, it was heartbreaking to see even that snatched away from us in the last few minutes. Neither team was able to take control of a game that was lacking in quality but remained in the balance until that solitary late goal. As if losing wasn't punishment enough, we also saw Leon Andreasen sent off following a second yellow for arguing too vehemently with referee Howard Webb. Webb probably had as much influence over the course the match took as any single player. He was never prepared to let the game flow and after three Fulham players had been booked within the first half hour the concern was always there that we'd see someone off the pitch by the end. It's easy to blame refs for our own inadequacies though and whilst Fulham showed drive and some ability going forward we gave the ball away too easily and were too often clumsy in our attempts to win it back.

Fulham started brightly enough, Bullard was his usual ebullient self, constantly on the move and finding space. He linked up well with Dempsey a couple of times, and our best chance of the half came as Clint latched on to a Bullard pass only to see his shot blocked by Ferdinand. Konchesky followed up to fire in the rebound but Green collected comfortably in the Hammers goal. It was, however, West Ham that were able to craft the more clear cut chances. Carlton Cole had three decent efforts early on two of which were created by former favourite Luis Boa Morte. We struggled to get the ball to McBride and when we did weren't able to support him quickly enough. We also seemed to lack width, with Kamara in particular failing to find the right positions.

It was Kamara though who was involved in the first decent action of the second half. He played a good ball out wide to Salteri and made a good run to collect the return pass, but then took too long to get his shot off and was closed forcing him into a poor effort. Subsequent replays show that his shot came off the hand of Ferdinand and we had a 50/50 shout of a penalty, but Kamara was still at fault for not shooting earlier. West Ham were reduced to pot shots from distance and we seemed to be in the ascendancy. Kamara nodded on a through ball from McBride which found Dempsey in space but his attempted lob was never enough to test the Hammer's 'keeper. Dempsey, who worked as hard as ever but never found his rhythm, was replaced shortly afterwards by debutant Eddie Johnson (possibly due to a new FIFA edict that states you're only allowed one player with orange boots on the field). E.J. eventually swapped wings with Kamara and it was from the right hand flank that he almost made a spectacular impact. A deep cross from Konchesky was too high for McBride but fell to E.J. at the far post. His first time volley from a tight angle was well over but showed no lack of confidence in the young American.

Our best chance of the game came after an improving Kamara found a bit of space to run, played the ball through to McBride who knocked the ball on, Andreasen raced through to collect it and played a cute ball into Bullard's feet but Jimmy's stinging shot was well saved again by Green. Our disapointment at another missed opportunity was clear to see and I think we switched off at a point when we needed to be at our most alert. The West Ham goal was a scrappy affair, Noble found a bit of space and crossed into the box, Boa chested the ball past both centre backs to where Solano reacted quickest. Niemi got a boot in his face for his troubles and the ball deflected off Solano's elbow into the back of the net. Either incident could have been called but really we only had ourselves to blame. In the ensuing arguments Andreasen, who had worked so hard throughout the game and was my Man of the Match, got a second yellow. He'll miss the visit of Man Utd thanks to that and we'll struggle to replace him. In a last few minutes Fulham, to their credit, kept working hard. Hangeland was pushed up as an extra centre forward, but it was desperate stuff and we never really threatened.

McBride was isolated up front and didn't see enough of the ball. Whilst the five man midfield afforded some protection to our back four, Kamara and Dempsey both struggled to find the right position to play. Bullard was outstanding again, but despite his hard work was too often faced with a lack of options. Kamara was appalling for most of the game, never saw the opportunity to move into space and (in the first half especially) failed to use the width of the pitch. He did make more impact in the second half but this flattered to deceive. Andreasen worked tirelessly to win the ball back and as the game progressed made some good forward runs. Salteri was initially reluctant to come forward but slowly improved and made some good overlapping runs in the second half. Murphy faded horribly and it was disappointing to see Hodgson not make more use of his bench. All in all a pretty depressing afternoon, it's very hard to stay positive and we'll need to improve dramatically to get any sort of result against United next week.

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