Saturday, March 29, 2008

Derby 2 Fulham 2 - Hanging by a thread

Mixed reports coming through but ultimately it sounds like we really weren't good enough to win. Former Fulham trainee Dean Leacock fired in a 25 yarder than deflected off a Derby knee to give them the lead after 10 minutes. We pulled one back just before the break when Diomansy Kamara headed home a Simon Davies cross. In the second half Leacock was again involved in goal mouth action, but this time it was to deflect a Hammeur Bouazza cross into his own net. We had less than a minute to dream of an away win before conceding a Derby equaliser. Hugely disappointing that we couldn't hold on to that lead and it seems pretty clear that whilst the fat lady hasn't started singing she's certainly clearing her throat. Results elsewhere could have been worse. Brum won to take themselves 6 points clear of us and Sunderland snatched a late winner to move up to the heady heights of 13th. Thankfully Arsenal pulled back from being 2-0 down with only ten men to claim a 3-2 win and keep Bolton in deep trouble. Wigan lost and Reading drew so it's not impossible for us, just very very improbable.

Derby Away

I've had plenty to distract me from thinking about football this week. It's annual appraisal time at work and that inevitably seems to coincide with my busiest time of the year. I've spent a lot of time on the phone explaining problems to people and how I intend to go about fixing them and hardly any time at all actually fixing them. It's also been a typically hectic week at home, school drop offs to do, greek costumes to sort out, collections from cubs and beavers, school plays to attend (or not), better halves to look after (Mrs C being poorly this week) and in between all this just enough time to knock out another Top 5.

Back to back away games mean I've not had a lot to say on here about Fulham. I don't get to go to many away games as family life means I have to catch up on all those tasks I don't get done on weekends when I'm attending home games. I miss going, away games are often more fun whatever the result, but there's not much I can do about it. Today's match at Pride Park is as big as it gets. We've sold out our allocation and there'll be a good few thousand Fulham supporters there to cheer on the Whites. We desperately need a win but anyone who witnessed the reverse fixture at Craven Cottage will realise that Derby aren't going to be a push over. They've only won one game at home all season (against Reading) and they'll certainly see us as their best chance of winning a second. They may already be down, but they'll really be up for this game and their recent performances have suggested there's still a bit of fight left in them.

My last trip to Derby was for that infamous game in '83. A season when we were 12 points clear at the top of the table and looking certainties for promotion. By the time of our trip to the Baseball Ground, for our final game of the season, our lead had been totally whittled away. It was a horrible game, the team had lost their self believe and the home crowd spent as much time throwing things at us as they did watching the game. A pitch invasion in the final minutes of the game caused an agonising delay and led to the final stages being played with Derby fans lining the edge of the pitch. When Robert Wilson was tripped by a fan as he attempted to run down the wing we knew it was all over. We were chased back to our car by marauding home fans and then sat in glum silence as we listened to the other results come in on the way back home. We felt cheated but It was our own fault that we hadn't held on to our lead that season. That said, I'd love us to sneak a win today and be partly responsible for confirming Derby's relegation, however brief that satisfaction might be.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Newcastle 2 Fulham 0 - It's not over yet ...

The football generally passed me by this weekend. I kept an eye on our score but there were too many other distractions to really make much comment on the actual game. Bravo to the thousand or so fans that braved a very cold weekend to travel up to St. James'. Newcastle must surely have seen this as a must win game after a fairly poor run of results and when Viduka (who always seems to find the net against us) tucked away the first goal I was pretty sure it wasn't going to be our day. It wasn't - little Michael Owen snuck in between our big central defenders and headed home the second to confirm the inevitable.

So, our miserable run of away results continues, and several of our rivals pick up points to make our task look that little bit harder again. It's difficult not to feel like we've lost that little bit of momentum we might have started with the win against Everton, but I'm trying hard to ignore the things we can't affect and focus on the things we can. The bottom of the table looks like this;

There's still room for hope there even if it does rely on us putting together a very impressive string of results. Next week's match at Pride Park is as big as it gets. Derby were good enough to claim a point at the Cottage, and have shown in recent games against Man United and Middlesbrough that they're still capable of making life difficult. We'll see.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Fulham 1 Everton 0 - The Hammy End Rocks

Brian McBride's first goal since that fateful game at home to Middlesbrough secured the Whites a vital three points and gave us all a glimmer of hope. Everton had not won at the Cottage since 1966 and had lost all seven Premier League games in London, they'd played 120 minutes of football in Europe midweek and suffered the emotional drain of a penalties defeat. Despite all this I was not feeling confident as we set off for the game.

A late start, a minor malfunction with the car and horrendous traffic for a wet Sunday afternoon meant we arrived at the Cottage some 20 minutes in. There was a sense of nervous anticipation in the Hammy End and the boys & girls at the back were in good voice. Andy Johnson had already left the pitch and Fulham were playing the ball around quite nicely. Roy had pulled a surprise and lined up 4-4-2. Eddie Johnson was pushed up to partner McBride and it gave us more options. Bullard played a more disciplined role alongside Murphy in the centre, whilst Andreasen was pushed out to the right flank. With Johnson off, Everton (with no strikers on the bench after Anchibe had failed a late pre-match physical) were left with only Yakubu up front. This blunted their attacking options but it was Yakubu who had the best opportunity of the 25 minutes I saw. Given too much space on the edge of the box he ran at Hangeland and found room to fire in a decent shot straight at Keller.

With the Hammy End belting out the theme to The Great Escape the game was played at a higher tempo in the second half. Fulham seemed to take control of the game and worked very hard to find that important breakthrough. At 0-0 we were always in danger of being caught on the break and memories of the West Ham game were causing me anguish. The goal came after a moment of quality from Simon Davies on the left wing. Receiving the ball down the channel from Konchesky, he pushed it past the full back before delivering a nicely lofted cross into the danger area. We got a bit of fortune as Yobo got his head to the ball but he could only help it on it's way to Captain America who was in the perfect position to bang home a stooping header. The whole ground erupted and, a few nervous moments aside, we looked comfortable seeing the game out.

Special mentions for both full backs who pushed on to support our attacks but never abandoned their defensive duties. Stalteri has been impressing me more and more with each passing game and looked very sharp today. Konchesky was outstanding, pushing up more and more as the game progressed and showing the sort of spirit and passion we're going to need in abundance to survive this season. When Bocanegra was brought on to replace Danny Murphy, he took the left back position and Konchesky was allowed to move into midfield. Volz had another cameo role alongside Andreasen as he replaced Jimmy Bullard in midfield and Clint Dempsey looked greatly refreshed in the few minutes he got after replacing McBride who left the pitch to a standing ovation.

One last comment on Eddie Johnson who at times looked shocking. Having blazed a couple of shots high over the bar and shown poor control when well placed to cross I was thinking he lacked the experience needed for this sort of battle. However, Roy made a very powerful vote of confidence by leaving him on 'til the end and a fizzing drive in the dying minutes showed a hint of what might be to come. His pace and running helped us stretch the Blues back four, and he played well off McBride, finding good positions even if his skills let him down at times. With a bit of confidence gained and Roy likely to stick by him for the rest of the season he could have a huge impact still to make.

A great day then, one to enjoy and remember. The Hammy End sang loud and proud throughout and it seems in adversity we've remembered what it's like to be football fans again. The players responded on the pitch and made the effort to come and applaud at the end. We're still two points adrift and have an awful lot to do but the next seven days are going to be a lot more enjoyable and the game against Newcastle can't come soon enough.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Friday link selection

A few little bits and pieces I wanted to mention.

Rob wrote this great post on Following the Fulham the other day. It really struck a chord with me, and quite eloquently explained how I think a lot of Fulham supporters are feeling right now.

Smfifteen has been writing some good stuff on White Lines. In particular his ongoing Language of Football series has managed to raise a chuckle from me when things with Fulham have seemed a bit bleak.

The Whites are back up to second place in Mike Whalley's "Last on MOTD" tracker. It seems Derby will comfortably claim the title so we're not even going to win that, but at least it proves we were almost right when we said we're always last on Match of the Day.

Finally a couple of items of news. Micheal Timlin's off to join Swindon Town on loan for the rest of the season and Les Reed may well have left the club. I was never quite sure of his role when Hodgson arrived, having been brought in as an ally for Sanchez he seemed to have found himself a comfy position with a lot of power. It's a bit concerning to see the reference to John Murtough's departure and another sign that all was really not well during the Sanchez reign.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Never felt more like singing the blues

I saw Everton's match against Fiorentina on Wednesday night. It was a cracker, full of excitement and great to watch. I didn't need reminding that Everton are a decent side now but the game emphasised the reasons why they're a decent side. As a team they worked incredibly hard, they had a two goal deficit to overcome so they had no choice, but this was a side that knew how to play this way. They closed down Fiorentina at every opportunity, they didn't make rash challenges but they made their tackles count. When they had possession they kept the pace high and had great movement off the ball. They looked to win freekicks, not by cheating but by forcing the Italians into mistakes, and launched the subsequent dead ball kicks into dangerous areas time and again. This was simple stuff but excellently executed. It's everything I like about the "English game". It's a style of football I thought we might see under Sanchez but never did. It's a style of football I don't think Fulham have ever been able to achieve. Which is odd as we've had so many managers and players, but throughout my 30 odd years of following Fulham I've rarely seen us boss a game in this way.

David Moyes gets a bit of flack on the Fulham boards, but I'm coming round to accepting that he really is a genuinely good manager. He really has turned the Blues around, and now has them well established as a top 6 club. I think he really could take Everton on to a higher level and win a few trophies for them. The board stuck by him when he had a couple of tricky seasons and are now reaping the rewards of consistency (It's what we need to do with Roy Hodgson). The style of football may not be for the purist's but it is something that can be achieved on a lower budget. £7Million for Yakubu isn't peanuts by any means but compare that with the money Liverpool spent on Torres and check their respective positions in the league and it starts to make a lot of sense.

I'm looking forward to Sunday but I'm not going to talk about what may or may not happen (I don't want to jinx us). We might only have four home games left in the top division and I'm going to enjoy every last one.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Blackburn 1 Fulham 1 - Facing up to reality

On Match of the Day Lee Dixon said he thought Fulham would stay up. I'm not sure how he thinks we're going to do it but I'm glad of a little positivity. I've spent 11 hours at work today and missed the fireworks in the cup and the tension of an away game watched from afar - I think that's probably a good thing.

A point at Ewood Park is a great result, especially when it's won thanks to a last minute free kick. Stalteri was clearly fouled for Blackburn's opener, Gamst-Pedersen "freeing himself" from Stalteri's clutches with a little too much vigour. I'm not sure we'd have done much better had the officials taken a different view. We've shown a lot of character to hang in there and have Jimmy B to thank for another important dead ball strike but may have been happy to hang in for the 0-0 had the Rovers goal been disallowed. A good point, however you look at it, but yet again it's results elsewhere that leave us in ever deepening peril. Reading's 2-0 win over Man City catapulting them up the table.

Whilst there's a chance we have to keep believing, though the Countdown To Survival clock shows just how big a task we're facing. Ah well, spirit of '66, keep the faith & come on you whites!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Wick to Wembley?

It's of little consequence to us now but whilst we continue our increasingly impossible fight against relegation at Ewood Park its also the quarter finals of the F.A. Cup. A friend of mine has been following the road to Wembley since Chertsey Town played Wick in the extra preliminary round and writing about it in his blog Wick to Wembley?. Saturday will be the first time Andy's seen a game involving a Premier League side as he travels to Middlesbrough for their match against Cardiff City. He's been to 13 matches so far and the only game I attended (Camberly Town v Dartford - second qualifying round replay) was the only game to finish goalless. Dartford eventually went through on penalties but I think it says a lot about my luck watching football of late that it was probably the worst game of the run so far. I might seriously have to consider giving up going for the betterment of the game as a whole. Anyway Andy's been featured on the 'Boro website and they've done a nice little interview and a summary of his matches so far. Something to maybe take your mind off the doom and gloom of our own predicament.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Johnny Haynes - The Maestro (The ultimate tribute book)

Ken Coton and Martin Plumb have combined to produce a tribute to the career of JOHNNY HAYNES. The book has been many months in the making and comprises 312 A4 pages with over 300 photographs and illustrations, including rare archive pictures from many sources and photographs not previously seen. This is a hardback book, traditionally sewn, with colour throughout. It contains input and quotes from many former Fulham players, including Bobby Robson, George Cohen, Alan Mullery, Jimmy Hill and Roy Bentley. Check Ken's website for further details about the book here or use the link at the bottom to place your order. Ken posted the following preview on TIFF the other day which gives you an excellent taste of what to expect, and a brief glimpse into the career of THE Fulham legend.

Johnny Haynes always declined the offer of a book about his life, saying that no one would remember who he was, and yet even now, half a century on, his name is still mentioned up and down the county as amongst those in the pantheon that include: Stanley Matthews, Tom Finney, Nat Lofthouse and Billy Wright. Apart from Matthews they were all ‘one-club’ men who stayed for the best part of twenty years with the same club – impossible today. The names above compose the ‘crown jewels’ of English Football. Haynes was a superb athlete and a great competitor; he is however mostly remembered as the best passer of a football that this country has seen since the Second World War, with his two-footed dexterity eclipsing the likes of Beckham, Gascoigne, Hoddle, Baxter and Moore. He was also a great sports all-rounder; he could have been a professional golfer, or tennis player. More importantly he was an excellent all-round cricket player, an able wicket-keeper/ batsman who was offered professional terms by Middlesex Cricket Club. Haynes, a footballing prodigy, shot to fame in a rare televised match in 1950 between England Schoolboys and Scotland Schoolboys. The English demolished the Scots 8–2. Haynes scored two, created the majority of the rest and was an overnight sensation. He was coveted by all the big First Division clubs including Arsenal and Tottenham, but the north London boy chose homely Fulham a Second Division (championship) team, simply because his schoolboy friend had joined the club and was happy there.

Haynes’ progress was swift; he made his debut in the Fulham midfield on Boxing Day 1952 aged just eighteen. The next season he missed just one game and scored a remarkable eighteen goals. The Fulham teams of the day under his aegis were regularly scoring one hundred goals or more a season. So good was the trio of Bobby Robson, Beddy Jezzard and Johnny Haynes that with the British transfer record at £34,000, First Division Newcastle United bid £60,000 for the three players, money unheard of at the time. Both Robson and Haynes were then still under twenty. Such was his prodigious talent that he won his first England cap at the age of nineteen as a Second Division player, scoring on his England debut. At this time, he was the first footballer ever to be capped by England at five different levels: Schoolboy, Youth, England Under-23, England ‘B’ team and the full England side. He continued to improve and became Fulham’s captain at the age of just twenty-one. Haynes could hit passes straight to a player’s foot from fifty yards, and was a hard-training perfectionist. He always tried for perfection and the lack of it from either himself or his human playing colleagues, led to many extravagant gestures and words of fury. Often these withering looks and icy words were commented upon almost as much as his play.

Paradoxically away from the football pitch, Johnny Haynes was nothing like the firebrand on it, polite, courteous and quite shy. And whilst he enjoyed the company of sportsmen and film stars, he lived at home with his parents, had few female friends and was a notoriously private man. As he grew more famous, the handsome Haynes initially made history by being the first footballer to have an agent; he secured many lucrative commercial deals, the most famous of these being the successor to cricketer Denis Compton as the ‘Brylcreem Boy’, his face was regularly emblazoned on TVs, buses and hoardings. He was also a soccer visionary and could see the future in sponsorship and television, and often spoke out about the lack of forward thinking in English football, especially about balls, pitches and the crammed fixture list. There was of course a north-south divide. He was adored in the south, but often reviled in the north. Despite these polarised opinions, Haynes remained the England manager’s kingpin and Walter Winterbottom always picked him.

In 1958, Haynes captained Fulham to the FA Cup semi-final where they were unluckily defeated by a post-Munich Manchester United side in a replay. They also missed out on promotion to the First Division by a whisker. He then played in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden where he was exhausted and felt the backlash from a fickle press. Some of the press tried to get him removed from the England side, so Haynes responded the only way he knew how by scoring a hat trick for England at Wembley against the Russians in a 5-0 win. That same season, he captained Fulham back to the First Division in 1959 and was the club’s top goalscorer with twenty-six goals. His scoring included four goals in one match and then three further hat tricks.

Between 1958 and 1962 he was undeniably the ‘David Beckham of his day’ one of the most talked about sportsman in the country, and one of the country’s most important faces. Haynes then made further history in 1961 when, following the abolition of the £20 per week maximum wage achieved by Jimmy Hill, he became the first player ever to be paid £100 per week. Chairman Tommy Trinder was content to pay such a sum to his ‘favourite son’. The salary was ten times that of a working man and twice that of a cabinet minister. It caused uproar and was even discussed in Parliament. Trinder was almost forced to pay the wage as it kept Haynes in the country, successfully thwarting a massive world record bid of £100,000 for Haynes from AC Milan in April 1961. Remarkably Haynes turned down a life of luxury in Italy to remain with lowly Fulham.

In May 1960, Haynes was appointed captain of England, and helped provide a real upturn in form for the national side. At one stage in 1960-61, England scored forty goals in just six matches! Included in that sequence of results was a massive 9–3 win over Scotland at Wembley, eleven years to the day after he had done the same to Scotland as an England schoolboy. Haynes scored twice and created most of the other goals. Haynes’ general play and talents around this time were regarded as almost superhuman and the press ran out of superlatives. In 1962 Haynes captained Fulham once again to an FA Cup semi-final where history repeated itself and they lost out after a replay. Haynes also had to work extremely hard to keep his Fulham team in the top division. After this bloated season, Haynes captained England somewhat petulantly, in the 1962 World Cup finals in Chile. England somehow reached the quarter-finals, but were eliminated by the eventual winners Brazil. Haynes was again not at his best, and the press like today had a field day. At this juncture, Haynes was only the fourth player ever to have been awarded over fifty England caps. In August 1962 and at the height of his fame, one wet Friday evening Haynes broke curfew and was with a lady friend, when his sports car which she was driving was involved in a collision on Blackpool promenade. Haynes damaged his knee extensively and broke bones in both legs. Doctors said it was the end of his career, but he doggedly fought back, working tirelessly on his own for fitness. On his comeback he was injured again playing only eight games that season. His recovery was slow, but by the end of 1963 he was once again producing England-class performances. However, despite all the praise being reported by the media, the newly appointed England manager Alf Ramsey never picked for Haynes for England again.

Even in mid-1964 when he was almost thirty, Spurs bid a record £100,000 to secure Haynes’ services following the tragic death of their own John White; Fulham somehow managed to turn the offer down. So it was at Fulham he stayed for a further six seasons and along with a handful of decent players, Cohen, Langley, Robson, Mullery and Leggat kept Fulham in the First Division virtually on his own until 1968. Even with relegation, there were eminent journalists who were still convinced that, even at thirty-four, ‘JH’ was still good enough to play for England! During 1968 following the sacking of Bobby Robson, Haynes was appointed Fulham’s player/manager. It was a post he accepted reluctantly and it was a spell that lasted for just four games and seventeen days, before he stood down. Later that season Haynes was awarded a well-earned testimonial that attracted a bumper crowd of almost 25,000 people. Inevitably as Haynes’ powers finally dwindled so did Fulham’s status and Johnny Haynes played the last of his 658 games for Fulham as a Third Division player in January 1970 in front of a sparse crowd. It was his twentieth season at Fulham, a remarkable example of sacrifice and loyalty. Despite his loyalty, manner, prowess and abundant skill, he finished playing in this country without a medal, trophy or domestic honour of any kind on the field and was also not recognised off it either, a fact that many today, both inside and outside the game, still consider a national scandal. Many thought he would stop playing in 1970, but he amazed everyone by going to South Africa and continuing his playing career for a further five years. It was a controversial move at the time given Haynes’ fame and the political situation at the time in South Africa with sport and apartheid. In South Africa, Haynes won two championships and three other cup trophies with Durban City. He finally retired with Maritzburg at the age of forty-one, having played top-level football non-stop for a quarter of a century! Haynes was a bachelor until he was thirty-eight, marrying and divorcing twice whilst in South Africa and also meeting his third partner Avril. He remained in South Africa for fifteen years.

Paradoxically like much of his life, he returned, after a short spell of coaching in South Africa, to live in Scotland with Avril, gladly assisting in the running of her business operations, watching Hearts, Scottish rugby whilst enjoying golf and holidays. However, he never forgot ‘his Fulham’ it was the first result he looked for, and during the late eighties and early nineties he campaigned vigorously when Fulham’s very existence was under threat and when it looked as if Craven Cottage itself would disappear. Johnny Haynes was as delighted as anyone when Fulham finally returned to top-flight football after an absence of thirty-three years, and he returned as an honoured guest to see his team play Premiership football. In 2002 Haynes became an inaugural inductee to the English football hall of fame in recognition of his football talents and impact on the national game. Tragically on the afternoon of his seventy-first birthday in 2005, Johnny Haynes suffered a stroke whilst driving in Edinburgh, his car ploughed into a light goods vehicle. Haynes lost his life and Avril was badly injured. His funeral in Scotland was attended by the luminaries of the day including Sven Goran Eriksson, Bobby Charlton, Dave Mackay and Sir Bobby Robson. Haynes was a trailblazer; an intelligent, outspoken and controversial figure who could be loved and loathed in equal measure. His career with Fulham and England shows almost 750 appearances and almost 200 goals.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Good Links, Not Recent

A few items of news and interest I wanted to catch up on, a lot of which is probably old news.

Several of our Reserve players have gone out on loan recently. Wayne Brown has joined Robert Milsom at Brentford which I hope will have a good impact on his development. Brown has shown this season that he's on the verge of first team football and a spell playing league football must surely do him good.

Following earlier spells at Darlington and AFC Wimbledon, young goalkeeper Corrin Brooks-Meade has joined Southern League Premier Division side Cheshunt on loan for one month. I've seen Corrin play for the reserves, and whilst he didn't stand out he looked comfortable. Without degenerating the clubs involved, his loans do seem to be dropping down the divisions in an alarming manner but that may be down to the difficulties of getting a game at any level in such a key position.

Jari Litmanen has recovered from his heart flutter and is apparently ready to be considered for the first team. Roy seems confident he could play a significant part when called upon "If we were down to ten players then there's no question he'd play and I have no doubt he'd play the 90 minutes and be running as much at the end as in the beginning".

Alexandra Leggat is the daughter of Fulham legend Graham and has written a lovely piece about Johnny Haynes which was brought to my attention by LBNo.11 on the TIFF messageboard. Alexandra is a published author and was amazed by the response the post received.

Whilst I was randomly searching for the links to Alexandra's blog I stumbled across this site with a couple of Fulham related pieces. A bit about the loss to Arsenal which includes a interview with a Fulham fan about the highs and lows of following the club and an interview with "From St. Andrews to Craven Cottage" author Morgan Philips. Both worth a read if you're interested.

Monday, March 03, 2008

No need to get downhearted

Saturday's loss was made all the harder to take by the results elsewhere. On Friday I was postulating about the assistance we might gain from Derby County. They did manage a draw with Sunderland which at least kept the Mackem's a little closer, but it was victories from Reading and Birmingham that really drove the knife in. Reading's injury time winner (a game that featured Liam Rosenior in the starting line up) away at Middlesbrough gave them their first points of the year and ended an eight game losing streak. It was also their first away win of the season a feat we'll have to match pretty soon if we're going to pull our selves out of the fire. More shocking was Birmingham City's 4-1 win over a Spurs side that might have been suffering an extended hangover from their Carling Cup win celebrations. Likewise Middlesbrough had played 120 minutes against Sheffield United in the F.A. Cup on Wednesday night. It seems we're just not getting those sort of breaks this season, though arguably it might just be we're not taking the ones we do get.

All this means we're six points adrift of Reading in 18th place and you could hardly blame those clubs above us from writing us off along with Derby. We really do need to put in a good run of results very soon. The countdown to survival is pretty clear. With ten games to play we need around 21 points to stay up. An average of 2.1 points a game is not impossible but when you consider we've averaged 0.68 a game so far the brutal truth starts to hit home. Realistically we're relying on other teams slipping up. Thankfully Bolton lost on Sunday to leave them only above Reading by goal difference, and Newcastle seem to be doing all they can to make life difficult for themselves.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Fulham 0 Manchester United 3 - Never mind the Bullard

This was too easy for Man Utd and reminiscent of the earlier loss to Arsenal. United fielded a decent side but rested several key players ahead of their European match midweek and still won at a canter. I went with low expectations, hoping that if I could convince myself we were going to lose, it wouldn't hurt so much when we did. The signs were there right from the start. Less than five minutes in and a ball over the top left our back four flat footed and former employee Louis Saha raced though to collect the ball but fire hopelessly wide. It would have been the sort of goal I'd seen Saha score for us a number of times.

Having survived we played the ball around brightly enough, but as has been characteristic of recent performances, gave the ball away too easily and couldn't find that final ball. With the first quarter hour still not up United won a freekick on the very edge of our box. I hoped it might be too close, but Owen Hargreaves caught everyone by surprise by lifting a cute free kick over the wall and into the far left hand corner of the goal. 1-0 down and we were up against it already. We tried our best to get back in the game but found it hard going. United worked really hard all game and this paid dividends. Bullard, who was not on the best of form, found himself closed down at every opportunity, United clearly identifying him as our main source of inspiration. I'm one of Jimmy's biggest fans but he didn't cope well with this and too often tried to do too much or gave the ball away too cheaply. Equally Eddie Johnson was finding it hard to fit into his role as wide midfielder. He showed poor control early on and similarly gave the ball away time and time again. As the final minutes ticked down we would have been pleased to go in only 1-0 down. It was not to be. Carlos Tevez made a surging run but seemed to control the ball with his hand (though it was a long way from my eyesight). The ref wasn't interested and play continued, eventually reaching Scholes on the right flank. He fired in a reasonable cross from the wing, which somehow found Park Ji-Sung in the box who was able to out leap both Hughes and Hangeland to head home a second goal. Hangeland and Hughes ended up in a heap looking at each other unable to explain what had just happened.

The second half continued in much the same vein. Our 5 man midfield huffed and puffed but just couldn't get a grip on the game. Time and again we failed to use the width of the pitch or play the simple ball in from the flanks. Last week I'd berated Kamara and Dempsey for doing this, but seeing E.J. and Davies perform in a similar style this week I'm begining to think this was instruction from Roy H. I don't understand what he thought he could achieve, but too often we overplayed in areas where we didn't need to and for the second week running McBride was left a disinterested spectator. The one bright spark in midfield was Moritz Volz. Early in the first half he's been caught in possession a couple of times and I'd thought he might get found out, but as the game wore on he grew into his role and became a driving force for much of our attacking play. His work rate was excellent, he won a number of tough headers and chased down, and won a number of seemingly lost causes. His eventual replacement by Nevland with less than three minutes remaining saw him leave the field to a well deserved standing ovation. By then it was all over, John O'Shea had found a way around Konchesky on the left side, shot across goal and picked up a lucky deflection from Simon Davies thigh that left Niemi with no chance to react.

I spent the last ten minutes on my feet singing "Roy Hodgson's Black & White Army" along with the rest of the Hammy End choir. Bizarrely it felt good to be a Fulham supporter again, maybe we're regaining that siege mentality of following a team you know isn't that good but, as we watched the last few fruitless attempts at claiming a consolation goal, the feeling of unity gave me a bit of a lift. I'd been angry and upset after losing to West Ham, and completely fed up after the 3-0 loss to Arsenal but for some reason I came out of this game with a new sense of purpose. It's difficult to see where we might pick up the points we need now but I'm ready for whatever happens. If we go down then so be it but I'm not going to give up hope just yet.