Tuesday, May 20, 2008

That's it for now

It's been a long hard season and I'm ready to forget about football for a few months now. No doubt there will be lots of excitement over the close season as Roy prepares for his first full season in charge. Keep your eyes peeled on CCN, FtF and TiFF for all the comings and goings and, if you get really bored, I'll still be doing a weekly Top 5 on all manner of subjects HERE.

Enjoy the summer - I'll probably be back sometime in August.

Monday, May 19, 2008

"Wick to Wembley" goes to the F.A.Cup Final

Regular readers will know one of my friends has been following the road to Wembley this season. Having started a mere 500 yards from his front door at Chertsey Town for their extra preliminary round replay against Wick, Andy has travelled some 2354 miles, sticking with whichever team won the previous game and finally making it to the F.A. Cup Final last Saturday. You can read his report of Cup Final day here.

It was a remarkable journey, one which proves the magic of the cup is still alive and well, and that the Premier League is not the be all and end all when it comes to great football. In my view it was a special year for the F.A. Cup and, whilst not a classic game of football, the final was as enthralling as any in recent years. Congratulations to Portsmouth fans everywhere (even the annoying tattooed one with the bell!) for being the first winners from outside the big four for thirteen years. I started following Fulham after our F.A. Cup final appearance in '75, I'd love to see us get back there with Roy.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

HEC 2007-08 End Of Season - Squad review

In his post match interview on Sunday, Roy mentioned that the following ten days (after which he's off to the Champions League final in a UEFA capacity) were going to be very busy as the club had not made any decisions about changes to the squad before they knew their fate. Knowing Roy I'm sure he got straight to work on Monday morning but I'm only just getting to a point where I can even begin to consider what players we might let go and what positions we need replacements for. I had a quick scan through our current squad and was shocked by the potential size of the task facing our management team. There are so many players in our squad who are likely to be released or keen to move on that it seems inevitable we will see another influx of fresh faces.

Antti Niemi (2009)
Ricardo Batista (2009)
Kasey Keller (2008)
Tony Warner (2008)
Straight off the bat and we've clearly got some problems between the sticks. Keller has impressed over the last few weeks and I wouldn't be surprised to see him gain a one year extension. Niemi is a mystery. It wasn't clear if he'd picked up an injury or fallen out of favour (or maybe both) but it does seem that Roy prefers Keller. Warner, whilst clearly possessing the talent, possibly lacks focus and with his contract at an end may just be released. Batista seems unlikely to make the grade. I suspect only one of Keller or Niemi will remain and either way we may be looking to sign at least one new 'keeper.

Left Backs
Paul Konchesky (2011)
Tony Kallio (2008)
Carlos Bocanegra (2008)
Nathan Ashton (?)
Konch has been reliable all season, at times he has a tendency to get caught for pace but I don't think we could do much better than him right now. Tony Kallio obviously came in on a short term contract and has so far only featured for the reserves. Bocanegra's contract is also up and It's been reported elsewhere that Carlos is likely to leave. I hope retaining our Premier League status might change this. Carlos has been a very useful player to have, and would still be useful cover for both left back and centre back positions. This may be the crux of the problem. Carlos properly feels he needs to be playing first team football and who would blame him. This could mean we'll need capable cover for this position, Nathan Ashton might be up to the task (he did well in his one chance so far) though I think Roy would be looking for someone more experienced.

Right Backs
Paul Stalteri (Loan)
Chris Baird (2011)
Mortiz Volz (2009)
Elliott Omozusi (?)
Stalteri has really impressed since his arrival from Spurs in January. I'd be very happy if we were able to turn his loan into a permanent deal. Volz seems likely to move on in search of first team football. He's been a star on and off the pitch since he joined and will be sorely missed but, like Carlos, I can't see him breaking into the first team and can't blame him for wanting to play. Baird will surely also depart, he's suffered more than anyone from the "Sanchez factor" and having been overlooked by Roy so far must surely be looking for a fresh start. Omozusi is good enough for first choice cover and will hopefully continue to press for a first team slot.

Centre Backs
Brede Hangeland (2011)
Aaron Hughes (2010)
Dejan Stefanovic (2009)
Philippe Christanval (2008)
Ian Pearce (2008)
I expect to see both Pearce and Christanval released, and based on his lack of opportunity and based on his ill timed comments before Sunday, I reckon Stefanovic may join them. That leaves us with just Hughes and Hangeland and the possibility that we'd need to find at least two replacements.

Simon Davies (2011)
Leon Andreasen (2011)
Hameur Bouazza (2011)
Lee Cook (2011)
Jimmy Bullard (2010)
Clint Dempsey (2010)
Seol Ki-Hyeon (2010)
Alexey Smertin (2009)
Danny Murphy (2008)
Simon Elliott (2008)
Wayne Brown (?)
Davies, Andreasen, Bullard and Dempsey at least give us a good foundation and I'm sure Danny Murphy has done enough to earn himself a new contract (to go with his newly acquired cult-hero status). Who knows about Lee Cook, I'd like to at least have the chance of seeing him play in a Fulham shirt, but I've no idea how Roy's going to make an assessment. I liked Bouazza when he was playing but like Baird he's not been given many chances under Roy. Seol was a big disappointment but has a lengthy contract and may be a useful squad member. The rumours are that Smertin will depart and the unfortunate Simon Elliott will surely be released. Until we've had a clear out though, it's difficult to pick out where we will need new personnel.

David Healy (2011)
Diomansy Kamara (2011)
Eddie Johnson (2011)
Eric Nevland (2010)
Brian McBride (2008)
Jari Litmanen (2008)
The big question here is will McBride retire or will he give us one last year. Either way I think we need to find a suitable replacement. Litmanen will probably move on having offered little in his short spell at the club. Before Portsmouth Kamara had also hinted he may be moving on in the summer, it will be interesting to see if staying up changes his mind. I expect Nevland, Healy and Johnson to stay so the key may be finding a striker that can compliment their varying styles.

To summarise, I think at the minimum we'll see a new 'keeper, a centre back, hopefully Stalteri in at right back, a left midfielder and a big man up front. Possibly a couple of squad additions and around ten senior players leaving. If we've learnt anything from this season it's that massive upheaval in playing personnel is unlikely to yield good results. I suspect Roy will be more subtle in his transfer dealings. I think he'll build on the core of players that saw us stay up and we'll see a more balanced and streamlined squad come August.

Right, I'm off to see a bunch of 8 year olds drive Tanks and Quad Bikes round a field in Dorking (my eldest's early Birthday party). If all goes to plan we'll be back in time to watch the Cup Final. Have a marvellous weekend - whatever the weather.

Friday, May 16, 2008

HEC 2007-08 End Of Season - Optimism Chart

Last season, rather than write a long review of the season I put together a chart of how optimistic I had felt as the season progressed. This season I thought I'd do that "live" and have kept track of my optimism factor on a weekly basis (actually that's not strictly true - after the Sunderland game, as with real life, I gave up, but I've filled in the gaps now). The chart belows shows "How optimistic I felt" in blue and matches that with our league position (in Red), which I've had to show as places off the bottom to get the figures to fit.

I'm naturally an optimistic person so the flat line that marks out most of the season is a pretty stark indicator of how our season went. God knows how the pessimists coped! There are a couple of real low points (The home matches against Derby, Arsenal and Sunderland in particular and the period around Sanchez' sacking and Roy's arrival) but it's great to see that massive upturn at the end. Roll on next season!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

HEC 2007-08 End Of Season - Awards

The annual HEC end of season awards. With so many changes in personnel this was a lot harder to pick. I'm amazed, having spent much of the season moaning about him, I've managed to give Joe Kamara two awards, while conversely there are a number of players I've really admired who haven't got any. Special mentions must go to Brede Hangeland (who despite a couple of dodgy games has looked very solid since his arrival), Danny Murphy (who has been at the heart of Roy's design for a passing team and of course scored THAT goal), Clint Dempsey (who has worked so hard all season and also finished top scorer) and Brian McBride (who was so hugely missed for most of the season but still played a big part in our success).

Player of the Season: Simon Davies - Simon has been mister consistent throughout the season. Worked hard, wherever he has been asked to play, and been responsible for much of our more fluent attacking play. (Last season: Liam Rosenior)

Young Player of Season: Elliott Omozusi - Junior retains his title. He came in at a very difficult point in the season and did exceptionally well. I think he only initially lost his spot due to injury but was then kept out of the side by the very reliable Stalteri. I'm sure Roy will be able to continue the development of one of the few success stories of our youth program. (Last season: Elliott Omozusi)

Best New Signing: Paul Konchesky - Difficult one to pick but Konch has been solid all year. (New Award)

Goal of the Season: Diomansy Kamara v Spurs - I like a spectacular goal and this has to rank up there with one of the best I've seen. Completed a remarkable come back against a Spurs team that really should have seen us off. (Last season: Clint Dempsey v Liverpool)

Moment of the Season: Diomansy Kamara's double to help turn the game at Manchester City on it's head. A game that encapsulated our season in 90 minutes. Two down and out for the count, there was a point when we were actually relegated. The team put in a phenomenal performance to turn the result around and Joe's impact on the game was immense. The moment when the impossible suddenly seemed possible again. (Last Season: Ian Pearce v Pompey)

Most Improved Player: No award - With such massive upheaval there's no player I feel has had the opportunity or time to improve. Hopefully things will be more stable under Roy. (Last season: Tomas Radzinski)

Most Disappointing Player: No award - There are players that didn't live up to my pre-season expectations, but the squad have pulled together under Roy and I don't think anyone deserves to be picked out. (Last season: Collins John)

Most Underrated Player: Aaron Hughes - A bit like Simon Davies, he goes about his business without much fuss or bother but usually puts in a good shift and rarely makes a mistake. He's been overshadowed in recent games by the towering performances of Brede Hangeland, but I think Hughes has done well all season. (Last season:Liam Rosenior)

Player Performance: Jimmy Bullard v Aston Villa - Possibly the point where things really started to turn. Jimmy was on fire at this point and put in a number of "one man team" performances. Created the equaliser then scored the winner and claimed our first three pointer under Hodgson. (Last season: Moritz Volz)

Team Performance: Away v Reading - Like last year it was a game that I missed but this was a complete performance from the whole team. We won 2-0 but might have scored more had we not found Reading's crossbar in excellent form. (Last season: Home v Arsenal)

Best Opposition: Tottenham Hotspur - Can't quite believe I've typed that, but Spurs were the team who performed best in both matches against us. They absolutely hammered us at home and yet somehow contrived to allow us back in for a spectacular point. They didn't make the same mistake in the return leg, catching us at our lowest ebb they inflicted our worst defeat of the campaign. Man United, Arsenal & Liverpool all comfortably completed doubles over us but none of them had to shift very far from first gear to do so. (Last season: Liverpool at Anfield)

Best Oppo Player: Javier Mascherano - Orchestrated an impressive performance from a second string Liverpool side and completely out foxed all our attempts to get a foothold in the game. (Last season: Henri Camara (Wigan)/Kevin Doyle (Reading))

Best Goal Celebration: The Whole Team following Danny Murphy's survival clenching goal at Fratton Park. Happy Days! (Last season: Jan Lastuvka's at West Ham)

Quote of the Year: Roy Hodgson "I Won't need to celebrate. If we win and stay in the Premier League it would bring me such satisfaction that I would happily go home and have a glass of water and read my book" - Seems to sum up everything about Roy. He is the antithesis of so many modern day managers and all the better for it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Portsmouth 0 Fulham 1 - Miracles do happen

I wasn't not sure if it was going to be possible for me to write a sensible match report after what was basically 90 minutes of anguish. As a game of football it certainly wasn't a classic but as a memorable moment in Fulham's history it was massive. I'd spent most of the week struggling to work out how I was going to watch the game. I wasn't confident enough to buy a ticket, partly superstision, partly believing we were already down. The Cottage "beam back" had sold out as well and my options for going to the pub were being limited by a lack of places with Setanta within a reasonable distance from home. On Saturday, with all sensible options eliminated and my services as a BBQ cook required for Sunday tea, I added Setanta to my cable package and relaxed in the knowledge I'd be able to watch from the comfort of my living room.

In the last few weeks I had come to terms with what being relegated would mean. In my head we were down after losing to Sunderland so I'd had a chance to consider Championship life, and I was ready to accept it as another chapter in the adventure that began the day Micky Adams became manager. That said, having seen us achieve such a remarkable reversal of fortune, there was no doubt I wanted us to stay in the top flight and begin an eighth season in the top division (a step nearer our longest spell of nine seasons). I've also had a close eye on Bolton and Blackburn (the other members of the class of 2001) and was keen for us not to be the first of the three to drop.

The first half saw Portsmouth much the stronger team. They gave us little space to work in, had more attempts at goal and always looked dangerous on the break. The highlight of the half came quite early on when Simon Davies found a bit of space in the box and fired a shot that seemed to strike the post. Replays showed it was actually an excellent save from Jamie Ashdown.

The second began with Fulham clearly pushing a bit harder to find a way through. It was frustrating stuff though, Bullard was struggling to find white shirts with his passing and Pompey seemed comfortable soaking up any speculative long balls. With Reading and Birmingham both winning their games, and Pompey quick to counter the more we pushed forward, the omens weren't good. Kamara showed willing up front but was never quite in the right place and I was certain he'd be making way for the imminent arrival of Eric Nevland. Not so, Dempsey was the man replaced (I'd felt he'd been deliberately restrained and had worked his socks off yet again) with Kamara dropping back to the right wing. Pompey also made two key changes about this time, Sean Davies and Milan Baros replacing Pedro Mendes and Kanu.

Kamara went on one of his aimless runs but was brought down to give Bullard another chance with the dead ball. Jimmy had not been at his best up 'til that point but this time delivered the perfect ball high into the box. Kamara, possibly a fraction offside, was the first Fulham player to react but as it sailed over his head the diminutive figure of Danny Murphy rose to head home from six yards. The net bulged, the lino kept his flag down, the away supporters went wild and so did I. 1-0 Fulham and a little over 15 minutes to hold out. If the first 75 minutes had been hard to watch the last 15 were murder. Portsmouth pushed forward in numbers and had us back peddling for all we were worth. We struggled to retain the ball but showed remarkable focus to clear the danger when ever we could. A flurry of late corners all survived, Jimmy running the ball into the corner but losing possession, then pandemonium as the whistle blew. I did my best impression of David Pleat on my own in the front room, and cheered loud enough to be heard at Fratton Park. My phone was going off non-stop for the next half an hour with messages of congratulations. An amazing end to a difficult season and just reward for Roy Hodgson who throughout the game sat unmoved by the turmoil he must have felt. As we reclaimed possession just before the final whistle he mouthed "We've done it" to Ray Lew and once it had gone he remained a man in complete control of his emotions.

Unbelievable stuff, having accepted relegation it feels like winning Promotion. Four wins in five games, three consecutive victories on the road and an escape that will go down in Premier League history as one of the most unlikely ever.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Very very excited!!!

It's really hitting home now, less than 24 hours to go and I'm struggling think of anything constructive to say. It's a gorgeous sunny day, we've been out and about this morning checking out aquariums and fish for my eldest's upcoming birthday. Now the boys are playing in the paddling pool while Mrs C gets her hair cut so I've had a rare chance to just sit in the garden enjoying the weather and reading the paper. Fantastic but I still can't quite wait for tomorrow to come.

Hodgson says some sensible stuff here, though I don't think he's got anything to be concerned about. I feel comfortable that whatever happens tomorrow I can deal with it. If we stay up it will be an absolute miracle and a third life we scarcely deserved. If we go down then so be it, it'll be a new and interesting chapter in our history and one that I think Hodgson can take us forward into. Possibly all a bit Obi-Wan Kenobi but hey-ho I'm a child of the 70's.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Fulham Top of the League!

Nice to see something we all know confirmed by statistics. Fulham fans came top of the latest Premier League Behaviour of Fans Fair Play Table and just to make it even better Ch*ls** came bottom.

Table HERE

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


Check out this video from the Offal and breath a big sigh of relief.

If you watch carefully you can see Brede Hangeland's "intervention" that prevented Franck Q from being quite as close to McBride as he would have liked. You can also see exactly how close Jaidi came to making contact with the ball before Nevland directed it goal bound.

Great stuff.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Fulham 2 Birmingham City 0 - Taking it to the wire

The sight of Eric Nevland bearing down on goal, before tucking away a sumptuous finish is something that will live in my mind for a very long time. From the moment he collected the ball after a hopeful lob from Paul Konchesky I felt certain he was going to score and guarantee us the three points we needed to take our fight for survival down to the wire. The seconds seemed to stretch to minutes with each step, first touch, second touch, third touch, bang! 2-0 Fulham, game over! YESSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!

We'd dominated the game for long stretches and created some decent chances. McBride connected with a deep cross from Konchesky, sending a powerful header inches over the bar. He was ruled offside but it was a good start. Later a cunning free kick routine saw Bullard play a ball square to Simon Davies whose shot seemed goalbound only for Maik Taylor to pull off an outstanding save to push the ball round the post. Whilst it remained goalless though, we knew it would only take one mistake or one moment of skill to turn things completely on their head. Birmingham were thankfully toothless in attack, but did have moments of promise. They were quick to counter and in Oliver Kapo and Fabrice Muamba had two players of genuine quality. McFadden also looked threatening at times, but we rode our luck a couple of times and were happy to find the Blues had left their shooting boots on the coach.

The second half began with renewed vigour as the home fans raised the roof with a display of support as good as any I've experienced at the Cottage. The first goal came as Bullard floated in a peach of a freekick and McBride lost his marker before hammering home a diving header. My eyes were on McBride throughout the move and it was brilliant to see him find that inch of space and then accelerate and dive to connect with the ball. This could be Brian last game at the Cottage and if it is I can think of no better way of remembering him than that goal. The team grew in confidence having taken the lead and we entered a spell of domination and almost total football. As Birmingham pushed forward in search of a comeback the game got stretched and Diomansy Kamara came into his own. For a good ten minutes he chased down every lost ball and caused the City defence no end of problems. One glorious piece of skill saw him dribble an intricate path into the Blues box before firing a hopeless shot so high it almost cleared the Hammy End roof. It was a moment that endeared Kamara to me more than any other. Dio left the pitch (replaced by Nevland) to a standing ovation after picking up an injury that may have been a result of his exuberance.

With less pace in the attack we still kept up the pressure. Danny Murphy was outstanding in midfield and pulled the strings, Davies and Konchesky worked the flanks well, and Dempsey, who had earlier played a very disciplined role on the left, now found a bit more freedom to push forward. Hangeland was excellent at the back, looking much more assured than in recent games, whilst Aaron Hughes provided the perfect partner and more than once covered for other defenders. The Nevland goal created an explosion of joy and relief in the crowd and on the pitch as we knew this time the job was done. Bullard and Dempsey left the pitch to similar applause to be replaced by Andreasen and Healy as we tried to see out the final minutes. There was even time for Healy and Davies to trade showboat passes and almost set up a crowd pleasing third goal.

Whatever happens at Fratton Park next week this was a great end to the home fixtures. We've done all we can to keep our hopes alive and amazingly have our destiny in our own hands going into the final week. I think Pompey will be after a good finish to their season and will field a stronger team than many pundits suggest. If we play like we did on Saturday though I won't have any complaints, however it ends.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Fulham 2 Birmingham City 0 - Bad Pictures Massive Joy



A brilliant day from start to finish and somehow we're still in with a chance come the final game of the season. I'll try and put together a match report when I've recovered from the drama for now here's some more shoddy camera phone pictures.

Team Inflatable from Craven Cottage Newsround

Spontaneous display of clappers following Nevland's match winning goal (actually, I've just realised there's a distinct lack of players in that photo so this must be pre-match, but there was a spontaneous display of clappers just like this following the second goal)

Danny Murphy showing his experience during a late corner

Post match show of appreciation

Bring it on!

Come on! Today's the day and I'm excited already. Really want to just get out and go but family responsibilities mean it'll be a few hours before I can and then I'm probably gonna be waiting on friends to get ready (Hello Mr G!). Anyway CCN have already posted almost exactly the same facts but a couple of links that may brighten your day.

Clint Dempsey has signed a contract extension to take him through to 2010 - here - That's a very positive statement from the Deuce, who is a player I'd really miss if he left.

White Lines points out that today could be Brian McBride's last at the Cottage - here - Brian's been a model professional since he signed and a top bloke, need to give him an extra shout today whatever the result.

Bit of pre-match music too to get us in the mood. Come on you Whites!!!!

Friday, May 02, 2008

Conclusive proof the Internet is just there to waste your life ...

Couldn't resist this. Had a quick peak at the NewsNow headlines to see the (marvelously unreliable) Vital Fulham headline that Jari Litmanen may feature on Saturday. Couldn't resist clicking on that link but before I'd even had time to read it the Evening Echo was up with a counter headline that our Finish mega-star would definitely miss the game due to match fitness. I should know better really. Obviously we're never going to see Litmanen play in a Fulham shirt, but the timing gave me a chuckle. If nothing else Jari could go down in Fulham history as the player with the most bewildering array of excuses for not being fit. I believe his latest set back was related to an ear injury ...

(Actually, feel a little bit harsh on the Vital team there. They have at least kept enthusiastic throughout a very tough season and if nothing else know how to write a good headline!)

Conclusive proof I don't know what I'm talking about

Richard's CCN post on Franck Queudrue earlier this week had me checking my old posts on this blog to see what I thought about our erstwhile swashbuckling defender back in the day. In doing so I discovered this rather damning indictment of my own ability to judge our fortunes. Following Franck's sale to Birmingham in the summer I had this to say about his departure and the prospects for this Saturday's match;
"Franck Queudrue has left the club to join Birmingham City
for around £2.5m. I've had mixed feelings about Franck, having been
quite excited when we signed him, but subsequently disappointed
when I saw him play. Still feel he could probably have found
a better club but it might make the final home game of the season
more interesting. Actually thinking about it let's hope Franck's return
(and maybe the outside chance of qualifying for Europe) is the only
reason the final home game of the season is interesting!"

Yep, that does say "qualifying for Europe" - Ha! if only. As it turns out Saturday could be our 2nd most important game of the season. If we manage a win and results go our way we could go in to the last game of the season at Pompey with a fighting chance. One step at a time though. Whatever happens on Saturday we need to get behing the team 100%. We need to cheer every second and give the boy's our undivided support. It's been mentioned a couple of times that had we gone 2-0 down to Man City at home we'd have stood no chance of coming back to win the game. We need to make sure we don't let our emotions demotivate the players and keep the positive atmosphere going for the full 90 minutes. It's going to be a tense afternoon but I can't wait.

A couple of links from the week just gone that are worth a read. First a nod to Ken Coton and Martin Plumb for their Johnny Haynes book
in this Independent article about The Maestro from a poster on TiFF. Then this article about Jimmy Bullard and his debt to Fulham picked out by CCN from the Times.

Enjoy the match as best as you can, sing until your throat is sore and if all goes well I'll be back with a rousing report on Sunday.

Come on you Whites - Keep the faith!