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.