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.