Monday, December 29, 2008

We are top of the (London) league!

Brilliant article from Rich at the Times here who also points out that we're the unofficial best team in London. I might start tracking this although it could well be downhill from now on. In similarly trivial fashion we're also still the "Unofficial World Club Champions".

He scores with his left, he scores with his ... head - Fulham 2 Chelsea 2

That boy Clint Dempsey produced two moments of magic to help snatch a point that felt more like a victory. Despite Chris Baird's impressive performance at Spurs it was a relief to see Brede Hangeland striding out at the start of this game. Jimmy Bullard, although involved in the pre-match warm-up, wasn't fit enough to play and his place was filled by the imposing physical presence of Dickson Etuhu.

The opening exchanges were a little ragged as we struggled to get our passing game under control and Chelsea were in the ascendancy by the time Clint popped up to put us ahead on ten minutes. Simon Davies curling in a free kick which evaded everyone bounced in the six yard box and was flicked home by an alert Clint Dempsey with the outside of his left boot. That goal only spurred Chelsea into action and we survived a catalogue of near misses as they searched for an equalizer. Drogba dragged a shot inches wide of the post when it seemed certain he'd score. Anelka (on for the injured Malouda) fired a blistering shot straight at Schwarzer who somehow managed to punch it clear. Lampard had a (deflected) shot from distance tipped over the bar by the big Aussie. It was pretty much one way traffic. Chelsea were forced into another change as centre-back Alex hobbled off to be replaced by Carvalho (hardly weakening the side but maybe slightly reducing their aerial prowess).

A moment of humour was provided by a couple of Deco corners directly in front of the Hammy End. Andy Johnson took up his usual (seemingly pointless) position 10 yards from the corner. Deco sent his first attempt straight into AJ's stomach. A second corner was eventually won only for Deco to smash his second attempt into AJ's head.

We made it to the half time break with our lead still intact but within 5 minutes of the restart were back on level terms. Having survived so many decent efforts on our goal it was disappointing to concede in such a sloppy fashion. A ball was whipped high into the box towards the ever dangerous head of Didier Drogba, Schwarzer and Hughes collided as all three players stretched for the cross, and Frank Lampard was lurking to tap home into the open net. It was all Chelsea now and for the first time at home this season we were genuinely outplayed. We continued to try and do the things we normally do but found it desperately hard to get hold of the ball. When Chelsea had the ball they moved it quickly and efficiently and had us chasing shadows, when we had it they closed us down smartly and limited our passing options. Etuhu grew into the game, standing off players too much early on but gradually growing in confidence. Murphy, despite his lack of possession, had that sense of calmness when he did get the ball that made a big difference.

We were being battered and when the Chelsea got their second goal it seemed the game was beyond us. Coming from a free-kick just outside the penalty area, Lampard sent a decent but not unstoppable drive straight into the net. It bounced and ricocheted on it's way through our wall and yet somehow eluded the outstretched hand of Mark Schwarzer. Lampard, who'd been booed throughout by a loud and passionate home crowd, ran towards the away fans pounding his chest and kissing his badge. There was no surrender though we were now being forced into hoofs up the pitch as the Blues piled the pressure on. With about ten minutes to play Hodgson made a double substitution bringing on Nevland for Zamora and Andreasen for Etuhu. Both players, whilst not directly involved in the final coup d'etat, made a significant difference to the game bringing fresh legs and enthusiasm to the team just when we needed it. Simon Davies also played a big part in swinging the impetus back in our favour and it was his corner that curled majestically over the penalty area to find a spring heeled Dempsey at the far post who headed home from a difficult angle. Dempsey charged towards the home end, shirt swinging above his head as the Cottage crowd went into meltdown. Chris Baird replaced Danny Murphy as we survived the tense final minutes of added time.

The celebrations as the whistle blew showed how much this point meant to us all (fans and players). It really felt like we'd won the game. It's been a great Christmas and a wonderful year, roll on 2009.

Fulham: Schwarzer, Pantsil, Hangeland, Hughes, Konchesky, Davies, Etuhu (Andreasen 78), Murphy (Baird 90), Dempsey, Johnson, Zamora (Nevland 78).
Subs Not Used: Zuberbuhler, Gray, Stoor, Kallio.

Goals: Dempsey 10, 89 Booked: Dempsey

Chelsea: Cech, Bosingwa, Ivanovic, Alex (Carvalho 37), Ashley Cole, Deco, Mikel, Lampard, Joe Cole (Kalou 72), Drogba, Malouda (Anelka 30). Subs Not Used: Cudicini, Ballack, Ferreira, Belletti.

Goals: Lampard 50, 72 Booked: Drogba, Bosingwa

Att: 25,462

Ref: Andre Marriner (W Midlands)

League Position: 9th

Friday, December 26, 2008

Tottenham Hotspur 0 Fulham 0

A fourth consecutive goalless draw away from home made all the more impressive by the absence of Hangeland (due to flu) and the loss of Jimmy Bullard (dead leg) after just 37 minutes. Baird filled in superbly for the big Norwegian whilst Dickson Etuhu replaced Bullard. Spurs seem to have most of the game but Dempsey (with a spectacular overhead attempt) and Johnson (unable to find a way past Gomes neat the close) spurn decent chances to snatch the points.

Coincidentally we've also been Last on Match of the Day four times in a row.

Tottenham: Gomes, Corluka, Dawson, King, Assou-Ekotto, Lennon, Zokora, Huddlestone (Jenas 20), Bentley (Campbell 58), Modric, Bent (Pavlyuchenko 72). Subs Not Used: Cesar, Bale, O'Hara, Woodgate.

Fulham: Schwarzer, Pantsil, Baird, Hughes, Konchesky, Dempsey, Murphy, Bullard (Etuhu 37), Davies (Nevland 90), Johnson, Zamora. Subs Not Used: Zuberbuhler, Gray, Stoor, Andreasen, Kallio.

Booked: Konchesky

Att: 35,866

Ref: Peter Walton (Northamptonshire)

League Position: 8th

Monday, December 22, 2008

The numbers game - Fulham 3 Middlesbrough 0

Biggest win of the season so far and we're sitting nicely in 8th position, seven points off 5th yet six points clear of the relegation zone. We're unbeaten in seven and have only lost once in eleven.We've got the best home record in the division (albeit Man United's might have been better had they not been off on a mid-season jolly to Japan) and the fourth best defence. Things are good.

I didn't make it to this game due to the traditional pre-Christmas lurgy taking down the rest of chez Chopper and meaning I had to stay and mop various fevered brows. Just to make it worse I spent most of the afternoon at a 5 year old's party trying to convince my youngest (and second most healthy of the household) that he really did want to go and play with his friends. I'd spent quite a bit of the morning in man-to-man chats with George to make sure he was keen to go to said party and that he understood I'd just be dropping him off. Daddy's not going to stay OK? Yep. You definitely want to go? Yep. Great. Yet we pull up to the school and I already know things aren't going to go to plan. Are you going to go and play? Nope. Don't you just want to go and say hello? Nope. So I end up staying and after about 10 minutes of complete failure on my part to convince him he should join in a small miracle happens as his best friend finally manages to get him to start playing. It's too late for me now, I know I'm stuck here until the bitter end, but somehow after giving in to the inevitable I actually have a good afternoon as well. Talk to a few Mum's and Dad's I know, have a surprisingly decent cup of tea provided and enjoy watching my little terror run around and have fun. If I'm honest I've only got myself to blame, at the same age I doubt I'd even have left the safety of my Dad's leg, it's in the genes!

We got home about half past four and I managed to pull up a stream of the game (oh how I love the marvels of the Internet at times like this) and watched the last 15 minutes with a smile on my face and the contentment of knowing I'd done the right thing.

For those that like reports try the following fine establishments

Craven Cottage Newsround - Fulham 3 Middlesbrough 0 - As easy as 1, 2, 3 - Middlesbrough Player Ratings

And the view from our opponents here.

Boro Mania - Weak Boro easily beaten by Fulham

Have a very fine Christmas and I'll be back with news of our London double header after the break.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Dull-lilah - Stoke City 0 Fulham 0

The brightest thing about this game were Fulham's new Yellow away shirts. It was a familiar story the Whites managing lots of possession but unable to find that spark of ingenuity or quality finish to claim a goal.

I managed to catch the second half thanks to the wonder of the Internet. First half talking points had been a possible (but not cast iron) penalty claim after Andy Johnson took a tumble in the box. That was swiftly followed by a much stronger shout following a blatant handball as a Stoke defender tried to reach a cross from our right flank. Stoke lost centre forward Sidibe to an early injury and were also unable to fully utilise the threat of the Delap long throw thanks to an arm injury. Who would have though an arm could ever be an impediment to an outfield player's effectiveness.

The second 45 got off to a feisty start after a clumsy challenge from Ricardo Fuller on John Paintsil led to the players squaring up. Fuller pushed his head into Paintsil who did himself no favours by exaggerating the impact and earned the wrath of the Stoke fans for the remainder of the game. Despite this Paintsil played well down the right wing, linking up with a refreshed and newly positioned Gera whilst Simon Davies continued to suffer the consequences of being versatile on the left wing. Oddly our best chance of the half came was created by a moment of class from Gera on the left side. Davies took a quick throw in to Gera who had tracked over from the far side to find a bit of space. Gera looked certain to cross but then played a delightful ball into the path of Andy Johnson. AJ sprinted into the box before cutting the ball back to Dempsey who saw his shot pushed wide for a corner.

Chances were few and far between for either side. Hangeland looked his normal imperious self, soaking up everything Stoke threw at us. A ball from midfield gave AJ something to chase but his shot was well blocked. Ricardo Fuller went down in the box as Danny Murphy shepherded him away from goal. A moment of concern, but the ref waved play on, Fuller went down easily and had probably marked his card after the earlier spat with Paintsil but I've seen them given. Then another heart stopper as Fuller found space on the left and played a ball across the six yard box where Cresswell was waiting. Thankfully the ball again ricocheted away to safety. The final chance of the game fell to Dempsey who saw his shot to the top right hand corner drift harmlessly wide of the post. Soon after the game drifted equally harmlessly to a close. Another point away from home, another clean sheet, six games unbeaten and our first point claimed so far from promoted opposition. Some positives to take but this was a dull game and another missed opportunity.

The late review - Fulham 1 Manchester City 1

An early start on a cold and sunny December morning and I felt I ought to be taking a leisurely walk by the river before popping into a pub with a roaring fire instead of watching a football game. Based on the opening few minutes it seems the players might have felt the same.

Five minutes in and we paid the price for not being fully switched on as a cross from the impressive Pablo Zabaleta found Benjani at the far post who rose between Aaron Hughes and John Paintsil to head home unimpeded. To Fulham's credit no one panicked. We stuck to the passing game plan. It took a bit of time, but gradually, pass by pass, we found our rhythm and took control of the game. AJ chased onto a through ball from Paintsil but was beaten to it by an advancing Joe Hart. Later AJ almost nicked past City centre back Richard Dunne but the ball caught Dunne's hand and the defender was extremely lucky to get away without conceding a penalty. We were very much in the ascendancy now and shortly afterwards claimed a deserved equaliser. Zamora played a neat reverse pass down the wing to find Bullard in space on the right. Jimmy cut inside to the penalty area and, just as it looked like he'd send a pass across the six yard box, he lashed home a screamer into the far side of the City net. A spectacular finish that I suspect 8 times out of 10 would have ended up by the corner flag, but a great goal none the less and Jimmy's first of the season.

It all seemed set for an exciting 2nd half but that failed to transpire. Hughes and Hangeland remained efficient at the back, Murphy did what he does, controlling our movement very well, Bullard took and missed a couple of freekicks, AJ looked dangerous and Zamora put in another man of the match performance with great control and interplay. We dominated the possession but couldn't find that spark of magic to find a way through. As the game drew to a close the crowd were flat and so were the players. A game crying out for an injection of something different from the bench, 15 minutes of Gera maybe or a short burst from Andreasen, but no, Roy decided to stick with what we had. It felt like an opportunity missed, a game we could have won if we'd just put that extra bit of effort in. Instead we extend our unbeaten run to five games and travel to Stoke looking for that elusive first away win of the season. Not brilliant but not that bad either. Let's hope that doesn't end up being the epitaph for our season as we've seen that at our best we can be so much more.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Just like watching Brazil - Shirt Lookalike

I'll be back later in the week with a match report for the City game but in the meantime this caught my eye. An interesting article on the BBC website about the current state of Brazilian league football accompanied by a picture of Sao Paulo's striker Borges in a shirt that suggests our sponsors LG have a penchant for teams that play in White, Black & Red. I think I've just found my Brazilian team!