Thursday, February 26, 2009

Woo Hoo!

Happy! Happy! Happy!

We beat Arsenal Reserves 3-0 last night. There's a proper report here. I caught glimpses of the game on Arsenal TV in between the ad breaks of a "Relocation, Relocation" repeat.

The team saw a nice mix of fringe first teamers and up and coming youngsters. I'm getting over excited but can't help feel that players like Wayne Brown, Rob Milsom and Junior Omozusi could actually break into the first team. Not to mention Giles Barnes!

Whoop! Whoop! Woo Hoo!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sing When We're Winning

I’ve had a brilliant day today. Can’t stop smiling. Fulham stand 8th in the top flight of English football and have reached the quarter final of the F.A. Cup. Makes me happy just to type that, how far we’ve come. Last night brought back memories of midweek games in less confident times, the hustle and bustle of a well contested cup match, a sparse crowd (though 12,000 would have been a decent turnout back in the day) and an excitement about what might happen next I've not felt for some time.

“Super, Super Dan, Super Danny Murphy!”

If anyone still doubted it, the last two matches have been as startling a piece of evidence of Danny Murphy’s importance to Fulham as you’re likely to find. He ran the game on Sunday from start to finish and it wasn’t a big surprise Roy chose to rest him. Olivier Dacourt took his place in the starting eleven and I felt confident he could do a decent job for us. Olivier had a stinker though, we’ve seen hints that he’s a quality player but as the pace of the game increased he couldn’t keep up. A series of misplaced passes and tumbles suggested it just wasn’t going to be his night. Murphy was already changed and waiting when Dacourt took the knock that saw him hobble of the pitch. Hopefully nothing too serious and just a bad night at the office for Dacourt. Murphy’s arrival was spectacular though. 1-0 down at the time Captain Dan was the catalyst that turned the game in our favour. His passing and movement were as exemplary as ever but he also worked incredibly hard in the centre to win back possession when we lost it.

I’d not been particularly excited when Lawrie Sanchez signed him back in August 2007. It seemed a purchase born of desperation. He played well enough at times but I felt he’d struggled to impose himself too often. Even under Hodgson I doubted his qualities. Had I been picking the team he wouldn’t have got in – that will be one of many reasons why I’m not earning a living as a professional football manager. The purple patch that saw us achieve the great escape began to show me the error of my ways but even then I could never have imagined a scenario where Danny could change the shape of a game so effectively and rapidly as he did last night. He really is a quality player and it’s a joy to see him play for us right now.

“He scores with his left, he scores with his riiii-ght, that boy Clint Dempsey makes Drogba look …”

You know the rest. Dempsey impressed me again last night. He worked his socks off and looked genuinely spent when he was subbed near the end. He’s earned the right to be in the starting eleven and seems happy to play in whatever position he’s given. He showed great desire to reach Simon Davies corner and head home the opening goal and almost grabbed a second minutes later.

“Bob, Bob, Bobby Zam-orrr-ra!”

Bobby had a hatful of chances and there were moments when I began to lose patience with him. I’ve been a pretty firm supporter of Bobby Z thus far but found his performance last night frustrating. He turned up trumps in the end crashing home the second and match winning goal less than five minutes after Dempsey’s opener and celebrating in style.

“Come on you Whites”

Dickson Etuhu hasn’t got his own song yet. He might never get one as it’s a tricky name to scan but he’s fast becoming a cult hero at Fulham. Despite Dacourt’s personal nightmare, Dickson continued to provide the anchor for our midfield. Despite a needless booking from “Cerebral” Halsey very early on, Dickson was imperious throughout and even managed another cannon bolt shot from distance, though this time he didn’t find the target.

Arsenal on Saturday, Hull next Wednesday then United arrive for that quarter final and a chance to play at Wembley. Let’s enjoy it while we can, I’m off to do more cartwheels down the corridor.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

F.A. Cup 5th Round Replay - Fulham 2 Swansea 1

Fulham edged a pedestrian first half, in which both teams exchanged free kicks from a variety of angles, but then got caught napping just after the break as that man Jason Scotland nipped in to give the Swans the lead. It took the arrival of our Captain Marvel, Danny Murphy, to kick the tie into life and turn the tide in our favour. Two goals in four minutes, the first from the excellent Clint Dempsey, the second from a resolute Bobby Zamora sealed the win and sent us through to a quarter final at home to Man Utd.

More tomorrow.

Fulham: Schwarzer, Pantsil, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky, Davies, Dacourt (Murphy 59), Etuhu, Dempsey (Kamara 90), Nevland (Gera 60), Zamora Subs Not Used: Zuberbuhler, Milsom, Kallio, Baird.
Booked: Etuhu
Goals: Dempsey 77, Zamora 81

Swansea: De Vries, Rangel, Williams (Bessone 90), Serran, Tate, Gower (Tudur-Jones 55), Britton, Gomez, Dyer, Scotland, Bauza (Butler 72) Subs Not Used: Cornell, O'Leary, Orlandi, Collins
Booked: Bauza
Goals: Scotland 47

Att: 12,316

Ref: Mark Halsey (Lancashire)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Fulham 2 West Bromich Albion 0

I was feeling nervous before kick-off. Despite the apparent gulf between our two clubs West Brom were only 8 points below us and had already shown themselves capable of beating us. Whilst the score remained goalless we always seemed vulnerable to a quick counter attack. West Brom played some neat football at times and Jay Simpson in particular showed potential to trouble our back line.

Whilst never quite taking complete control, Fulham did produce a catalogue of spectacular efforts in the first half. Danny Murphy curled an excellent free kick goal wards which was only kept out by Scott Carson's fingertip push onto the post. Dickson Etuhu continued the form he'd shown against Portsmouth and when he lashed a piledriver volley towards Carson it evoked memories of Papa Bouba Diop in his prime. Clint Dempsey cut in from the left wing before firing a curling left foot shot over Carson, only to see it come back off the angle. Simon Davies and John Paintsil were getting plenty of space down the right wing but both struggled to get in a quality cross. Murphy, who by now was completely running the came, smacked another shot off the cross bar then sent a delightful ball towards Andy Johnson which forced West Brom defender Barnett into a goal bound back header. Scott Carson again earned his money just managing to palm it around the post for a corner.

Our last good chance of the half fell to Bobby Zamora but as he scooped his effort high over the bar I was beginning to think it might just be one of those days. Bobby was beginning to approach a number of minutes that would rival Van der Sar's record for maintaining a blank. Ten minutes into the second half and he had another good chance, side stepping a challenge in the area he lost his footing just as he'd broken free. This kicked off a minor kerfuffle as the Baggies defender thought it was a dive and Bobby didn't react well to the implication. This injected a bit of passion into the game and soon after we got our reward. A quick freekick from Murphy set Paintsil free down the right wing, his cross was flicked on by Johnson in the box and Zamora's there at the far post to tap in. The delight at the goal seemed to be as much due to Zamora breaking his drought as to the fact we'd taken the lead. Within a minute Zamora showed exactly how important confidence can be. He set Dempsey off on a run down the left wing and arrived on the edge of the penalty box in time to connect with the American's neat return pass. The first time volley flew inches over the bar but it was a great instinctive strike. Had it gone in the Hammy End may very well have exploded with joy.

Fulham looked completely in control now and we didn't have to wait long for a second. Another great pass from Murphy found Zamora rampaging forward again. His shot caught Carson full in the face and left the 'keeper helpless to prevent Andy Johnson from collecting the rebound, juggling it between his own feet, lighting a celebratory cigar and eventually tucking home the winner. A double substitution on 80 minutes saw the welcome return of Diomansey Kamara who came on with Nevland to replace Zamora and AJ. Possibly the first time this season Roy's actually had the luxury of two strikers on the bench. Man-of-the-match Murphy was also retired early, receiving a well deserved standing ovation as Olivier Dacourt came on. We almost made the last few minutes more nervy than they needed to be, as Hangeland conceded a penalty. From a distance it was difficult to see what he'd done wrong, but television replays suggest he did catch Bednar as the Baggies striker nipped past him. Schwarzer, who had actually made three or four excellent saves when the game was still in the balance, reacted well to keep the penalty out and ensure a perfect finish to the game.

Justification for the team selection at Old Trafford midweek and a boost of confidence ahead of Swansea's arrival for the Cup replay on Tuesday. We find ourselves in the lofty position of 8th but more significantly are only seven points short of the magic 40 point mark

Fulham: Schwarzer, Pantsil, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky, Davies, Murphy (Dacourt 85), Etuhu, Dempsey, Johnson (Kamara 80), Zamora (Nevland 80) Subs Not Used: Zuberbuhler, Gray, Kallio, Baird
Goals: Zamora 61, Johnson 72

West Brom: Carson, Zuiverloon, Meite, Barnett, Robinson, Morrison (Menseguez 77), Koren, Borja Valero, Filipe Teixeira (Brunt 50), Fortune (Bednar 81), Simpson Subs Not Used: Kiely, Cech, Moore, Martis
Booked: Robinson

Att: 22,394

Ref: Martin Atkinson (W Yorkshire)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Round of applause for Ms. Sarah Brooks

Just found this article on Tribal Football of all places.

"Fulham banned the BBC from interviewing Roy Hodgson after their defeat at Manchester United this week over Alan Green's commentary.

Fulham were so incensed by Green's commentary during their 3-0 Premier League defeat at Old Trafford on Wednesday night that head of communications Sarah Brooks took it upon herself to prevent Five Live from interviewing manager Hodgson afterwards in protest at the high amount of criticism.

Brooks told the Daily Mail: "We always co-operate with the media and never complain about fair criticism. But Alan Green's comments about Fulham appalled some of our fans, who made their views known on the message boards or contacted me during the game.

"I also listened to some of his commentary myself and remarks like 'Fulham should not have bothered to turn up' were insulting. In those circumstances, I didn't feel it appropriate for Five Live to speak to our manager."

I didn't hear the commentary in question but having had the misfortune of sitting through a number of Green's previous commentaries I can only applaud Sarah for a job well done. He's an ignorant and annoying man who seems to think we've tuned in specifically to hear his "witticisms" and deserves to be taken down a peg or two.

Wick to Wembley at The National Football Museum

My friend Andy, who wrote a blog last year about following the F.A. Cup from the earliest preliminary rounds to the final, has just opened a display of his memorabilia at The National Football Museum. Amazing to see Andy's little blog grow to the extent that he's been interviewed by Radio and Television journalists, had a book published and is now featured in the same location as the ball from the 1966 World Cup Final and Maradona's shirt from the "hand of God" game. He's currently following the F.A. Vase which has been an equally entertaining read and has just led him back to the town of his birth.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Manchester United 3 Fulham 0 (micro post)

Our biggest defeat so far this season. I'm sure had we fielded our strongest side we could have given them a better game but realistically another 0-0 was the best we could hope for. With a home fixture against a struggling team on Sunday and a cup replay next week I think Roy got his priorities right. Takes a brave man to field a weakened side at Old Trafford and whilst the result suggests the team wasn't up to the task better teams have fared no better.

Van der Sar claimed the British record of 14 consecutive league clean sheets. Well done Edwin, hope you remember that if Swansea let us have a crack at you in the cup!

Man Utd: Van der Sar, O'Shea (Evans 62), Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Ronaldo, Carrick (Gibson 69), Scholes, Park, Berbatov (Rooney 61), Tevez Subs Not Used: Kuszczak, Nani, Rafael Da Silva, Fletcher.
Booked: Park
Goals: Scholes 12, Berbatov 30, Rooney 63

Fulham: Schwarzer, Pantsil (Dacourt 67), Hangeland, Hughes, Kallio, Baird, Gera (Brown 86), Murphy (Milsom 80), Davies, Dempsey, Zamora Subs Not Used: Zuberbuhler, Nevland, Gray, Smalling
Booked: Pantsil

Att: 75,437

Ref: Andre Marriner (W Midlands)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

FA Cup 5th Round: Swansea 1 Fulham 1

We knew this was going to be a tricky game. Swansea had cruised past Pompey in the last round and reports from my Championship supporting pals all said they were the best team in the division. So it proved. Neat passing and good movement we might have expected but this team showed a work rate and passion for the fight that swung the tie completely in their favour. In the end we did well to weather the storm and give ourselves another opportunity to admire the Welsh side up close.

Alarm bells must have been ringing when as early as the fourth minute Swansea were able to slice their way through our defence. Jason Scotland and Mark Gower exchanging passes before Gower fired his shot against the far post. I'm still not sure how it came out and as it did Gower almost had another chance to tap it in before Mark Schwarzer gratefully smothered the ball.

Murphy and Dacourt linked up well in the centre to regain some sort of momentum for Fulham as the game progressed. Dacourt looked classy and solid in the defensive holding role, whilst nearly all our attacking moves began with a Murphy pass. Danny picked out several long passes over the top of the Swans defence and one of these put Andy Johnson through to face the 'keeper alone before being wrongly pulled back for offside. Swansea created the better chances though and a cross from the right wing found that man Gower in space again on the left of the penalty area. Stoor was horribly misplaced and Simon Davies static as the left winger took aim but Schwarzer pulled of a remarkable point blank save to deny him again.

Our one decent chance of the first half came as Eric Nevland flicked a Davies long pass towards goal but Swansea keeper De Vries just beat Johnson to the ball. The balance of play was very much with Swansea so it was unexpected when we took the lead a couple of minutes before half-time. A corner from Konchesky was missed by the fist of De Vries and came off defender Monk's hip to give us an unlikely goal. The half time graphic showed we'd not managed a shot on target.

Thoughts that taking the lead would help us take control of the game were soon dispelled as Swansea came out for the second half in much the same fashion as they'd played the first and didn't take long to level the scoreline. A fluid buildup down the left hand side resulted in a pass to lone centre forward Jason Scotland. With his back to goal he held the ball up well, before a shift of feet bewildered Aaron Hughes and allowed Scotland to fire home under the body of Schwarzer. We were up against it now. Player for player it seemed Swansea had greater technical ability than us a fact that hardly bodes well for the replay. Our two banks of four stood up well and made it difficult for Swansea to break us down but all the creativity came from them.

Their wide men really hugged the touchlines and took every opportunity to switch play and stretch our resources. This put our wide men in the spotlight and none of them came out with very much credit. Stoor and Davies in particular suffered down the right flank, whilst Gera was conspicuous by his absence throughout. A flurry of changes from the hour mark onwards saw any ambition from us slowly dwindle and in the end it was a relief to claim a replay.

Swansea: De Vries, Rangel, Williams, Monk, Tate, Britton, Gomez, Allen (Bauza 81), Gower (Orlandi 71), Dyer, Scotland Subs Not Used: Cornell, Tudur-Jones, Bessone, Serran, Butler
Goals: Scotland (51)
Booked: Williams

Fulham: Schwarzer, Stoor, Hangeland, Hughes, Konchesky, Nevland (Zamora 75), Gera, Murphy, Davies, Dacourt (Dempsey 60), Johnson (Gray 85) Subs Not Used: Zuberbuhler, Pantsil, Milsom, Kallio
Goals: Monk o.g. (43)
Booked: Dacourt

Att: 16,573

Ref: Howard Webb (S Yorkshire)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Zola, clean sheets & Recaro seats

On Sunday evening I settled down to watch the West Ham v Man Utd highlights on MOTD2. I like MOTD2, it's less pompous than it's elder sibling and usually has a pundit with something interesting to say about the games. Gianfranco Zola is the sort of person it's difficult not to like. He was a footballing genius (even if he did play for the wrong team in the borough) and rarely appears without a big beaming smile. He's also managed to get West Ham playing a free flowing and entertaining style of football. When West Ham beat us at the Cottage (a result I'm still grumpy about) they looked neat but ineffective. We undid ourselves that day but the Hammers had enough quality even then to take advantage. It seems Zola's now got them playing without fear and an amazing string of results has taken their confidence and their ability to new levels. It took a wonder goal from Giggs to defeat them and they must be eyeing European qualification. If nothing else the higher up the league they finish the easier it will be for them when the man from Sheffield United calls to collect their dough.

The game also took Edwin van der Sar a step nearer a World Record for clean sheets in league football. He'll break it if he manages to last 64 minutes without conceding against us next Wednesday. Of all the teams in the Premier League you'd probably fancy your chances of keeping a clean sheet against us than any other. We've managed a paltry three goals away from home all season, half the total of West Brom who are the next worst. Of course it would be typically Fulhamish of us to go and score, probably in the 63rd minute.

Another piece of trivia I noticed was that West Ham now have Recaro seats in their dugout. This is a growing fad amongst those teams that want to be seen as the best; Real Madrid, Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur, both Manchester's and Reading have all succumbed. Personally I think they look a bit naff, they are, after all, just car seats in club colours but each to their own. I'm glad to say Fulham have yet to be taken in and remain with Arsenal and Liverpool bastions of the plastic seat (though I'd actually be even happier if we still had a wooden bench).

One final word before my digression from things Fulham is complete. The Dean Windass story is an interesting one with twists and turns aplenty. From becoming the only player to be sent off three times in the same game to scoring the goal that won Hull City promotion to the top division for the first time in their history. Paul Fletcher's blog for the BBC summed this up quite well and looked at his hopes for the rest of the season with Oldham Athletic where he's currently on loan. However, even Fletcher couldn't have expected that what Windass would do next would be to take over in goal, survive a penalty and keep a clean sheet for 40 minutes to help Oldham to an away point at high flying Leicester. It's things like this that make Football great.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Last on MOTD - '97 remembered

More good stuff from Mike Whalley at World of Sport. Fulham are building a comfortable lead in the race to be crowned Gubbometer champions. The '97 encounter against Wigan at the Cottage was one of our biggest games that season. I still remember the eruption of delight as Mark Blake slotted home an 82nd minute penalty that levelled the scores and rescued a point. Coincidentally, Wigan's midfield that day featured the talents of Roberto Martinez, an excellent player and key factor in Wigan's success. Martinez is of course now manager of Swansea City who we face in the F.A. Cup next weekend.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Wigan Athletic 0 Fulham 0 (micro post)

An almost inevitable scoreline that on the face of it seemed a good away point but proved to be a missed opportunity to claim that elusive first away win. Wigan are a team, very much like ourselves, making the most of their resources to keep clear of the mire that is the lower half of the table. Going in to the game I'd have been more than happy with a point. The comments of both managers suggest we played well enough to claim all three.

Disappointingly, Dickson Etuhu, who seemed to be finding his feet in the last couple of games, picked up a knock which lead to his replacement near the end of the first half. However, this did give us an extended opportunity to see Olivier Dacourt who, whilst clearly being short of match fitness, looked very much the part. Zamora had a couple of decent attempts and was much improved. A point Hodgson was quick to pass comment on - "Last week Bobby Zamora had a bad time and it was good to see him back today, doing what we need."

Wigan: Kirkland, Melchiot, Scharner, Bramble, Figueroa, Valencia (Watson 18), Brown (Koumas 19), Cattermole, N'Zogbia, Mido (Zaki 42), Rodallega. Subs Not Used: Pollitt, Edman, Boyce, De Ridder.
Booked: Figueroa.

Fulham: Schwarzer, Pantsil, Hangeland, Hughes, Konchesky, Davies, Etuhu (Dacourt 45), Murphy, Dempsey (Gera 90), Johnson, Zamora (Nevland 75). Subs Not Used: Zuberbuhler, Gray, Stoor, Kallio.
Booked: Dempsey, Pantsil.

Att: 16,499.

Ref: Lee Probert (Wiltshire)

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

January 2009 Transfer Window Summary

Thanks to the snow I spent most of Monday at home checking the Internet and sports news to see if we'd signed anyone exciting. Inevitably, despite being quite busy regarding the movement of fringe players on loan deals, we didn't make a late bid to purchase Kaka from AC Milan or steal Arshavin from under the noses of Arsenal. I'm coping with the whole transfer window shenanigans much better these days, and generally trying very hard to ignore it, but I have to admit I wasted an awful lot of time yesterday tapping the F5 key.

Giles Barnes (Derby County) LOAN with OTB*
Olivier Dacourt (Inter Milan) LOAN
Elliot Omozusi (Norwich City) LOAN RETURN

Jimmy Bullard (Hull City) £5Million
Gabriel Zakuani (Peterborough United) £undisclosed
Lee Cook (QPR) £undisclosed
TJ Moncur (Wycombe Wanderers) FREE
Hameur Bouazza (Birmingham City) LOAN
Seol Ki Hyeon (Al Hilal Al Saudi) LOAN
Leon Andreasen (Hannover 96) LOAN with OTB*
Andranik (Barnsley) LOAN
Adrian Leijer (Norwich City) LOAN

The club sensibly kept it's cheque book under lock and key and made best use of the loan system. Giles Barnes could prove to be a very good signing. He's going to need a fair bit of time to improve match fitness and get up to Premier League speed but it's a decent gamble and with a £2Million option to buy a reasonable price should we decide he's up to scratch. Olivier Dacourt has an impressive record, he did feature significantly for Inter last season but has been unable to break into a first team that is currently topping Serie A. I'm quite excited about Dacourt but felt similarly about Jari Litmanen this time last year so we'll have to wait and see what happens (I'm hoping Dacourt's ears are in better condition than Jari's!). No great loss if he's not up to it and a great chance for Dacourt to prove his worth ahead of next season.

Most of the outward movement is not unexpected though letting both Andreasen and Andranik go doesn't help our midfield options. We've still got eight players in that position and maybe Barnes and Dacourt can improve our reserve quality. It's up front I have the greatest concerns. Just three fit strikers leaves us vulnerable to injury and with limited options from the bench. That said Kamara is nearing fitness again and compared with Everton (who've been making do with Tim Cahill for over a month before bringing in Jo on loan yesterday) we have a multitude of riches. We might have improved this by signing 19 year old Ben Wright from Hampton & Richmond but, as Roy Hodgson explains, stepped aside to let him join Peterborough United instead.

In other news we've turned Julian Gray's loan into a permanent deal (though only until June), which doesn't mean a great deal other than freeing up one of our domestic loan slots. This probably suggests that we were close to bringing in another player on loan but missed out (the hot rumour is we may have got Caicedo from Man City if they'd got Roque Santa Cruz). Club Captain Danny Murphy signed the option to extend his contract through to June 2010 which is good news, and of course we kept Brede Hangeland. A lean squad of 23 players is no bad thing and may even give valuable opportunities to some of our academy graduates.

* OTB = Option to buy.