Tuesday, May 25, 2010

HEC 2009-10 End Of Season - Awards

HEC has been very hit or miss this season and I'm planning on calling it a day very soon. Might do a write up of the Hamburg trip, for my own benefit if no one else’s. Anyway, couldn't leave a season like the last without doing my end of season awards. It's been a thrilling ride from start to finish, the best season I've ever witnessed, and quite possibly the best ever for our club. Whatever happens in the future, if Roy stays or goes, if the squad gets stronger or quietly goes their separate ways, 2009-10 will stand tall amongst greatest campaigns we've completed.

Player of the Season: Bobby Zamora - This was a really tough call with five players being genuine candidates. For me Zamora has been the stand out player. The injury to Andy Johnson not only left Bobby ploughing a lone furrow but changed the way we played football. Zamora has been outstanding as our target man, held the ball up as well as he ever did but also scored an impressive tally of goals. His all round game has reached new levels and he was deservedly linked with the England squad. Aaron Hughes was a very close second, an almost ever present who has been remarkably consistent, and Clint Dempsey, Zoltan Gera and Damien Duff all deserve praise. (Last season: Brede Hangeland)

Young Player of Season: Chris Smalling - Had he not claimed an unexpected transfer to Man United mid-way through the season he might have garnered more praise. As it turned out that £10Million+ agreement seemed to cause a small loss of focus. Despite this he has impressed, making the third choice centre back spot his own and earning the club a tidy profit in the process. He was a surprise inclusion in some of the earlier Europa League games but acquitted himself well. Followed that up with a first Premier League start against the dark side, in which he was unfortunate to score an own goal. His most extended run in the side came after the switch to Old Trafford had been agreed and saw the team struggling for form. It certainly seemed like we'd got the better end of the deal, but stronger performances at home to Wolves and West Ham and away at Everton suggest he may indeed go on to greater things. (Last season: Wayne Brown)

Best New Signing: Damien Duff - Duff's signing was the most exciting of our summer transfer news but we all must have wondered whether he could get anywhere near the form that had seen his value reach £17Million. Of course he'd achieved this feat partly under Roy's tutelage and it didn't take him long to settle in. His debut came in the 74th minute at home to Amkar Perm. He received the ball almost as soon as he stepped onto the pitch, side stepped a Russian defender, burst to the by-line and sent a rocket of a cross which looped up off Nevland's head before being lashed into the net by Zamora with a ferocity that almost broke the net. 75 minutes on the clock, some start. Duffer went on to have a great season, consistently a threat down the flank and a regular goal scoring contributor. (Last Season: Mark Schwarzer)

Goal of the Season: Bobby Zamora v Shaktar Donetsk - We scored a lot of great goals this season and this is another tough category to pick. Dempsey's goal against Juventus was right up there and Digger's goal against Hamburg a close third. Both those goals were arguably more important but there was something extra special about Bobby's strike against Shaktar. It came with the match evenly balanced but our chances of winning the tie still a long way from anyone's thoughts. A slick passing move saw Gera somehow flick the ball on to Bobby who let the ball roll then lashed home a bullet of a shot. The Donetsk 'keeper stood no chance and as it smacked off the underside of the crossbar and smashed into the back of the net we rose as one to applaud a wonder strike. (Last Season: Zoltan Gera v Man Utd)

Moment of the Season: Dempsey's goal vs Juve - OK, so I couldn't let this goal go unrewarded. The Juventus game was the most remarkable achievement and as fine an advert for European football as you're likely to find. Clint's pulled off the unexpected so many times that you almost think he couldn't surprise you any more. And then he does. From my vantage point in the Hammy End I was directly in line with Dempsey and that top corner. Everything happened in slow motion. I initially thought he had over hit a cross. Then I thought it was a shot about to scoop over the bar. As it began it's descent we all realised where it was heading. You could see it in the eyes of Juve 'keeper Chimenti as well. Oh. My. God! Top corner, 4-1, game over! A stunning goal to win a stunning game. (Last Season: Finishing 7th and reaching Europe)

Most Improved Player: Zoltan Gera - Again, there are a few contenders for this award. Chris Baird has not only shown he's capable at both right back and centre back but settled into a new role as midfield anchor. Bobby Zamora has added a massive dose of confidence to his game and turned himself into some sort of super hero. But it's Zolly who for me has made the most remarkable improvement. Europe has helped in this. Also, the loss of AJ which opened up the role of playing someone in the hole behind Zamora. I always thought of Gera as more of a central player and he's flourished with the freedom this role allows him. He's also gained confidence from his success which has allowed him to play in a wide role to greater effect. His work rate wherever he plays has been second to none and it's lovely to hear his name sung so loudly by the crowd. (Last season: Dickson Etuhu)

Most Disappointing Player: Greening - Jono has shown glimpses of what he can do and if the example of Zamora and Gera are an inspiration he could go on to become an important player for our club but there's no question he's not had the best of seasons. For me, the final straw came in the F.A. cup quarter final at home to Spurs. Too many sideways or backwards passes, no creativity or vision to see a way through the defence. Maybe the midfield anchor will be the role he ultimately plays but I was expecting more when he arrived and I'm sure he's capable of better things. (Last season: No award)

Most Underrated Player: Paul Konchesky - Underrated specifically by me. I was becoming a bit of a Konch critic before he was injured in January. Nicky Shorey's arrival seemed a breath of fresh air and I was singing the loan boys praises. Then Konch returned and showed just why he was first choice left back. Defensively solid and a definite threat going forward. (Last season: Aaron Hughes for 2nd time!)

Player Performance: Gera v Juve - I could nominate Zoltan for any number of his performances in Europe. This was a genuine team effort but Gera's willingness to run and run played a vital part in the win. (Last season: Murphy v Swansea City)

Team Performance: Home v Juve - Absolutely the best game I've ever seen. I'm running out of superlatives but this was a spectacular team effort against one of the giants of European football. (Last season: Home v Man Utd)

Best Opposition: Shaktar Donetsk - Pinpoint passing at 100 miles an hour. Shaktar were incredible and I'm still amazed we found a way to beat them. (Last season: Manchester United)

Best Opposition Player: Sergio Aguero (Atletico Madrid) - I didn't really appreciate it at the time but the 21 year old Argentinean really made Atletico tick. Effectively created both goals for his strike partner Forlan (though the first one was a scuffed shot) and caused us all sorts of problems in the middle of the park. (Last season: Stephen Piennar of Everton)

Best Goal Celebration: Simon Davies v Atletico - Simon Davies' Toto Schillaci impression as he pulled us level was perfect. He's struggled to find form and overcome injury this season but as our European tour extended he got better and better. Seeing the welsh man bursting with joy having pulled us level with a fine volley was another special moment. (Last season: Zoltan Gera v Man Utd)

Quote of the Year: Roy Hodgson "It's nice I'm being linked here and there, but it's not something I was aware of. We all know its part of football. We also know the sword has two sides. One minute the sword is tapping you on your shoulder and asking you to arise, the next thing it's being used to cut your head off." - Roy is full of wonderful wit and wisdom. He's made many comments that I've thought perfectly sum up our season. It's no wonder he's being linked with some top jobs, you wouldn't begrudge him the opportunity but I really hope he stays.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Top 5 Football Superstitions (that failed to help Fulham win the Europa League)

This would have been a more upbeat post had Fulham won in Hamburg last night. I'm still absolutely gutted we didn't but I'm starting to accept that it was still a brilliant day and a massive achievement.

1. A bet on the opposing team - I've been doing this in the domestic cups for a while now (actually ever since I didn't place a bet on Leyton Orient beating us in the FA Cup which they managed 1-0) and like to think I've helped us avoid some embarrasing slip ups against the likes of Kettering and Accrington Stanley. Fulham's progress in the Europa league has cost me a small fortune but was worth every penny. I might not bother collecting the winnings from this game.

2. Wearing my lucky socks - Back in the nineties when Mickey Adams was just starting to create a buzz at the club I discovered a pair of lucky boxer shorts. They were yellow, which isn't a colour I'd normally choose but had a remarkably long run as lucky totems. When I got a pair of yellow socks last year I couldn't help but wonder if they held the same magic. They did and I've worn them to games ever since.

3. Dad touching the boot of Johnny Haynes - Dad didn't come to Hamburg and even if he had we'd have needed to make an awkward detour to fit this one in. It's done us proud at home though but doesn't have a 100% success rate.

4. Wearing my lucky replica top - I don't buy a top every year but I got this personalised one from a mate for my 40th and it's been a very lucky shirt ever since. Then again I wore my unlucky "Steve Marlet" shirt (the black adidas one) to the recent West Ham game and we won that 3-2.

5. Going in through my lucky turnstile - Somewhere during our epic 63 game season I started to feel drawn to a particular turnstile. We'd been going in roughly the same place for quite a while but now Number 38 (slightly to the right of the picture below) is the only entrance I'll use.

Photo (c) John Hall