When supporting the impending apocalypse theory of our 2009/10 start, people are saying that it’s not the result, but the performances that worry them.
To this I have countered that we rarely look good losing (think about it; we’re ugly losers). But they do have a point. We haven’t seemed to play particularly well.
One way to guage performance is to look at shots/shots on target stats. This is something the mathematical modellers at the Fink Tank do, as it gives a good overview of how teams are playing. Here’s this year v last year for us then:
Portsmouth away: 12 shots, 6 on target. Allowed 24 shots, 7 on target
Villa away: 6 shots, 2 on target. Allowed 16 shots, 2 on target
Chelsea home: 5 shots, 2 on target. Allowed 24 shots, 8 on target
Total: 23 shots, 10 on target. Allowed 64 shots, 17 on target
Portsmouth away: 13 shots, 2 on target. Allowed 17 shots, 2 on target
Villa away: 8 shots, 0 on target. Allowed 10 shots, 2 on target
Chelsea home: 6 shots, 1 on target. Allowed 16 shots, 4 on target
Total: 27 shots, 3 on target. Allowed 43 shots, 8 on target.
So we’ve shot about as much but not hit the target. We’ve conceded far fewer shots, and have allowed fewer of those to hit the target. I don’t know that this tells us too much, but I don’t think there’s enough of a difference to suggest ‘crisis’ by any stretch of the imagination. We’ve had some tough games (latterly without our best players) and struggled. I really think that’s all there is to it.
Everyone thinks Jonathan Greening had a tough debut. But both the Guardian and the Telegraph show him as having seen more of the ball than any Fulham player in recent memory. He didn’t do much with it, but was he as bad as people are making out?
By the Telegraph’s numbers (it looks like the Guardian were asleep on the job again, given the picture on the right) he gave the ball away 13 times, which seems like a hell of a lot in the modern game, but given the amount of the ball he did see, this is probably quite reasonable. In all the time we’ve been seeing these things I can’t remember a Fulham player passing the ball 91 times. His ‘success’ rate is right in line with what Murphy does.
While waiting for the game to start I was having a nose around the Observer’s Review section, and more specifically around an interview with art collector Charles Saatchi. He was asked about (artist) Mark Rothko and the nature of infinity, and replied as follows:
“My understanding of infinity goes something like this: every 100 years a sparrow flies to the top of a large mountain, and cleans its beak by scraping it on the highest rock. By the time the mountain has been scraped away to a small pile of dust, that would be the equivalent of the first second of infinity.”
Of course this is pretentious drivel, but I kept thinking about this sparrow on a mountain-top throughout the game. We really didn’t look like we would score, ever.
The first thing you need to know about today is that we were missing Danny Murphy. “As Murphy goes, so go Fulham” and all that, and today Murphy wasn’t there and Fulham were dreadful.
The second thing is that Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson were also missing, and without them we might as well have been playing with an ice cream and a custard cream up front. This is slightly unfair to Diomansy Kamara, who at least had a go at being useful, but it was so easy to imagine Zamora in there making things hard; it was so easy to imagine Johnson running the channels, pulling defenders around, winning free-kicks. We’re a different team with these two aboard.
Villa scored early. Fulham’s defenders played the ball around carelessly on the edge of the area, conceded a thoroughly avoidable corner, and Ashley Young’s fizzing cross was nicked over Dickson Etuhu and onto John Paintsil head, from where it flew into the net. Paintsil was thoroughly blameless here – he had no time to react – but it was a ridiculously soft goal.
This drew Fulham out somewhat, but Villa pressed extremely well, not just the player in possession but seemingly all available passing options too. Our players always seemed hurried, always put under pressure, and rarely made anything happen. We had isolated spells of pressure, but couldn’t make Villa’s makeshift defence give way, couldn’t create any chances worthy of the name. Dempsey and Duff swapped flanks time and again, but ended up trying too hard to make something happen, and both had 5/10 games. Jonathan Greening, on his Fulham debut, was probably a touch below that.
While it was 1-0 Fulham always had a theoretical chance of making something happen – a free-kick perhaps, or a random bounce going our way – but Gabby Agbonlahor made it 2-0 with a ripper of a drive from 25 yards, and that was that. He had space and time, but his shot came from nowhere, blasted a foot off the ground and through Schwarzer all too easily, beaten by the extraordinary power of the shot. Modern balls…
So there we are. We’re about where we should be given the fixture list, so no need to panic yet. Fulham don’t look good when they lose away from home – it’s just the way things are – so the idea of today’s performance being some kind of indicator of the season ahead strikes me as being somewhat off. We must wait for the easier games to come around and, assuming we can field our better players, should expect them to be more enjoyable than today’s non-event.