Monthly Archives: September 2008

The minutes of Erik Nevland

Villa, home: subbed after 70 minutes, lone striker, replaced by McBride.   We scored almost immediately after he went off, then added another later on.

Boro, away: subbed after 64 minutes, lone striker, replaced by McBride.  Not much happened for us that day.

Man Utd home: on in 91st minute in a game we’d lost horribly.

Reading away: on in the 83rd minute, scored in the 90th.  A game we’d dominated but not put away.  Nevland made it safe.

Liverpool home: on 76, bad game for Fulham, lost 2-0, can’t remember any impact.

Man City away: on 71 for McBride, straight after we’d scored a goal (seems unlike Roy doesn’t it?).  Hauled down for equalising penalty.  We scored again in the 90th minute.

Birmingham home:  on 67 for Kamara, scored 87 to seal win.

Portsmouth: on 72 for Dempsey, we scored in the 76th minute to win 1-0.

Hull away:  on 85, 2-1 down.

Bolton: on 85, 2-1 up.

(also Leicester in the cup when he scored but was offside)

It’s a pretty decent track record so far.  Noteworthy that he’s started twice and been fairly invisible (not entirely his fault), then come on as a sub and done well.    It’s hard to know the extent to which he was the beneficiary of a team hitting its stride or whether he was a vital part of that team hitting its stride.   I think it’s fair to say that he did his bit.

Roy’s sub patterns much more varied, although I guess with McBride coming back to fitness this was a clear need, and Kamara got a couple of knocks I seem to recall.  The Portsmouth sub (on for Dempsey) was a fairly attacking move.

In summation, you shouldn’t really read the above and spontaneously combust over his lack of use this year.   He’s done a good job when called upon but there’s nothing there to suggest that his absence is costing us dear.   One player simply doesn’t make that much of a difference, particularly a fringe player, however effective he might be.

My guess is that we’ll see more of Nevland as the season wears on, but that he’s unlikely to grow from his current role.   We’ll probably see the odd start and he might do well and he might not (just like most forwards!) but there’s nothing here to get angry about.

Sitting on the dock of the bay

John Paintsil’s heart-warming words remind us that “Roy not making subs” is not the same as “Roy doing nothing”.

Playing ten against eleven against a team that is leading by two goals wasn’t easy for us. When we went into the dressing room, the Manager changed things around and we pushed forward, pushing the right and left backs more forward and that changed a lot for us.

I’ll do the Telegraph density maps later in the week, but from them it’s clear that Simon Davies was operating as a second forward, playing, in total, further forward than both Zamora and Johnson.  Now we get confirmation from Paintsil that the full-backs were pushing on.   I noticed Paintsil roving in the second half, and thought he did that quite well, but Paul Konchesky worries me somewhat when asked to do too much attacking.

Paul Doyle of the Guardian has something about Roy’s subs too, incidentally.

That could be construed as an admission of the lack of his squad’s depth, and certainly the absence of a specialist left winger was punishing, though either Seol Ki-Hyeon or Clint Dempsey could reasonably have been expected to be more visible than the ghostly Zoltan Gera. Chris Baird and Toni Kallio may also have been more reliable in the full-back berths than the negligent John Pantsil and Paul Konchesky. But not “definitely”.

“Definitely” was the key word in Hodgson’s explanation. By using it he left himself open to accusations of indecision or excessive caution. If we reflect on a record of success that extends well beyond last season’s great escape, we may instead deduce that his refusal to gamble on a substitution attests to the strength of his conviction in his methods, a belief, borne of his rich experience, that if you keep performing well you will eventually be rewarded.

Fair enough, all this.  I think that, as usual, we’re slightly overreacting, but it’s a trend that does bear watching.   Roy must have purchased the likes of Andreasen, Andranik and Etuhu for a reason; I’m sure if we’re patient we’ll see them.

The main thing is points on the board, and we’re about par for the course at the moment.  No need to panic just yet.

Tackles

From the telegraph, via the press association, who count these things impartially.  The talk of Seol not tackling is nonsense.   He does his bit.

He might or might not be a good player, but he is not the player people think he is.

Roy’s thoughts

Here.

I pretty much agree with him.  I thought we’d done alright until I met the others at the pub and they weren’t very impressed.  All a bit confusing.

Re. Subs – can see Roy’s point.  I’d have changed it, but I’m not as aghast as most.   Incidentally, I did the Observer fans’ bit and tomorrow morning there may be some words from me in the paper about the lack of subs.  I didn’t really think that, they just asked me for “one more thought” about the game when I’d finished all my other rambles, and I couldn’t think of anything.  So I wondered about the lack of subs because I knew it was a hot topic.   And the way they do these things it’ll look like I was outraged, probably.  And really I’m not.

Anyway.

Fulham 1-2 West Ham

How quickly good things can turn bad.  In the space of ten first half minutes a straightforward game went belly up, with two goals and a player conceded.  And that was that.

We started well.  The passing was as good as it normally is, and the feeling that we have a genuinely reasonable team was enhanced with every slick attack, every near miss.  In the final analysis we realise that Robert Green in the West Ham goal had nothing of note to deal with all day, but territorially Fulham had this game under control.  It was there to be won, and won well.

Then Carlton Cole beat Brede Hangeland to a bouncing ball near halfway.  This set off an attack down our left flank, an attack that was not halted.  Schwarzer spilled a hard cross-shot, Cole mopped up the rebound.  Stunned silence.  It had been going so well.

It got worse.  A simple dolloped through ball caught us square, Schwarzer decided to play sweeper, Etherington beat him to the ball, and we were two down.

And worse again.  Andrew Johnson, who may well be trying too hard, left a boot in for the second time in the game, and saw his second red.

Half time.

West Ham were on top now, but Fulham got help when a penalty was awarded in our favour for hand ball.  Danny Murphy sent Green the wrong way.  Would this see the initiative return to the whites?

No.  Sure there were more attacks, but as the game wore on they became less and less threatening.   Zamora, alone and weary, headed wide when well placed.  Bullard hit free-kick after free-kick into the West Ham wall.  Murphy probed and nudged the ball around, but now there was no space to play in and West Ham contained us easily enough.

Disappointing.  On the one hand we played our game again, and did it quite well.  On the other our defence was carved up far too easily today, something that cannot be repeated if we are to progress this season.  Schwarzer mades some good saves but was culpable twice today, Paintsil was willing but erratic, Konchesky’s game is going backwards (especially with the ball at his feet), and Hangeland had one of those games to remind us that he’s not the finished article.  Hughes was Hughes, which is to say he generally did well.

In the same way, the midfield did as the midfield does.  Simon Davies seems to be regaining form, Murphy played well enough, Zoltan Gera had his moments, and Bullard was everywhere (but in a good way).  Decent performance from this group.  They are what they are and it should be good enough most of the time.

But we must come up with more of a cutting edge.  Johnson was busy but harmless until his dismissal, and Zamora is showing himself to be capable, hard-working, but not completely ruthless in front of goal.  This team will make chances, but needs to do a much better job of turning them into something worthwhile.  Time and again today we found ourselves gasping at another near miss.  We need to do better, especially against ordinary sides like West Ham.

Organisational stuff

Paul DePodesta again.

The flex was a complicated offense, well complicated for 6th graders who could barely discern the difference between man-to-man and a box-and-one. By many accounts, it was complicated for high school varsity players as well, as it involved crisp passing and a lot of coordinated movement away from the ball. So, this small school in Northern Virginia that wasn’t necessarily competing for national championships started teaching the flex offense… in the 6th grade.

Guess what offense we ran in the 7th grade? 8th grade? And so on.

There were two primary results from this process: 1) by the time anyone reached the varsity basketball team the flex offense was second nature and 2) we won a whole lot of basketball games – many more than our talent (or certainly my talent) would have ever dictated.

I wonder to what extent Roy’s famous ‘patterns’ are worked on down the Fulham teams.   Roy mentioned at the fans’ forum that he does work with the junior sides, more than perhaps he is obliged to.   But I wonder when all the movement off the ball, rehearsed patterns, etc, come into play for younger players or reserve players.  Do they get all that expertise, or is this first team only business?

Oops – one last Blackburn thing

Telegraph on the Blackburn game – I forgot I hadn’t posted this.   Shows we got things about right with the possession winning bars (given it was an away game, etc).  Also Gera and Davies swapping wings confused the density map tracking so we can’t really tell what the team looked like.   Looks fairly normal though.

Look at this though.  It’s West Ham’s 3-1 win over Newcastle:

Did them on the counter attack, no?    West Ham’s forwards spent a lot of time just beyond the halfway line.  Newcastle had the edge on what we’re going to have to call ‘field position’ (where the ball is won; the higher up the park the better, generally, as you have less far to go to get to the goal, less danger of losing it in a dangerous area, etc) too.   So either West Ham got lucky here, or they played pretty cleverly on the counter attack.   Something to watch tomorrow, as our defence isn’t the quickest.

Peckham’s Dickson Etuhu speaks

Here.   Good comments, I think:

I couldn’t have asked for a better move to be honest. It was the hardest decision of my career, because Sunderland didn’t want me to go and I had a lot of friends there, but as soon as I spoke to the Manager here at Fulham I knew that I had to come here, because he can teach me and make me the player I should be.

Peckham boy too, which I hadn’t realised.  Nigerian international and all.  Still, good luck to him.  I’m looking forward to seeing him play.

Good day for me.  Expected disasters at work didn’t materialise, and after work I nipped up to town to get some guitar strings.  I have an old classical guitar that I can’t play very well (most people say this, but I really can only play to basic chords) and it’s a string light, battered (I dropped it down the stairs when I was at uni), and now covered in dust.  So I need to clean it up, which I’ll do on Sunday, but I also needed strings.  So I nipped up to Denmark Street where all the guitar shops are.  I’d love to love it there, but the people in the music shops are so damn pleased with themselves I’m almost ashamed to go in. Everywhere you look are the cool kids you thought you’d left behind years ago, playing unspeakably clever things on their guitars and generally being intimidating.  This surely says more about me than it does about them (and one of my best friends is a guitar wizard), but I couldn’t get out fast enough.  There’s an excellent crime bookshop on Charing Cross road (I think it’s called Murder Ink) so I nipped in there to pick up the latest Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, accidentally wandered into their erotica and romance section (who knew?!), then picked up a few back issues of Alfred’s magazine.   Huzzah!

Then I got home, and not only was there a package containing Juliana Hatfield’s autobiography “When I grow up”, but also a mystery ticket explaining that something else was supposed to be delivered but wouldn’t fit through the letterbox.  Cool!   Alfred Hitchcock can wait. I’m onto Juliana, a fantastic account of what it’s like to be a once worshipped indie star now playing to the same 200 people over and over again.  (not in England though. She hasn’t been here much so gets… maybe 600 people).  Priceless stuff for a fan like me, and in early October we’re going to see her live at the South Bank, which is going to be fantastic to the power of about 90.

Tomorrow’s Friday, then it’s down to mum and dad in the west for the night, then back up to see us play another team in claret and blue against whom we rarely succeed!  Huzzah.

Life feels pretty good again though.  Funny how it all works out.  Swings and roundabouts, I used to say when I was 18 or so, whenever I could.  And I was right.   On Saturday we may well beat West Ham.  Imagine.

Weird scenes inside the goldmine

UEFA is about to ruin the perfectly formed European Championships by increasing the number of competitors from 16 to 24.   On the one hand, great, more football. But 16 teams means that the whole thing is small and perfectly formed, no dead games, just great fun. Ah well. $$$$.

Roy Keane on the X Factor phenomenon: alright, not the X Factor, but he’s not happy at the abuse he gets. I can’t understand where all the anger comes from either, but it seems to be part of the game. Fans demand more. They feel they have a right to make their views known. And probably they do.

Was Brazil v Ghana in WC 2006 fixed? You know, I do remember it seeming a bit fishy. Ghana had been bloody good to that point, then just died on the vine.

Tomasz Radzinski back in Belgium. Thanks to Simon for that link.

Ian Pearce has signed for…. Oxted. Bloody hell. I would think he could still be a dominant league 1 player, but perhaps that’s not what he wants at this point. Wow though.

A step back

Jim Dodge, from the excellent “Rain on the River” book.

I’ve had enough of a lot of things at the moment, mainly to do with work and the unavoidable ‘off switch’ that seems to accompany working a longish notice period, but there’s other stuff too.   I’m going to tune out for a bit – ignore the message boards, ignore the news, just enjoy football for what it is, a fun diversion.

I drove my parents mad asking “why?” every five minutes when I was growing up; I’m driving myself mad now.   My degree was in psychology:  why do people think what they think?  My job is market research:  why do people think what they think?   So you can see why I’m like I am.   I have a million books aimed at finding out more about all sorts of things.   To find out why.

I think I need to just let it all be.   Things are what they are.  Sometimes we’ll win, sometimes we’ll lose, some people are always going to love Jimmy Bullard even when his passes are more dangerous to the Barnes Wetlands centre than our opposition; some people will hate Seol Ki-Hyeon even if he scores a hat-trick against Chelsea then then wins Strictly Come Dancing having saved Dame Helen Mirren from a terrorist attack on the way to the BBC.  Fine.   I’m not going to try to understand anything.   No, I’m just going to admire highly skilled athletes doing cool things with a football for a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, discontent brews

Clint Dempsey to ESPN.

When asked if he thought he’d get an opportunity soon, Dempsey replied, “No.”

“What keeps me sane is the national team to go to and play,” he said. “Right now I’m playing well for them, and I find confidence in that. Having two different teams to play for and being able to feel like you’re appreciated with one of them is always a good thing as a player.”

Well that doesn’t sound so good, does it?  Bummer.

I think everyone knows I’m a big Dempsey fan.  Just enjoy watching him, the way he plays, and after Adam’s work, well that’s just another reason to want him to do well.  But it doesn’t sound like it’s happening.

Jamie’s report from Burnley: Burnley 1-0 Fulham

A thoroughly depressing evening. Roy Hodgson set the tone with an uninspiring choice of starting line-up, and the Fulham players on the pitch followed up with an utterly lifeless performance. To say this game was dull would be an understatement – writing only a couple of hours after having left the stadium, the ‘events’ of the match have already merged into a blur of nothingness in your correspondent’s mind. I don’t think either keeper had a save to make for the first 88 minutes. At which point, suddenly, our defence (like the rest of us) fell asleep and Pascal Zuberbuhler found himself faced one-one-one by Burnley’s young substitute – the striker finding it the easiest thing in the world to round Zuberbuhler and slot the ball into the empty net. Game over, and another predictable ‘shock’ defeat to lower league opposition was complete.

Who takes the rap, then? The manager for making eight changes, massively disrupting a side that was playing some good football in previous weeks? Or the players who were selected and produced such a listless performance? For example, Adranik and Andreasen, two midfielders who presumably think themselves good enough and would have been desperate to stake their claim for a permanent place, were both disappointing in central midfield – the former tidy defensively but misplacing countless passes whilst the latter was simply anonymous. Konchesky was uncharacteristically lacklustre and Gera struggled as he had at Blackburn. Even the previously impressive Andrew Johnson made little impression, although he was the victim of poor service – the ball mostly hoofed up to him, either high in the air or at great speed, giving him little chance of being anything other than a minor nuisance to Burnley’s grateful central defenders.

There was one period of Fulham pressure for seven or eight minutes midway through the second half, when suddenly it looked as we had awoken from our slumber and  might impose our Premiership class. The otherwise nervy Fredrik Stoor made a couple of promising bursts down the right and Clint Dempsey came as close as we ever would with a low shot from just outside the area. But the spell soon faded, and in truth the only players to leave the pitch with any credit were the industrious Dempsey and the centre-back pairing of Kallio and Baird. These two, in fairness, looked reasonably solid before their late aberration allowed the goal, and Kallio especially appears a more than capable back-up should one of our centre-halves get injured. Indeed, probably two of the most exciting Fulham moments of the match were a couple of mightily impressive last-ditch sliding tackles by the lanky Finn, both instances culminating in him rising majestically from the ground with the ball at his feet as the opposition forward lay bewildered nearby. Small crumbs.

The 300 or so away followers who foolishly made the journey north began the match in good voice (“We won here one time, we won here one tiiiime, in the nineteen-fifties…”) but were soon reduced to a near comatose state by the soporific spectacle on the pitch and ended the evening cold, bored and more than a little irked about what had occurred. It’s an argument to be had in more detail elsewhere, but surely the fans deserve better from Hodgson than the obviously second-string and unmotivated eleven he sent onto the field, especially having commented after the Leicester tie that the League Cup is ‘a very important competition … we will always try to send out our best team.’ Not so, it seems. And one thing’s for sure – this kind of depressing debacle will do nothing to help us beat West Ham on Saturday.

Confirmation bias

What?

Paul DePodesta works in the front office of the San Diego Padres baseball team. So? Well he’s a very bright and interesting man, writes a blog about his experiences at San Diego too. I liked this little nugget:

Very simply, confirmation bias describes the act of accepting only those facts that buttress a pre-existing opinion while discarding those facts that run contrary to one’s opinion. In short, we’re much more comfortable continuing to believe what we already believe.

So true.  And this…

So, there we sit discussing the skills of a highly qualified and tested group where the distinction between players is very, very thin. However, what becomes clear is that for the players we want to keep in big league camp, we generally talk about what they can do. For the players we want to send down, we tend to focus on what they can’t do, so the decisions seem obvious (which they’re not). Understand, I keep using “we” because every one of us in the room is guilty – we can’t help ourselves!

I think we see a lot of this in discussions about Fulham players. This is tied into what Colin’s doing at Championship at Best. If you haven’t filled the survey in yet, go for it.

Kevin Nolan worried that Bolton are going soft

This article is about Arsene Wenger, but check out the bit at the end:

Wenger will be unimpressed by an admission from Bolton’s Kevin Nolan that he told a team-mate to foul Theo Walcott. “I said to Jlloyd Samuel, ‘Give him a little kick and see if he comes back at you’,” Nolan said, adding: “We are in danger of losing that side – the roughing up of people.”

I wouldn’t look at this twice were it not for several recent attempts to clean out Jimmy Bullard.  The first of which was by Kevin Nolan.   Nice man.

Looks like things are moving in the right direction for Sheffield United, at West Ham’s expense.  Good.  How this ever got to this point is a mystery to me; extraordinary gutlessness from the league at the time.   Anyway, it partly explains why we were able to buy Zamora and Paintsil:

West Ham’s keenness to sell players this summer is now thought to have been prompted by a need to raise funds in anticipation of the judgment. Freddie Ljungberg was paid to leave to get him off the wage bill, Bobby Zamora and John Paintsil were sold to Fulham, and Richard Wright and Nolberto Solano also left.

Finally, the formatting’s gone again.  They must have updated me.  Oh well.

Or

Dan at WithAPlum has put it far better than I managed.

Fulham will lose some games because Roy Hodgson is a patient man. Fulham will win some games because Roy Hodgson is a patient man. Fulham will lose some games because crazy things happen in a sport decided by three or four definite events over the course of ninety minutes.

(that’s an excerpt – click above for the whole thing)

Subs, etc

Yesterday a lot of us wanted subs.  We didn’t get them.  Blackburn made subs and won late on.  2+2=4, right?  Maybe so.

Roy has been a football manager since 1976.  We’ll call that 30 years, allowing for partial seasons, etc.  Nowithstanding international work, let’s say that he’s managed 45 games a season over those 30 years.   That’s 1,350 matches.

In all of those games Roy will have had the option of using substitutes.  Sometimes he’ll have been ahead and in need of reinforcements to see it out; sometimes he’ll have been behind and needing to change things; other times it’ll be tightly balanced, and any small move could tilt things either way.  He’ll have seen it all several times over, and probably tried all conceivable approaches to substitutes in that time.  He’ll have sent on forwards early to shake things up, he’ll have left a struggling team unchanged because he senses that it’s just about hanging on.

Sometimes he’ll have made changes that work.  Sometimes he’ll have made changes that haven’t worked.  Sometimes he’ll have done nothing and been either rewarded or penalised for it.  Whatever.  He’s had the time to get a feel for these things, to build an approach.  There will presumably be no hard and fast rules, he’ll just play it as he sees it, relying on instincts honed over 1,350 football matches.

One thing I’ve always felt about football is that the game is very random.  I say this a lot and people rightly question the stance, but I pretty much stand by it.  In the old days of FA Cup replays you’d sometimes see a draw, then another draw, then a hammering in the second replay.  These days you sometimes see two teams play one another twice in succession, perhaps because of a cup engagement, and sometimes you’ll see very different results.   In football there are a number of moments on which entire matches hinge.  Remember England beating Germany 5-1 in Munich?  Germany could have been out of sight in that match before England hit their stride.  England beating Croatia 4-1 recently?  Our first goal came when one Croatia defender cleared the ball against the backside of another.  Not that these incidents diminish what comes next, but sometimes weird things happen and games spin out of control, and there’s little anyone can do or could have done about it.

It happens all the time at Fulham too.  We were able to beat Manchester City after being 2-0 down because Joe Kamara did something good, but another Joe, Hart, let his shot between his legs after being superlative until then.  Then Danny Murphy hit a penalty and Hart saved it, but that rebound could have gone anywhere.  It came back to Murphy, who converted.  Kamara scored in injury time to seal an improbable win.  We beat Birmingham, who missed a golden chance in the first half, then lost Liam Ridgewell to injury.  Ridgewell’s replacement was our old friend Franck Queudrue, who promptly lost Brian McBride for goal 1, and then set up Erik Nevland for goal 2.  I could go on.

Football falls on these tiny moments, some go your way, some don’t.  And just as you can flip a coin and get a head 4 times in a row if you try enough, you can also get a run of good fortune when you need it most and therefore stay in the top division if you’re lucky.

Which is not to undermine the team’s play in those games, because they were well prepared and kept playing their game, and this is entirely my point.   If Roy Hodgson gets his team physically and mentally prepared – and he stressed this at the fans’ forum – then sometimes that will be enough on the day and sometimes it won’t, but if you take care of things to the best of your ability then theoretically you maximise your chances of winning each football match.

But there will always be mistakes, unponderable weirdness, and surprises.  Roy knows this and said as much at the fans’ forum.  Football is unpredictable.  As a manager his job is to prepare, to control the controllables, and to go from there.  On the field anything can happen.

Perhaps he takes this too far.  Jose Mourinho would sometimes remove a misfiring winger after no time at all if it felt like the game wasn’t shaping up to plan.  Jose Mourinho had a big ego, felt that he could control everything, that he could shape football matches.  And perhaps he was right.   Perhaps Roy is too passive, believing that things have been set up to plan and from there we might win and we might not, but the controllables were controlled and that’s the main thing.  I don’t know.  But again, Roy has developed a feel for making his substitutions over a long period of time, backs his own judgement, and has largely been successful in so doing.  So yes he might have been slow on the trigger yesterday, but something will have told him to hold off, something would have made him think that things were going to be alright out there.  Just turns out that it didn’t work out.  Sometimes that’s the way it goes.

Roy speaks

Here.

Says that the diagonal ball got us while John Paintsil was struggling with a foot injury, which would explain why Paintsil didn’t track the runner, which meant Hughes had to try to cover… well you can see all that below.  Interesting stuff though.

Proper report: Blackburn 1-0 Fulham

Unlike me, Jamie was at Ewood this afternoon.  Here’s his report.  Great stuff as ever.

So – after the highs of two consecutive wins, a disappointing result. This was a day that had begun full of promise and good cheer – literally – some bright spark had realised that ‘John Paintsil’ has the same number of syllables as ‘Michael Vaughan’ and thus a new chant (to the tune of ‘Kumbaya’) was born. Our current cult hero was worshipped repeatedly throughout the first half, and Fulham’s travelling fans had further reason to be in good spirits. The team had continued where it left off against Bolton, passing crisply and intelligently, with Simon Davies especially impressive, and we were only denied an early goal when Paul Robinson (‘England’s number six!’) made a brilliant reaction save from Andrew Johnson.

It was an open game. We were playing nicely, but Blackburn were also finding too much space around the edge of our area (that central midfield issue again) and Emerton nearly capitalised when he waltzed into the box and curled a shot against the bar. Other from that, our opponents seemed happy to concentrate their efforts on trying to get someone sent-off, and it was astounding that three reckless challenges within ten minutes were punished only by two bookings. Two of these tackles were on Jimmy Bullard, who was also targeted by Kevin Nolan last week. Something to keep an eye on, perhaps – could it be that, realising the seriousness of his recent knee-injury, Premiership managers are cynical enough to instruct their teams to intimidate Bullard out of the game?

Unfortunately, on this occasion it worked – in the second half Bullard less effective as he clearly (and understandably) shirked a number of challenges for fear of getting clobbered again. The referee, perhaps realising (or having been told) the error of his earlier ways, was now giving many of the marginal decisions Fulham’s way, which aggravated the home crowd. A couple of challenges started flying in (I feared our hero Paintsil might let it all get to his head) and for a short spell it looked as if things might spill over. All, of course, because the referee had failed to assert his control in the first half. And it’s always the sign of a bad official who manages to anger both sets of players and fans during a match.

The descent of the game into scrappiness did not help us: we were, of course, without a scrapper (undoubtedly something that Paul Ince and Blackburn realised). A couple of chances were created for – and missed by – Johnson and Zamora, but then the rest of the team began to fade with Bullard. Gera, strangely quiet, tried swapping wings with Davies but was equally ineffective on the right as on the left. Our front pair began to look tired, and Murphy was the most ragged of all – clumsily fouling, miscontrolling and misplacing passes. But no movement was forthcoming from our bench. Ince, on the other hand, brought on three players, and for the first time his team began to look like they might cause us problems. The away crowd grew quiet and sat back nervously, our ambitions now revised to securing the 0-0.

Sadly, with five minutes remaining, Blackburn conjured up a good goal. Villanueva chipped a clever ball into Santa Cruz, who headed down for Matt Derbyshire to finish neatly. If I were being harsh on Roy Hodgson, that previous sentence might have read: Lively second-half substitute Villanueva chipped a clever ball into Santa Cruz, who headed down, and substitute Matt Derbyshire used his fresh legs to get ahead of Brede Hangeland and finish neatly.

As supporters with emotional investments which ultimately hang more on results than performances, it’s easy to channel our frustration after a defeat by convincing ourselves there was an easy solution. There’s no guarantee, of course, that any changes would have made a difference to the eventual outcome. But one can’t help wondering, for instance, how Leon Andreasen might have relished the opportunity to get himself involved once the game began to get heated in the second half. Or how, watching Bobby Zamora grind to a halt, battered and bruised after an afternoon of grappling with Christopher Samba, Erik Nevland must have been itching to come on and influence things as he has done in the past.

A minor quibble, compared to our problems of recent seasons? Probably. Roy is doing a solid job, no doubt – we’re continuing to play good football and indeed on another day this was a match we could just as easily have won 1-0 as lost. It wasn’t a bad performance. But it was an opportunity missed, and a bad result. And it’s especially frustrating to watch these matches slip away given some of the real promise we are showing. Let’s hope next week cheers us up again.

Blackburn 1-0 Fulham

A game we could have won.  For one thing we had several good chances to do so; for another Blackburn were fortunate to have eleven men on the field after several brutal assaults on Fulham players in the first half.

Good start: Simon Davies’ cross was diverted towards goal by Andy Johnson, only for Paul Robinson to save well.  There followed a series of Blackburn attempts that weren’t dangerous in themselves, but perhaps hinted at a problem in front of our back four.

This is going to be referred to as “Hodgson’s Choice” from now on.  Does he go with his four passers, hoping that by keeping the ball and attacking as a group, we can get by without a ball winner?  Or does he sacrifice some fluidity by plugging the hole that is usually found between our defence and midfield?

So far we have seen four lots of option A, and in the two games we have won this has served us well.  But in the two games we have lost it has been a noticeable weakness.  Against Hull we conceded when Geovanni walzed towards the edge of our box and smashed his shot beyond Schwarzer.  Today we conceded late when a delightful Villanueva chip – from the defensive midfielder patrol area – dropped behind our back four, onto Santa Cruz’s head, and from there into the path of Matt Derbyshire, who did the rest.  It’s a big problem, and one that seems more acute away from home.

It was a very open game.  In the first half both sides had chances, Brett Emerton hit the angle of bar and post, Bobby Zamora retorting with two headers from close in: he might have converted either.  We played quite good football but always looked vulnerable.  Blackburn were clearly interested in making a point:  Bullard was clobbered twice, Johnson got a battering too, and surely somewhere a red card should have been shown to stop this. Injuries happen this way.

Blackburn, perhaps sensing that a line had been crossed, got more legal in the second half, and Fulham began to take control.  Zamora had another headed opportunity, Johnson was put clean through but was thwarted by Robinson again, and there was a sense that we were now the better team.

Not so.  Blackburn picked our pocket in the 81st minute, with one substitute setting up another.

Johnson interviewed

This is really good.

“I just can’t believe how well we pass the ball,” he says. “I knew we had some top players but I’ve been surprised just how good they actually are. We don’t ever play long balls, we always try to do it the right way, and it’s fabulous for me because we played a lot of long-ball stuff at Everton. I’m looking at the way we play and I’m thinking, ‘This team has got a great chance’. Everything I’ve seen has made me believe that I made the right decision in coming here.”

Then:

As does playing off a taller strike partner – in Fulham’s case, Zamora. “I came off the pitch after the Bolton game thinking, ‘Bloody hell, what a player!’ I just don’t think he gets the credit he deserves. If Thierry Henry had scored the goal that Bobby scored against Bolton, people would have been talking about it for three or four weeks.”

Fantastic stuff.  Let’s hope we can keep it up.

Big game today.  Nobody quite knows what to make of Blackburn, but we’re not the best in the North West so I guess another 1-1 would be a decent outcome.

Fulham Fans’ Forum: just back, quick overview

Just back in from the fans’ forum.  Topline findings:  we’re in good hands.  Roy and Alastair Mackintosh ‘get it’.  They’re football people and seem to be in tune with what Fulham is about.

Specifics…

Stadium to head towards 30,000 and beyond over the next two years, talked about redevelopment of the Riverside and Hammy Ends.

Goal music is the subject of focus groups at the moment.  The good news here is that Alastair Mackintosh seems, reading between the lines (there’s a lot of this), to be against the idea as well.  He made some commment about kids liking it, but also that he’d never had this at Man City and that he’d like fans to be able to make their own atmosphere.  Everyone seemed pleased about the atmosphere at the Cottage, so….

Er… Tom Watt read out my question about Reading last year, specifically, did the players suddenly play well because it looked like they were relegated and had nothing to lose.  Roy made it clear that this was not the case, and talked about how the team just kept on playing as they always do.  Later in the evening he talked about football matches being unpredictable buggers, and all you can do is prepare the team mentally and physically and go from there.   His quote, I think, was “I’m not a gambling man, but if I was I wouldn’t bet on football matches”.

Other things:  Someone asked why Hangeland doesn’t always pick up the tall forward.  Hodgson said that Brede and Aaron like it the way they are with the left-right thing and prefer to stay that way.  Roy conceded that sometimes against the likes of Peter Crouch you have to accept that you won’t win all the headers, so you have to focus on other things like getting in front of him, and focusing on the second ball.

Someone else asked about backup at centre-back, and we got an interesting response about how the sort of calibre player we wanted would have cost too much (fee plus wages), even for some loan options.  It’s a hard balancing act, getting someone in to be a backup to a first choice pairing, and it sounds like Roy just wasn’t able to land someone who ticked all his boxes.  He was quite dismissive of Adrian Leijer’s future, but mentioned Chris Baird (who he conceded was more of an Aaron Hughes than a Brede Hangeland) and also reminded people that John Paintsil plays centre-back too.

Someone asked about Seol’s presence in the team, and Roy was straight back saying that he thought Seol was unlucky to be dropped after two good performances against Hull and Arsenal.  Fair enough.

He also praised Clint Dempsey a couple of times, but jokingly said that he and Clint were often at loggerheads, Clint being a good player, but thinking he’s a *very* good player.  This was half tongue in cheek, for all those taking it too literally.

I stammered out something about whether he’d always played a passing game or whether he’d done so because he’d inherited midfielders who pass and don’t tackle.   He replied that he had. I had a part 2, about the role of Andreasen or Etuhu, but had at this point frozen and failed to ask that question.

He was quite down on the state of the academy, but made the important point that managers aren’t going to look to bring on 15 year olds because most managers will be out of a job before these players are relevant to the club.  Which is not to say that he’s not doing much – he is – but I now see why we have to be practical about these things.  He said that our academy has been about bringing on local kids, but that there wasn’t the talent there that he’d want to see.  He did single out Wayne Brown and Rob Milsom, but nothing much more.  Had I been bold I’d have asked about Laribi and Moscatiello, but the cat was still elsewhere with my tongue.

So that’s about that.  I’ve probably forgotten a lot, but hey ho.  He told a Tommy Cooper joke and an anecdote about Frank Sinatra, and I got him to sign a copy of “Schultz” by JP Donleavy (“expect the worst, and that’s what you’ll get, only it will be much worse”, quoted in a press conference before the Reading game last year, and now a treasured possession).  He is apparantly a big Donleavy fan and is re-reading his books.  Needless to say, I smiled like an idiot at this point and offered nothing useful in return.

I took the opportunity to nip out by the pitch:

Wish I’d taken a camera now (these were on the mobile), but hey.

Something different: Moritz Volz in Southampton 2-2 Ipswich

Thanks to the wonders of modern transport I was able to get from work in Weybridge to meet my friend Dan in Basingstoke by just after 6pm.   From there we drove to the south coast, parked up in a dusty red light area, and wandered towards St Mary’s Stadium.    We stopped for a pint on the way, where I banged my head on a low beam.  Fine, it happens, but until this morning I couldn’t actually remember much about the game.

Which wasn’t the game’s fault, because that was quite lively.   We had two teams whose approach to the game very much mirrors our own:  get it down and pass it.   As it worked out Ipswich looked the better of the two teams, but Saints had their moments too.

This Southampton team could have been a contender.  Recent alumni include our own Chris Baird, but also the likes of Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale and Kenwyne Jones.  Dan pointed out that the last three Championship top scorers have all recently been Saints players.   I’m thinking Kevin Phillips, Ricardo Fuller perhaps… who would the other be?  Anyway, these players have slipped through their hands and now almost the entire team is made up of teenagers or young twenty somethings.   It’s an interesting predicament in that all of the players’ destinies are uncertain, they could amount to anything, and there’s something nice about seeing young players given a chance.

Against that, without some leadership out there the lack of ingrained good habits, of defensive shape, of any kind of presence, really can hold a team back.   So that’s Southampton, young, gifted, and extremely vulnerable.

But they did take an early lead.  The ball was passed around beautifully, Andrew Surman cut in from the left and fizzed a right footed drive along the floor and into the corner of Richard Wright’s net.    So far so good.   Ipswich are a good team though, and climbed back into the match quickly.  Their passing was good, their defence much more organised than Southampton’s, and soon it seemed that there would eventually only be one winner.   Our man Moritz Volz played a part in the equaliser, his surging run ending with a clever layoff to an overlapping midfielder, and the ensuing cross should have resulted in a goal.   Saints couldn’t clear though despite several opportunities to do so, and Owen Garvan, one for the future, rammed home an equaliser.

At this point Ipswich took control.  Their passing and overall shape was too much for Southampton, whose defence was let off twice by an over zealous safety-first linesman.  Good saves, narrow escapes, pressure piling on.   It continued into the second half, and eventually Ipswich broke through, Alan Quinn heading home from a good cross by Volzy.  Saints looked ripe for a mauling, but to their credit threw on some attacking players and scrambled an equaliser with 20 minutes left.   This shocked Ipswich back into life, but a winner wasn’t found and 2-2 just about suited everyone involved.

Championship life must be quite hard for teams like Southampton.  A 30,000 stadium doesn’t look so good half-full (15,000 were there last night), and there are already rumours that Adam Lallana, their gifted young midfielder, could be going to Fulham in January.   If they sell their best youngsters so fast, what then?  Teams can’t continue to play with untried teenagers, not without some guidance and know-how to help them along.   There’s the nucleus of a nice side there at the moment, but it looks about three years from maturity, and lacks 3-4 good players.

Lallana, incidentally, looks like he could be a Roy Hodgson type.  He’s technically able, one of those players for whom a first touch is never an issue, the ball comes, he’s in control.   His passing wasn’t as quick as Fulham’s, but that’s not unexpected because that’s how we play.  He’ll run with it, and looks quite adept at so doing, but isn’t especially quick so wouldn’t be a natural wide player.   I could see Roy turning him into something pretty handy.

Volzy played soundly.  Right backs aren’t always in the best position to influence games but Ipswich will be glad to have him there.   He does what he’s meant to do, takes care of business, then, if it’s on, joins the attack.   He worked hard and fits in well with the team’s style of play,  was instrumental in the build up to the first goal, and directly created the second, so you can’t really argue with that can you?

Things

Great stuff from David Conn.   Thanks to Mart for the link.

Also worth noting:  Bobby Charlton has a new book out about his England career, and in it – as is often the case with these books – he selects an England XI to face a Rest of The World team.  In his England team is Johnny Haynes.  So that’s nice.

Remember, you can pick up the Johnny Haynes book at Crockatt & Powell on the Fulham Road.   There’s a book turf war starting down there, incidentally, as millionaire book chain owner James Daunt opens a rival store just over the road from Matt and Adam this week.   Support the boys, buy your books at C & P.

I had something else to say but I’ve forgotten what it was.

Fixed

Well the website’s back in its old clothes.  Not a great deal to report in the football world, although Roy is keeping his feet on the ground.  This ability to stay on an even keel is one of the many things that I really like about our manager.

May be light posting tomorrow as  I’m going down to St Mary’s to watch Southampton v Ipswich.   As some of you know, I grew up in rural Bedfordshire (nowhere near a football team) and, while Dad took me to watch Luton a fair bit, I never really warmed to them.  No, I followed Ipswich from a distance.   We got their scores on Look East and that was enough for me.   While others supported Liverpool or Everton my distant fantasy was Ipswich:  John Wark, David Lowe, Paul Goddard, Jason Dozzell, Chris Kiwomya, Alex Mathie and so on.   There was much to admire about the club, and still is.  I was delighted for Moritz Volz when he ended up there; I think it’ll be a good fit for everyone.

Anyway, my mate Dan’s a Southampton S/T holder and had a spare, so I’m going to see how our man’s getting on and enjoy the evening out somewhere different.

THEN, on Thursday I’m going to Craven Cottage for a meet the manager session.   I’ve no idea how this works, but it’s going to be streamed on the BBC London website too.  So if anyone’s listening feel free to post a comment or two about what’s being said.  Exciting stuff, eh?

Pressure

See, there is method to my madness.   I spent a lot of time harping on about pinning Bolton back with Johnson’s pace and a high defensive line, and, to make the point nicely, here (and I’m turning into a one trick pony aren’t I?) are the Telegraph’s density maps.   We’re at the top, shooting left to right.

Points to note:

Bolton’s centre-backs – how deep?    ‘The book’ says that you need to keep compact, with your defence and your midfield quite close together.   Bolton lost their shape completely.  We expect to see full-backs forward of centre-backs (see Fulham), but not like this.

Not unrelated:  Andy Johnson!   I couldn’t have asked for a better map to show what I had tried to explain last week, but look how far forward he played.   Bolton were clearly afraid to push up (when they did he creamed them down the channels), so ended up sitting far too deep (Gary Megson said as much in a post match interview).   This gave us the platform we needed to do our stuff.   Time and again you could see Hangeland and Hughes standing on the half way line as the game was played exclusively in the Bolton half.  It’s part of how you dominate games, and Fulham played their cards well.  The Telegraph have another chart that helps me illustrate this:

We were winning the ball 35 metres from our own goal; Bolton 24 metres.   That, on the surface, would appear to be pretty huge (against Arsenal we won the ball 20 metres from goal (Arsenal won the ball 27 metres from goal against us)), against Hull 29 (v 25)), so a very good sign and something to keep an eye on in the future.   It might be a useful stat to track this, actually:  let’s call it +11 and see what happens from here.

Zoltan Gera:  played quite forward.  I noticed this on the day; the other three midfielders seemed to be relatively close on the right, which usually made a lot of space for Gera on the other flank.   I can picture at least two really nice balls from Murphy that switched the play and brought Gera into the game and in space.   On the same theme, if you’ve got Murphy, Bullard, Davies, Zamora and Johnson all close together, passing quickly and precisely, that’s going to be hard to defend, especially with the threat Johnson now brings.

Finally, another word for John Paintsil, who was massively involved again.

Fulham 2-1 Bolton

A 2-1 hammering.   Fulham, featuring the speedy Andy Johnson up front for the first time, destroyed Bolton with a complete footballing display.

What stood out was the sheer variety of our attacking play.  Aside from the familiar pinball passing, we now saw the team prepared to launch the ball into the channels for Johnson to race after.  Often he turned these passes into something threatening; Bolton never quite got to grips with this and were lucky not to be beaten more heavily.

We haven’t seen football like this for a while.  Bobby Zamora was influential, holding the ball up well, able to impose himself physically against a very physical side, able to turn on the burners when he needed to.  What a good signing he looks.  Zoltan Gera found space cleverly all game; Danny Murphy was imperious in the middle of the park; Jimmy Bullard was back to his best.  Only Simon Davies still seems slightly short of top form, and only because he set such a high standard last season.

The front six Fulham players were pulling Bolton all over the place, and a deserved early goal came from the right foot of Zoltan Gera.  Good work from Zamora down the left, the ball cleared, but Gera, on the edge of the box, thumped home a low drive to make it 1-0.

Zamora had earlier shown the immense Danny Shittu that he wasn’t afraid of a physical battle, but on 40 minutes our man confounded the big centre-back with an astonishing spin that left his marker tackling air.  In that instant Zamora escaped a second Bolton defender, then buried his shot into the bottom corner for an absolutely thrilling strike.

At this point Fulham were untouchable, cruising.  But a third goal was needed to make it safe.

It didn’t come.  Johnson, playing for the first time in a while, ran out of steam.  Zamora picked up a knock in the process of shooting, and as these two started to wilt the team’s passing became less threatening.  Still they knocked the ball around well, but Bolton were not so stretched now.  Fulham’s crossing today was frustrating, in that several fine balls narrowly missed onrushing white shirts, but that vital third goal seemed to have arrived when Davies swung a cross over the area and onto Gera’s head, but his header bounced back off the bar.

At 2-0 games are never safe, and Bolton promptly scored a nothing goal from a free-kick to make the game worrying again.  We should have been out of site, but instead had to handle a number of kitchen sink attacks late on.  Mark Schwarzer, not for the first time this season, was impressive in dealing with all this.

Roy will hopefully have been pleased with this.  Two successive home wins over very different teams, and the signs are that we have the makings of a fine side here.  True, Bolton were just the wrong side of ordinary, and true, we didn’t beat them by much, but there’s something good about this Fulham team and the way it plays.  Watching Johnson out there today was like seeing a competent pizza base being given some cheese and tomato.  It would be silly to call him the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle – only big clubs come close to finishing jigsaw puzzles – but he looks like he might be a very good player.   This, in front of a defence that looks increasingly solid, is most encouraging.

Pitch 9

After last week’s horror show I had today as a day off in lieu.   I’m not great at days off, but today’s been good so far.   I’ve been reading a book by Roger Deakin called Waterlog, in which Deakin travels around England swimming in wild places: rivers, lakes, pools; all very back to nature, all very interesting to me.

It’s the opposite of what life is like for many of us.  We get up early, but not in a good way.  We plug our ears and shut ourselves off and arrive at our office, where we do uninteresting things for a while, plug in the ears again, and journey home.  By the time this is done we’re another day older and can celebrate our achievement with a pint or a glass of wine and sprawl out in front of the TV before doing it all again tomorrow.

Not today though!  Deakin writes about a number of quite exotic places, but he also writes about Tooting Lido, which is a huge outdoor pool in South London.  So today I wandered up there.   Took me about an hour to walk I suppose.  I wasn’t going quickly, and that was sort of the point.   Up to Tooting Bec, right, then slowly down Tooting Bec Road and up to the gates.    The girl on reception explained opening hours to me, and let me go in to see the setup for myself.

It was pretty huge, and blue.   An old man had the whole pool to himself, easing himself up and down in the freezing water.  At the far end a lifeguard sat on his raised chair, hopefully having a good think.   I thanked the girl and wandered back, this time taking in Tooting Bec common.

Where I wandered across a series of football pitches and fell into a trance.   I haven’t played football for years, not outdoors in a proper 11-a-side setup.    In my mind I’m as good now as I was then, something that’s disproved every time I play 5-a-side, but out there on the big green pitches I can see myself intercepting a through ball, sliding hard into a winger, or heading back goal kicks.  Heading back goal kicks.  I did a lot of that back in the day.

There’s something about the grass of a football pitch though.   Going to a new stadium is all about that first sight of the pitch.  The first game I ever went to was Arsenal v Luton, funnily enough.  I don’t know what we were doing there, but a family up the road took me and their son.   Midweek game, the old Highbury, must have been 1984.   That walk up the steps, then bang, a supernatural green field lights up before you.   Amazing.  Night games are great for this.  The grass is just so vivid.

The grass on Tooting Bec Common isn’t vivid.  The pitches are full of holes and green plants that aren’t grass but that cover the pitch anyway.  But they’re football pitches and today I got lost just wandering around them as if I was five again.  The edge of the box:  which corner to go for?; by the corner flag (had there been a corner flag):  whip one in; the centre-circle:  big game coming; and so on.   Everywhere I walked brought back memories of games past.   You couldn’t play slick passing football on this surface, but you could have a lot of fun.

The real business starts again tomorrow.

1: A goalkeeper’s view of nothing

2: Centre-spot exhibits signs of male pattern baldness

3: The corner and the tree

4: Penalty spot.  Everyone who has stood here before me has either been petrified or excited or both.  Does the goal look big or small?

Bolton next

After a long break, we’re back with the serious business tomorrow.  Bolton Wanderers visit, a team that, under current circumstances, we would hope to beat.   Andy Johnson should start, Bolton aren’t what they were, and we’ve just beaten Arsenal.    So fair grounds for optimism, I think.

But what are Bolton these days?  Hard to know:

These are their three games this year: a 3-1 walloping of a startled Stoke; a 0-0 draw with West Brom, and a 1-0 loss at Newcastle.   Probably about par for the course so far.   What’s interesting is their varying shapes this year, as shown above in the splendid Telegraph density maps.

Most of Bolton’s play seems to flow through the estimable Kevin Davies (a player Roy knows well, of course).

Davies does a number of things well.  He picks up (and gives away) a lot of fouls, which our players will have to watch.  But there’s more than that.   In all three games he had a significant number of passes, but it looks like he played in three different roles.   Against Newcastle he was much further forward than any other Bolton player.   Against WBA he played off another striker (Riga, who came on after 14 minutes for Joey O’Brien).   Against Stoke it looks like he was dropping quite deep.

This is backed up by his ‘interactions’.

v Newcastle
Made 20 passes, most common: 6 to Joey O’Brien, 6 from O’Brien

v West Brom
18 passes, 9 from JLloyd Samuel, 5 from Ricardo Gardner, 6 to Kevin Nolan, 5 from Nolan

v Stoke
27 passes, 8 from Gretar Stinesson, 6 from Kevin Nolan, 4 from Muamba

Varied, no?   I think this sums up his importance to the team: whatever’s happening out there he’s going to be available to his teammates and working very hard.  A real leader.

The other thing to note is that our midfield could be in for a tricky time.   Fabrice Muamba has already been in for 19 tackles this year.   Fulham’s top players?  Seol and Murphy with 8 each (in a game less, of course).   Incidentally, our friend Clint Dempsey has 3 tackles (all won) in… how long on the pitch?  Not long.

Anyway, it seems to me that Bolton will be a handful.    We should beat them, and it’ll be really interesting to see how our philosophy of playing our own passing game works against a team like Bolton, who will surely make life difficult for our smaller players.   It’s a game that could suit Dickson Etuhu, and Clint Dempsey perhaps.  I mention Etuhu because if Bolton stick everything through Kevin Davies, who – as we see above – doesn’t score too many goals – then clearly their interested in the second ball, or whatever Davies can scrounge up.  If Davies is the lone forward then this will mean Bolton are relying on midfielders attacking from deep… can Murphy and Bullard track Kevin Nolan?   Can Kevin Nolan stop Murphy and Bullard, for that matter?

Also important is what I was on about the other day:  if we can play a long way away from our own goal then the Davies induced chaos won’t be nearly so dangerous.   If we find ourselves camped on (or inside, as happened against Leicester) our own 18 yard line then we could be in bother.

Please excuse all this theorising, but I think it’s all quite interesting to ponder.    Looking forward to what should be a good game.

Heh

In the Germany thrashings post the other day George made the site’s 5000th comment.   Which really doesn’t mean much, but hey, there we go.

Cheers, all – keep ‘em coming.  Not much to talk about for now, of course, but soon we will have proper football again.  Andy Johnson too.  All good stuff.

Review: the forwards

We played last season with a strange mix of people up front.   I’ve reviewed all of this before, so let’s look forwards and assess what we have now.

Bobby Zamora

Andrew Johnson

Erik Nevland

Diomansy Kamara, who is injured

Not much is it?

This pruning was needed.  We had what seemed like dozens of quite good forwards, none really any better than the others.  Yes, Brian McBride will be missed, for all sorts of reasons, but I’m finding it interesting to watch Bobby Zamora, who – to my eyes – plays a very similar game to McBride.  Uncannily so.  Great spot by Roy, and I’m hopeful that we can rely on Zamora for a McBride-like 8-12 goals this year.

So far he has played a very unselfish game, using his chest a lot, and working very closely with the unproven Seol.   This has also been important:  Roy seems to want his forwards to play close together so they can link, pass, move.  Look at this:

Kuqi and Healy started.  That sounds odd, doesn’t it?  But they did.  And look how close together they were, as detected by the Telegraph’s heat sensors, or whatever they are.  Kuqi is 14, under the 11 shirt.

Now this:

Reading away, and look – McBride and Healy are so close that their shirts are on top of one another.  Big difference.   Now, sure, Sanchez’s style didn’t need the strikers to link up in the same way, but we can say with confidence (I think) that this is something Roy really focuses on.   Which I guess is partly why we haven’t really seen 4-5-1.

Alongside Zamora we have the tantalising talents of Erik Nevland, whose legend grew with some impressive games as a sub last year, and some much needed effort against Leicester in his first game this time out.   Nevland looks like a clever player with goals in him to me, another good pickup.

But the big news is Andrew Johnson.   I’ve said this before, but he could make a huge difference to the team.

If you think about American Football field position is everything.  One team tries to make 10 yards, then punts if they don’t make it.  If all goes well they can pin the opponents back, and hopefully regain possession in an advanced position.  You would rather start with 30 yards to the end zone than 90 yards, right?  Well the same applies to football.  We’ve all seen how difficult football can be when you’re pinned back in your own area, can’t get out, and have to deal with wave upon wave of attacks.   That’s what defending (too) deep can do: you get trapped.

So a big thing is to push up as much as you dare.   If you push up too far you run the risk of leaving too much space behind you.  This is what I’ve drawn above:  the through ball between defenders is up for grabs, and if the white forward is Andy Johnson the red team is in trouble; if it’s Heidar Helguson they’re okay.   So, with Andy Johnson the red team need to play deeper, which makes it harder to pin us back, which means that, if/when we win the ball, we have less far to travel with it to make chances.   Pace is very useful.

The other thing with Johnson is that he works hard, which will a) endear him to the fans, and b) help with the way we’re trying to play.  If he scores some goals – and he should – then that’s a double bonus.

Sorry for getting all bullshitty on you, but this is my interpretation of why the Fulham team’s being built like it is, and how it could work well.    We shall see.

Is this why MAF chose Fulham?

This taken from the 1934 edition of THE FOOTBALL ENCYCLOPAEDIA, published by The Leader.

Who was Hassan Hegazi?  Almost unbelievably, I’ve found a photo of him, courtesy of Spartacus Educational.

More:

Hassan Hegazi was born in Cairo, Egypt on 14th September, 1891. After graduating from Saidiq Secondary School he moved to England where he attended Dulwich College.

A talented footballer he signed for Fulham and played in the club’s 3-1 win over Stockport County. He scored one of the goals and the Fulham Observer commented that “with persistence something might be made of him… Hegazi has the makings of a League player.”

According to Phil Vasili, the author of Colouring Over the White Line: The History of Black Footballers in Britain (2000), along with Arthur Wharton, Walter Tull and Fred Corbett, Hassan Hegazi was one of the first black men to play top level football in England.

It was the last game that Hegazi played for Fulham. In 1912 he signed for Millwall in the Southern League but after playing only one game he moved on to Dulwich Hamlet.

In 1913 Hassan Hegazi enrolled at St Catherine’s College, Cambridge University, to study Arabic and History. While at university he played football in the annual game against Oxford University.

So there you go.

I have less information on Donald Cock.

The art of the thrashing

Everyone says that international football isn’t like it used to be, that we can’t expect to rock up and beat these smaller nations 7-0 any more.  And perhaps that’s right.   But somehow Germany still have that knackAnd we don’t.

Here are some results, all 21st century:

2007:  beat San Marino 7-0

2006:  beat San Marino 13-0

2006: beat Luxembourg 7-0

2004: beat Malta 7-0

2002: beat Saudi Arabia 8-0

2002: beat Austria 6-2

2002: beat Kuwait 7-0

2002 (good year, this): beat Israel 7-1

2000: beat Liechtenstein 8-2

There were some hiccups over these years, but that’s a lot of thrashings handed out there.   How can this be?  Someone should study these people and see what they do differently.

Ta da!

I am now fully up to date with Fulham Review orders!  Sorry to anyone who’s been kept waiting, but every envelope has now been posted.

We have just over 50 left.   If you haven’t got one, order now from www.godsfoot.com, or say hello outside the ground next Saturday.