Blackpool 2 Fulham 2
A strange and entertaining match which we could have won, but nearly lost. In the end we had to settle for our third draw out of three – perhaps a disappointment after the week’s previous results had raised our expectations so high. But this wasn’t your average Fulham away point. It appears Mark Hughes is already transforming us into quite a different team.
Blackpool started eagerly, throwing balls and men into the area as they looked to capitalise on early season optimism. But Fulham were quietly impressive and the more assured of the two sides. Moussa Dembele was making his first league start and after 35 minutes he made an impact: sent down the right by Duff, he steadied himself before planting a powerful cross onto the head of Bobby Zamora, who made no mistake. So far, so good.
The other selection change was Stephen Kelly at left back, ahead of the departing Konchesky and the up-and-coming Briggs. Kelly spent the second half making wonderfully daring raids down the wing, right in front of the assembled 1300 Fulham fans and reminiscent of his finest hour, in Basel, December 2009. But he was crippled by a mixture of his inability and reluctance to use his left foot, and was involved in perhaps the turning point of the match when, during one such raid, a simple pass across the area which should have gifted Dempsey a certain goal never materialised. Instead he scuffed a weak effort with the outside of his right and, from the interception, Blackpool went up the other end and scored – Dean Varney making full use of the space left by Kelly’s run.
Varney’s shot, initially heading for the bottom corner, was deflected away from goal by Hangeland but then into the net by the unfortunate Paintsil. It capped a difficult day for our favourite Ghanaian, who seems to be struggling for form since the World Cup. I wonder if a solution doesn’t therefore fall neatly into place: Salcido (assuming he signs) slotting in at left back, the lively Kelly switching to the right and Paintsil gaining a well-earned rest?
By this point in the game we had also suffered two injuries: firstly to Zamora, who was replaced by the desperately glum and disinterested looking Dempsey, and then to David Stockdale, who for some reason wasn’t replaced by Pascal Zubherbuhler despite clearly hobbling throughout the last half an hour. It had also started pouring with rain, and amongst it all we had fallen apart completely. Blackpool soon had a second from a lovely flowing move, finished by Varney who found the same bottom corner, this time without any assistance.
The sense of disappointment was familiar for Fulham’s travelling fans but the remainder of the game certainly wasn’t. Hughes acted fast, hauling off Murphy (after another iffy performance from our captain) for recent goal-hero Zoltan Gera and replacing the quiet Duff with Greening. Refreshed, we came storming back, with Dembele taking the game by the scruff of the neck in startling fashion – first almost scoring himself after a fantastic weaving run, and then playing the exquisite through ball that set up our equaliser.
The goalscorer? Dickson Etuhu, who showed no little pace and skill to gallop majestically onto Dembele’s pass, take a touch and lift the ball expertly over the advancing goalkeeper into the net. Fulham’s travelling contingent exploded with relief and delight as Etuhu ran down the touchline towards Hughes – the man who has let him off the leash and in doing to might possibly have transformed his career.
Exciting, frustrating, wonderful and woeful stuff, all in one day – this is how football is meant to be, isn’t it? The Fulham fans’ cheer at the final whistle felt as is if wasn’t so much for the result as for a game that had got the blood flowing so much more than the normal 0-0 shut out. It’s too early to tell how successful Mark Hughes will prove to be, or whether we’ll come even close to matching the achievements of the previous two seasons under his leadership. The good news is that on current evidence, it looks like it’ll be exciting either way.