That felt…awesome.

When we got the draw a few weeks ago, I thought our Cup run was over before it began. We hadn’t beaten Spurs in the Cup since Queen Elizabeth, or something around then. Harry Redknapp actually takes this competition seriously, and the match date wasn’t close enough to Spurs’ Champions League duties that we could catch them distracted.

But before the game even began, there was a glimmer of hope: Redknapp’s lineup. His hand was forced a bit with injuries in the middle, and I doubt he wanted a replay — February 19; three days after the first leg tie with AC Milan — but a 4-1-4-1 with Sandro as the holding midfielder and Defoe all alone up top? Surely could this be our day?

On oue side, Hughes has settled into a groove that coincidentally Roy found success with: the triangle-esque offense that relies on a striker, striker/midfielder slotted in behind, and the wings cutting in. Last year Roy found a formula of Zamora up top, Gera just behind, and Dempsey/Duff/Davies crashing in on the wings to great success. Now it is Andy Johnson, Dembele, and the usual Dempsey/Duff/Davies trio; with Gera subbing in where needed.

The rest was history. Rich has all the tasty details in the post below so go read that again, and savor it.

Today made up for that 4-0 loss four years ago, a horrible afternoon that, to me, began the downfall of Coleman. It also made up for last year’s crushing exit where David freaking Bentley scored and put our Wembley dreams to bed. And this past fall’s game where they whined and complained enough to have the ref overturn the linesman, and win the match.

Right before the match Chopper posted on Twitter: “Dear gods of football. Please let us win today…”. Well, God answered our prayers.

Enjoy these random screen-captures, a la the ever-awesome 30fps:

Continue reading “Elation”

Mighty Fulham 4-0 Spurs

Is this the Tottenham Hotspur we never beat, the team intending to go deep into the Champions’ League, and which contains some of the most irresistible attacking players in the country?   It must be.

This team could have lost 7-0 today.  Fulham had to make do with four.   Spurs made a gift of them all, but Fulham would point to tremendous pressure to force these mistakes, and faultless execution in taking advantage of them.

The first goal arose when Johnson harrassed Dawson;  Dawson turned out of trouble but could only pass the ball to Dempsey, who charged into the area and drew contact from Hutton.   Dawson had almost been on hand to cover, but Dembele slyly blocked him off.   Murphy took the ball and planted his kick into the top right corner, past Gomes who nearly reached it.   Wow, 1-0.

Then Dawson tried to turn away from Dembele, lost the ball and the man in one go, and snatched at Dembele’s shirt.   Dembele was in the area and wriggled free to shoot (saved), but Phil Dowd realised that a foul had been committed and that a red card and penalty had to be awarded.     Two penalties in five minutes, game theory time!   Who would go where?  Murphy went left this time, Gomes didn’t, easy.   2-0.

Then a third!  A Duff corner, AJ flicks on at the near post (!), Hangeland with the poacher’s finish (!).   Whatever works.   What were Spurs doing?

The game was up, but the best was yet to come.   Dembele in the centre-circle, from a standing start, ran around Bassong (seriously, how often do you see that in professional football?) then galloped into space, nobody came to meet him so he slammed a low shot hard and fading away into Gomes’ bottom corner.  A phenomenal strike, just phenomenal.    This is what the fuss is about, folks.   This man can play.

If the first half was the night of our lives, the second was a beautiful sunrise on the beach the next morning.    Fulham cruised it, passed and passed and passed, and Gera, Dempsey and Hughes all came close to adding more goals.     Never mind, 4-0 is quite enough, and a home tie against Wigan or Bolton will do nicely, thank you very much.

Fenestration talk now

Here at CCN we haven’t got too involved with the whole transfer window nonsense.  Perhaps the recent good performances have dulled our hunger; perhaps the return of various players just make things look a bit better.

Before the window we’d have identified the following needs:

a defender of some sort.  Some wanted a right-back; others left.

a central midfielder.  We’re not short of these, of course, but the idea was to get a better player than the current cadre, ideally someone young enough to succeed the Murph when his legs do finally “go”.

a centre forward.  Because of Zamora’s injury.

What have we got?   Steve Sidwell for one, and in his one and a bit games he’s looked handy.  I’m not convinced yet that he’s doing anything that Jon Greening can’t do, but he does look like he has something about him.

Gael Kakutacould be anything, although I’m inclined to assume that the player he most closely resembles in our side is Moussa Dembele.  Kakuta’s looked phenomenal whenever I’ve seen him play (on Match of the Day), but it’s been so long since we had a young, dynamic flair player that I really can’t picture him in a Fulham shirt.  It could be Wayne Routledge all over again, or Giles Barnes, or something altogether new.   We shall see.  What it isn’t is Shaun Wright Phillips, which is a shame because SWP is a good player and very nippy to boot; we distinctly lack nippiness, AJ’s return to relevance notwithstanding.

And then what?   The centre-forward of our dreams is still not in our car, and it seems increasingly likely that we’ll be back on the phone to Millwall and asking for ‘insurance choice’ Steve Morison (whose Millwall form has gone to pot since the window opened) after all.   He’d be a Kuqi type signing, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing (Kuqi being an interesting example of perception perhaps overtaking reality: for one thing he really never was that fat, and for all his myriad limitations, he made some quite important contributions to a desperately poor side, without which, etc, etc).

Do we still need a centre forward?  Yes, but AJ is better than we could have dared hope, and with Dembele dovetailing nicely behind him I’m less inclined to panic.  Sure we missed chances at Anfield, but that’s what teams do; you can’t score them all.   Perhaps we’d be better off making do and mending, then signing a progressive player in the summer.

At full-back we seem likely to pick the roving left back that is Paul Konchesky.  I have no bone to pick with Konch, who, like his former manager, took a career choice that backfired badly.   We’ve all done it, and it seems ridiculous to suggest that we shouldn’t want him back because he once left us.  This strikes me as the worst kind of unthinking:  if we need a left back and the best available is Paul Konchesky, then certainly we should sign Paul Konchesky.  What are we worried about; that he’ll want to leave us again?   That he won’t be committed because he once dared presume to leave Fulham behind.   Give me strength.

I’m not sure that there’ll be anything else beyond the above, and I’m not sure there needs to be.  With AJ and Dembele fit and well we look a decent side, and the return of Zamora will only improve this.  Sidwell’s a good fit for the middle of the pitch, and Konchesky would certainly be useful while the promising but perhaps disorientated Salcido gets his head on straight.

Liverpool 1-0 Fulham

A tale of two shins.  John Paintsil’s diverted a muddled ball over his own goal-line; later Raul Mereiles’ sliced a powerful Hangeland header away from danger.

Liverpool scored early when Torres beat our offside line and slotted home.  It was disallowed – wrongly – by the male linesman, a let off that Fulham made the most of.  By 20 minutes or so, having survived the initial rush, we were on top.  Danny Murphy was again dominating the middle of the field, Moussa Dembele seemed keen to dribble past every Liverpool player at least twice, Andy Johnson was racing around like a spaniel on red bull and Clint Dempsey was at his bustling best.  Only Damien Duff seemed subdued.

We might have opened the scoring when Dempsey won the ball and scuttled into the area, but his hard shot from an increasingly difficult angle was at Reina.  Then another chance, the ball squared just behind Dembele, all alone on the penalty spot, and again the shot found the Liverpool keeper.  Dembele did well to retrieve the cross and get it on target, but a player of his quality could have taken a touch and rolled it into either corner easily enough.   Big moment.

In the meantime, David Stockdale was earning his spurs:  a Raul Mereiles header seemed certain to go in, but Stockdale, falling to his right, got a firm hand to it and palmed it away.  Then he tipped over a Glen Johnson screamer.   There’s something of David Seaman in the lad, and I’d like to see him keep his place for a while.

The Liverpool winner was a masterclass of misfortune and bungling.  Dempsey passed loosely towards Baird but the ball was deflected by a harrying Liverpool player into the path of Torres.  His shot clipped Hangeland’s heel and hit the post, from where it rebounded into the six yard box.  Here came John Paintsil to the rescue, but my suspicion is that a prone Stockdale probably deflected the ball just as Paintsil went to volley clear, resulting in a dreadful mess of a clearance that went backwards into the net.  What a way to ruin a good away performance.

Fulham dominated again, Johnson’s slipperiness proving hard for the Liverpool centre-backs to handle, Dempsey getting closer and closer (one flying volley felt like it belonged in his Confederations Cup collection) but then Dembele had the second big chance of the night:  Dempsey soared, headed down, and Dembele volleyed at Reina from close range.  Ouch.  Should’ve scored.  We had other chances, but none so good as that.

It felt like a cup tie as we charged onwards for an equaliser, but Liverpool held out.  If Roy Hodgson was watching he might have raised an eyebrow or two.  Liverpool certainly ran around more than they did on his watch, but this team still lacks something.  Fulham should by now realise that there’s nothing to be afraid of away from home, and take confidence from a very good showing.

The more things change…

Just reading Jim White’s excellent “Manchester United:  The biography” (no, really).    Dave Sexton, who taught Roy Hodgson, has just been dismissed:

For the players, though they liked the manager and admired his knowledge of the game, there was a sense of anticlimax, a feeling that somehow the voltage about the place had been reduced.  Training became less like playtime and more like being back in the classroom.  Lou Macari recalls one session in which Sexton spent an age explaining a complex choreographed move he wanted to put into effect at corners.  After failing to enthuse his enervated players into the routine, Sexton looked despairing.

“We’re all shaking our heads at this point,” recalls Macari.  “Then Big Gordon (McQueen) pipes up, “I’ve got an idea, Dave.  It’s not as clever as yours, but you never know, it might work.  Why doesn’t someone cross the ball, I get my big stupid head on it and put it in the back of the net then we can all fuck off home.””

Martin Edwards:  “It was very hard to do it, it really was, because Dave was such a very, very nice man and full of integrity,” says Edwards.  “But it wasn’t really happening, we weren’t progressing and the crowd was getting restless.  They were.  But mostly I didn’t feel the tradition was being upheld.  There is such thing as the United way.  That is the character of the club, and the supporters demand it.

Spooky.  Sexton had taught Hodgson at one point, and Hodgson certainly looked up to him.

Fulham’s dressing room, et al

h/t to Bilet!

Okay, now I can see why Sir Alex complains about our dressing room. I don’t agree with the whining, but my alma mater, the tiny Division 3 Goucher College, had a larger locker-room. My girlfriend said her high school’s smallest locker-room was still bigger.

Anyway it just adds more charm to the sanctuary that is Craven Cottage. Oh, and are those training tops for sale at all? Wow they look sharp.

Interesting tidbit in today’s Winners and Losers over at F365:

Since the nadir of the Boxing Day defeat at home to West Ham, the Cottagers have bounced back with three wins in five. Their pass-completion percentage against Stoke finished at 81% – the highest of any top-flight side outside of the Champions League-qualifying places.

Perhaps it was the competition, or perhaps Hughes is truly having us playing “passing football”?

Lastly, and I could be wrong, but the current 4-point gap between us and the relegation zone is the largest since our win over Wolves in early September. Onwards and upwards…

Continue reading “Fulham’s dressing room, et al”

Sunday morning news

Andy Gray and Richard Keys in iffy comments about female linesman shock!   #getthesesmugbuffoonsoffthetv

Paulo Bandini, via Twitter, reports that Gazzetta Dello Sport (Italy) only referred to “the beautiful lineswoman”.

Ho hum.

Also on Twitter, Matt Holland, former Ipswich captain, made a point of praising Chris Smalling’s display for Man Utd yesterday.    Nice to see the lad doing well – a great game to get his feet wet (United stormed it 5-0).

Finally, and this one’s about Fulham, Chris Baird’s passing is becoming a legitimate ‘weapon’:

Everyone’s going crazy over Charlie Adam’s passing for Blackpool; Baird’s getting seriously good, too.

Danny Murphy had 90+ passes, incidentally.   Teams have to stop him if they want to stop Fulham.   Surprised Stoke weren’t better on this front.

Fulham 2-0 Stoke

A tale of two midfields:  ours bossed the game, they didn’t use theirs at all.   That’s Fulham v Stoke in a nutshell, and it feels right that the more attentive and skilful eleven should have prevailed.  Which is not to moralise – Stoke wouldn’t be where they are if they played any other way – but equally, if everyone played like they do…

We had previous here, too.   Dembele v Wilkinson, and therefore Hughes v Pulis and Murphy v Stoke City and its stakeholders.  It gave the match a nice edge, an edge sharpened by the presence of haphazard referee Stuart Atwell, whose reputation now preceeds him to the point where it’s impossible to tell if he’s doing his job properly or not, such is the derision shown after most of his decisions: today he seemed more concerned with the minutiae (take that free-kick 5 yards back there) than more serious offences (take as long as you like, Mr Begovic, anything up to 5 minutes per goal kick will be fine).

The Fulham players won their battles in the end.  Dembele mightn’t have chosen a game like this to get back on track, but his class told more often than not, and he wasn’t afraid to mix it when he had to.   Hughes won the game, and Murphy (again) dominated the middle of the pitch, his every touch cheered on by a nicely boisterous crowd.

We started well, Duff smashing a shot against the bar from 25 yards out, then Dempsey made it 1-0 following some good, eager work by Andy Johnson, who worked down the inside right channel and squared it across the area.  Dempsey arrived noisily to turn the ball over Begovic, a typical goal from a man who is having a tremendous season.

We couldn’t build on the lead though, and the game moved from phases where we were in charge, in which the ball was pinged around nicely, and phases where it all got horribly messy, in which nobody could take control.  Kenwyn Jones was briefly in fine form, winning a number of headers convincingly and making life hard for Hughes and Hangeland.  But then he just disappeared from the game.

The second half saw more of the same, a well deserved second goal arriving when Murphy turned in the centre-circle and launched a long ball over the top into the path of Dempsey, who managed to turn the ball between the two centre-backs with Bergkamp-esque deftness (or a slightly iffy first touch).  He was clean through but hauled down by Shawcross, who then had to go.  Murphy took the ball but somehow or other Dempsey ended up with it, smashing home his second.   Murphy trotted back to the halfway line rather than celebrate with Dempsey, suggesting that he wasn’t altogether pleased with his team-mate’s spirited insubordination.  He probably has a point, but Dempsey deserved the goal, and took the penalty with great conviction.

It was over at that point.  Etuhu, who had another good game, made way for Steve Sidwell, who became only the second Fulham player on the field with his shirt tucked in (the other was Duff).  Sidwell looked instantly at home, tackling well and passing competently and surely.   He struck a fine drive just wide and will have been pleased to get his first game in under such straightforward circumstances.   Gera and Halliche were also given a run-out with 15 minutes left (we had a pretty good bench today, featuring Gera, Davies, Kamara, Sidwell, Halliche and presumably Etherington – you can change a lot of games with players like that available).

And so it goes, and so it goes.  We were better than them and we beat them good and proper.