Fulham 5-2 Newcastle

Have you ever seen anything like it?

One of the worst first half performances in memory. Newcastle were very impressive, well drilled, pressurising perfectly, timing their confrontations and ganging up on our players relentlessly. We couldn’t keep the ball.  They could, spraying it around and running us ragged.  They scored just before half-time and rarely has a goal been so well deserved.

Steve Sidwell went off after 34 minutes.  It could have been an injury or a tactical switch.  He and Murphy rarely look the part together and the team simply wasn’t functioning.  But Jol’s shuffle was terrible: Bryan Ruiz, a fine player but one who does not thrive in busy areas, was placed in the middle of the pitch with Murphy.  If a manager’s job is to put his players in a position from where they can make the greatest contribution, Jol could not have got this more wrong.  Sure enough – and who could have seen this happening? – Ruiz was caught in possession by two Newcastle midfielders, the ball broke to Danny Guthrie and he smashed home from distance.

Ruiz was subbed at half-time, a shame because he had been sold down the river with Jol’s change.

However, good news was on the way.  The team was obviously missing Dickson Etuhu (again) but with him not in the squad the obvious move was to introduce Chris Baird, a player who hasn’t featured much but who has the happy knack of playing well and making those around him better.  All of a sudden Murphy looked like Murphy, knowing that he had a team player and capable side-kick in the engine room.

Instantly and perhaps fortunately we were back in the match, a long ball over the top setting Johnson free. He got into a contact situation and fell over, but it didn’t feel like a penalty (and if it was a penalty, why did nobody receive a punitive card?).  However, after some consideration Lee Mason pointed at the spot.  Danny Murphy did the rest and we had what felt like a horribly undeserved equaliser.

Then the game went mad.  Clint Dempsey scored another one of those goals that are easy but only if you’ve put yourself in the right place to make it easy, in this case following in after a great surge from Johnson and a nice bit of play by Zamora.  Krul saved but Dempsey used some part of his leg to bundle the ball home.

Then another, Dempsey free again after more good forward combination work, and a fine low finish past Krul.  Goodness.

At 3-1 Newcastle had to attack and the game opened right up. AJ and Zamora were having great fun now, and all the momentum was with Fulham.  AJ won a second penalty, again slightly fortunate perhaps in that he seemed to have lost control of the ball, but against that he might have been fouled at the start of his run.  Dempsey was on a hat-trick, Murphy had already scored a penalty, but this one was taken by Bobby Zamora.  Who knows why, but in any case, up he stepped and in it went.

Hatem Ben Arfa turned Riise inside out and buried a shot at Stockdale’s near post to make it 4-2, then Zamora (?) sent Dempsey racing clear again, and again he drove past Krul on the run, a second January hat-trick for the man who scores with his left, his right, and makes Drogba look shite (and indeed, at this point Dempsey may be the better player).

So what happened?

First, the penalty.  We had been so bad that we needed something to go our way to get back into the match.  The penalty was perfect in that sense.

But it was only possible because AJ was on the field. We were so static and hopeless without him that we could’ve played all day and got nowhere. Sometimes AJ’s running can look pointless and easy to handle, but today felt like a game where he could contribute. He did that, as fine a performance as he’s given in a Fulham shirt.

Of course the goals changed the game, and with each one that went in Newcastle seemed to get more and more open.  This played into our hands and we murdered them on the break.  This Fulham team seems to thrive with space, whether it’s against 10 men (Blackburn excepted) or when games open up, suddenly our attacking players come alive and show what they can do.  When space is hard to find we look clueless, but can be devastating when we get time and places to run into.

I was quite optimistic that Newcastle would tire. They defended so well as a team in the first half, and teams generally can’t keep that sort of thing up for ninety minutes (witness Real Madrid’s attempts to harry Barcelona lately: always goes well for half an hour then reverts to normal).  As they tired we got better.

The return to four-four-two. This felt a bit like player power (echoes of QPR when we went 4-4-2 with AJ and Zamora and scored six), but whatever happened, the team looked far more cohesive in its more familiar setup.

So yes, weird, wonderful, 5-2.  This one’ll take a bit of digesting, but what fun (in the end).

19 thoughts on “Fulham 5-2 Newcastle

  1. This game was a microcosm of Fulham’s season. Wildly fluctuating form, from the players but also from Jol. (Ruiz in central midfield?) But it’s hard not to be optimistic after the second half. What else is there to say about Dempsey? There are plenty of more talented players in the EPL, but I’m not sure there are any at all with better instincts. Once again, Johnson and Zamora make a case for sticking around a little while longer.

    Can’t wait to have Etuhu back. I’m a big Sidwell fan, but he’s obviously still nursing an injury, and, as rich said, he doesn’t seem to work well with Murphy, at least under Jol’s system. Sidwell gets forward much better than Etuhu does, but with as many free-flowing attacking players as we have now – Dempsey, Ruiz, Johnson, Zamora, Duff, Dembele, Frei – it makes more sense to go with the Big Stopper. Etuhu, come on down.

    One negative note: Senderos today, once again, made me wonder if Jol made the right decision breaking up Hughes and Hangeland. But I suppose if we’re building for the future, it’s better to get Sendoros some more seasoning now.

    Also, I think there’s no question Dempsey is the better player than Drogba at this point. What EPL team, given the opportunity to take one or the other, would choose Drogba?

    1. To be fair, I don’t think Drogba has ever come back into form since he had that spell of malaria last season.

      And I LOVE (both sarcastically and truthfully) what Jol said to BBC when asked what he said to the players at halftime. “Nothing.”

  2. This is probably a ridiculous comparison, but AJ right now reminds me of Nate Robinson in the NBA — erratic from match to match, capable of electrifying the team or being completely useless with equal ease. But when he’s in form, the difference is undeniable.

    Poor Ruiz; that was a disastrous experiment. But Dempsey, my god.

    1. Unfortunately, you’re right. That was a ridiculous comparison.

      AJ gives more to our side than that. He’s been a big part of our biggest wins this year. It’s not his fault that Jol doesn’t rate him.

      Nate is a complete knucklehead.

  3. The first half was absolutely awful, and I wouldn’t put it all down to Jol’s tactical ineptitude (TM) but more the fact that the players were absolute garbage. No manager tells his players to go out and instead of passing the ball to a team mate, give it to an opponent instead, and that’s what pretty much all of them were doing. Murphy had one of those games that he’s been having far too often this season, and if the guy all your play goes through is playing that badly the team performance is going to be shocking. No one could come out of that first half with an ounce of pride, although it possibly could have ended with a red card for Santon.

    Second half was just bonkers, and passes were actually connecting. Newcastle didn’t know what had happened, and it’s probably true that most of the Fulham players didn’t either. Everything went right and the goals flowed.

    As good as the second half was, the first still shows the major limitations of the team at the moment:
    As much as Jol is reducing the average age of the squad he still relies too much on Murphy and he’s been as inconsistent as any player this season.
    Reuniting the Murphy/Sidwell partnership that everyone seems to have been clamouring for just didn’t work out.
    Senderos can be an absolute liability, and often makes stupid decisions.
    Hangeland seems to be playing below par – could be lack of confidence in Senderos or he could just be struggling for form after being as solid as he has for so long.
    Bobby couldn’t be arsed again, and his hold up play was pitiful.
    Dempsey was abysmal! He second half performance kinda made up for it, but it was up there with Blackburn in it’s ineffectiveness in the first.

    The first half consisted of EVERYONE doing everything wrong, and the second was everyone doing everything right (except Riise for the goal, but Ben Arfa is mint!). A lot of the inconsistencies aren’t down to tactics, just players doing things wrong, if they get it right more often than not then everything will be fine!

  4. 2 minor points:

    Sidwell went off injured. He overreached for a ball around the centre circle and presumably aggravated his recent hernia repair. He indicated to the bench to be taken off.

    The first penalty was for a foul on Duff, not AJ.

    1. The commentators said Sidwell had a dead leg (when they weren’t harping on the error Jol made when he put Ruiz in central midfield), so hopefully it’s something like that rather than something more severe.

  5. I was following the latter stages of the first half on BBC live text and couldn’t believe how heavily the stats were against us. It would have been bad even if we had been playing Man Utd away. Have to admit I didn’t bother after that, so was utterly gobsmacked when I saw the result.

    Couldn’t help noticing that we not only changed to 4-4-2 but had all the old guard on the field. How does Jol take the team forward after this?

  6. Looks like we cannot play 4-2-3-1 without Dembele who can hold onto the ball and always makes itself available for the pass. In the first half, everyone decided to hide from our two centre backs so Stockdale was forced to go long time and again.

    Newcastle were a physical team (not in a bad way) so bossed our midfield and we looked terrible. Baird came on and added some grit, and more importantly, some positional sense. He simply sat infront of the back 4 and swept everything up, freeing Murphy and making us look much better. I would be intrigued to see a Baird, Murphy, Sidwell midfield trio as you have everything there – a defensive tackler, a passer and a runner.

    As others have mentioned, where do we go from here? 4-4-2 is not the answer, but the 4-2-3-1 blows very much hot and cold and certain players are not interested in it. I guess it will be a halfway house until we get new players in and sell others in the summer.

      1. At the same time, I could not have seen us beating Arsenal or Liverpool with a 4-4-2 formation, since that is how we got murdered last season against the bigger sides.

        Is 4-4-2 what we need to play when we match up against another team playing a similar formation? Or do certain players actually try when we play 4-4-2 because it is the old guard who are in control? Can we keep going with a 4-4-2 formation that relies on 4 players over 30?

  7. My concern is that having spent circa £10m on a marquee signing like Ruiz, Jol is now setting his formations up to accomodate him to justify the expenditure and implications for future transfers.

    Welcome back Chris Baird & AJ and thank you for getting us out of brixton…

    1. Whilst Jol will want to play Ruiz, the fact he is happy to sub him off allays my fears that he is stubborn. Jol wants to win and wont cut off his nose to spite his face.

      That said, Ruiz represents the future of Fulham, and I am happy to build the team around him. We just need some more complimentary players before giving him the keys.

        1. Of the players who were not on the pitch when this game was won, Dembele is the one Jol will be keenest to get back in the team.

          How and where?

          Our midfield appears to function better when Murphy has a more defensive player (Baird / Sidwell / Etuhu) alongside him. Dempsey has to play. The BBC have been highlighting his predatory instincts recently with their tracking graphics and we have all witnessed the results. Unfortunately these instincts seem to be competely lacking in Dembele, although he appears to have all the necessary skills except for the right mindset.

          If he takes Duff’s position there is the danger Rich highlighted recently that our attacks get funelled into that narrow space in front of the penalty area, which makes it easier for opposing defenders.

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