A great game of football that ended the right way, but boy was it close.
We’ve often talked about moments being decisive in these games, isolated incidents that on their own seem to change the game thoroughly and remarkably. In this case Clint Dempsey slid the ball across Ruddy onto the Norwich post. The ball bounced out to Dembele who contrived to hit his shot against a desperate defender’s sprawling charge. It would’ve made the score 3-0 and killed the game as a contest. Instead Norwich were able to regroup in the second half and almost, almost gave us a terrible lesson in taking chances.
Latecomers would have missed Dempsey’s opener, Ruiz’s shot from the edge of the area palmed out to our man on the spot. Open goal, but as usual, nobody else had anticipated the rebound so nobody else could do anything with it. He really is fantastic at this.
Then another, Dempsey through to Duff, who scored easily in the inside right channel. Norwich’s 3-5-2 was being torn apart.
Pogrebnyak was injured and young Alex Kacaniklic replaced him in arguably the biggest mouthful of a substitution in the history of football. Jol had enthused about the young winger in the week and it was thrilling to see the manager prepared to give him a chance. He didn’t touch the ball in the remainder of the half.
It’s not that we let it slip in the second half – we played quite well – just that the third goal never materialised, leaving the door open to Norwich (now in a 4-4-2 and propelled by the outstanding Wesley Hoolahan). Kacaniklic was more involved now, scampering down the wing and showing a more varied game than (the admittedly younger) Kerim Frei (nice to imagine them both in a Fulham side for a few years, eh?). At one point he showed vision to clip the crossbar with a curler from outside the box; at another he dropped into the space outside the area following a corner, beat a defender then crashed a shot that was deflected wide. Really encouraging stuff.
On the hour the game opened up. Ruiz put Stephen Kelly clean through (!), Aaron Hughes skied when well placed. We needed the big chance to fall to the right players, but it never did.
Then Diarra replaced Murphy and momentum changed. On the one hand it feels a bit simplistic to suggest that this single move altered the half’s direction, but certainly Fulham lost Murphy’s presence and started to lack cohesion. Wilbraham scored for Norwich via a deflection. 15 minutes of nailbiting, then.
Ruiz made way for Etuhu in a reactive move designed to slow Norwich’s attacks, but at the same time it felt as if we were conceding the last ten minutes. On balance probably the right move but these things always feel a bit tricky and I suppose this is where managers earn their corn. We couldn’t keep the ball but Norwich didn’t get *that* close to the equaliser. Well they did, didn’t they? – our defenders threw themselves around like mad things, panic everywhere – but.. what am I talking about? The last few minutes were hell.
We hung on and deserved our win. Dempsey, Dembele and Hughes were fantastic, Kacaniklic had a debut to remember, and I reckon those points more or less ensure our safety, too. So hurray, and yeah, what a great game.