Fulham 2-1 Norwich City

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.

13 thoughts on “Fulham 2-1 Norwich City

  1. That shot from Kacaniklic was tipped onto the crossbar by Ruddy. Could have been the icing on a very memorable debut.

  2. Impressed by Norwich. A busy, pressing but also passing side. They conceded almost as soon as the game had started. And then again after having ten minutes of possession. Yet continued to dominate it.
    Admittedly Norwich’s relatively high-line defence (necessary to the pressing nature of their approach) looked vulnerable. Fulham didn’t have the obvious pace to exploit this vulnerability but Duff’s goal was not atypical of what might be possible against it and Murphy seemed always alert to the possibility of a quick ball over the top.
    Fulham’s second-half performance seemed lazy. And as against Stoke they were overrun and clinging on in the closing stages. At times like this I wonder about Mousa Dembele as a central midfielder.
    Ideally I would prefer to see Dembele in the role Wessi Hoolahan filled for Norwich here. And there should be a strict directive to the other players to give him the ball at every opportunity! The guy is too flippin’ modest in the way he plays.

  3. Kacaniklic looks a thoroughbred. His style of play ticks the various boxes marked `class’ — balanced and head-up at all times, two-footed, can take it either way, clean striker of the ball. You really do stand a chance of making a prem player with those attributes. Notable also was that he took responsibility, showed for the ball and made some incisive runs. The Watford experience had clearly done its work because he did not play like a debutant.

    Early in the MAF era a young signing from Notts County made his bow at right back. He too was two-footed, poised and looked immediately at home. Allowing for the difference in position, Steve Finnan’s debut is the one that this reminded me of.

  4. Agree on Kacaniklic. Wasn’t he part of the Konch to Liverpool deal? I thought Kelly had a really good game, and seems to have been told to make some surging runs into the box. There was one in the first half where he was through, but flagged offside, though TV replays showed him to be onside.

    Dembele, a class, but frustrating act. He can’t shoot for toffee.

    1. And I should add that Schwarzer seems to be back to his best – strong in the air, safe handling – but his best includes very dodgy distribution. I groan everytime the ball goes back to him (which it does quite often), because it seems that at least half the time he’ll then kick to the opposition. I’m sure someone will produce stats that prove me wrong, but no opposing keeper seems to give the ball away as much.

      But the important thing is, a very hard fought and I thought deserved three points.

  5. I disagree with the above comment about Dembele’s shooting. It seems to me that his shooting has improved drastically in 2012. He’s less hesitant when in front of goal and more often his efforts head goalwards. Seems to me many of his shots have been decent but have been getting little deflections here and there. I won’t be surprised if we start seeing some fall in here and there. That’s not to say I think he’s a good shooter, or that he’ll ever be in Dempsey (or even Duff’s) class of finishing, but “He can’t shoot for toffee” I think is a bit uncharitable. He’s a mediocre, but improving shooter. I’m expecting 4-6 goals from him next year, assuming health.

    As for this game: As rich mentioned, Dempsey, Dembele and Hughes had great games. I’m especially glad to see Hughes get some recognition for today’s performance. He was a rock. Perhaps I’m just a sentimentalist, but I hope the Hughes/Hangeland duo remains for some time.

    I’m normally pretty hard on Kelly, but I felt he had a very solid game today. Strong defensively and very involved in build up play.

    Are we starting to take Duff for granted? Even if the stat sheet doesn’t show it, he rarely has a poor game. He also provides some much needed width and directness to counterbalance the lovely, but sometimes amorphous, creativity of Ruiz, Dempsey and Dembele.

    Still waiting for Diarra to have a game like his debut. I’m still very optimistic about his future with the club, but he’s clearly not quite up to speed yet. Diarra may become Murphy’s replacement sooner than later, but Jol made the right decision to start Murphy. He’s not done yet.

  6. Agree with most of the comments, above. I think Duff is undervalued because his pace, urgency, and work-rate inspire a team that can be a little sluggish at times. I appreciate the style that Jol has brought to the club, building on the defensive solidity we acquired when Hodgson was at the helm (the best that can be said of Mark Hughes is that he didn’t break anything…enjoy life in Championship next year, Mr. Ambition), but the focus on passing can lead to a bit of torpor on the ball and vulnerability to a pressing team like Norwich. Duff isn’t afraid to take defenders on when that is what’s necessary and he balances out the passing game with a running game. How long he’ll be able to keep this up at his age is an open question.

    Kacaniklic was great to see; I think he’s one for the future for sure. Dempsey has a preternatural ability to be in the right place at the right time, no? That first goal was 100% down to him running into logical spaces that no-one else sees. Dembele really is a masterful dribbler and I hope he doesn’t leave in the summer; he adds a dimension to our attack that it otherwise lacks, even if he shoots like a centre-half. And speaking of centre-halves, Hughes/Hangeland is the right central defensive pairing and if I never see Phillpe Sendoros in Fulham white, that will be ok with me. Likewise, we need to send Brian Ruiz packing to a league he can exploit his talents in. The Premiere League is obviously not one of them. He seemed to be at the centre of almost everything that went wrong yesterday (at least in the first hour) and while his two goals for us have been beautiful, I think we can say that >GBP10MM is too much to pay for two goals and innumerable wayward passes.

    Given where the bottom 5 or so teams are right now, I’m guessing we’re safe. The run-in has some challenges (Chelsea, Liverpool, Spurs) but there are definitely points on offer (Bolton, Sunderland, Wigan). I’ll be at our last two matches this year, so I’m hoping for a strong finish. C’mon you Whites!

  7. I have wondered if my thoughts about Schwazer might be over critical but see that a comment above bears out my own feeling that Schwazer’s distribution is poor. To many times possession is immediately conceded and pressure invited by his unproductive kicking. This was especially so against Man. U. On Saturday he did throw the ball a few times and the second goal started in this way. Around seven passes later the ball was in the back of the Norwich net without them touching it. To me this shows what can be achieved by intelligent distribution. Stockdale is so much better with his distribution although perhaps not yet as good a shot stopper and catcher as Schwarzer. It amazes me that our goal keeper coaches cant see this and instruct Scwarzer to throw more often.

    1. Excellent points. Something that I certainly noticed. In terms of goalkeepers and distribution, Vorm with Swansea was excellent in terms of his distribution those couple of games ago.

  8. I disagree that the momentum changed after Murphy came off. Fulham were on the back foot from 10 minutes into the second half. We were losing the midfield battle and that is why Diarra was brought on, to shore up the midfield. It didn’t work, but the decision to bring Murphy off made sense.

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