A nice away win to start the season, but hard to take too much from this match

The first thing that occurs to me about Saturday’s win is that we were probably quite lucky. It’s nice to say “a perfect away performance” and perhaps it was, but if someone showed you the 90 minutes, less the minute we scored in, you’d be slightly unsure what to think.

It was a very muddy game, with neither side really showing much quality. I watched Crystal Palace v Spurs yesterday and Spurs look really, really good. There was quality all over the pitch, and while they struggled to get their goal and their win, that was probably less important than the style they showed.

Fulham showed none of that. Now, a) we wouldn’t expect to and b) we weren’t at full strength, but as best I can tell our key players were Hangeland, Hughes and Stekelenberg, with shouts out to Riether and (yes) Briggs.

Derek Boateng had a tough debut and when he’d calmed down I thought he did okay, and Sidwell’s Sidwell (I rate him but understand why others don’t). But moving forward it was more of the same, fairly stodgy attacking play without much by way of combination work. I was surprised to see Kasami playing and clearly Taraabt wasn’t supposed to go 90. Duff started and did okay; Berbatov was quiet. Our front-most six players basically contributed nothing of an attacking nature.

I’m not being contrarian here: the dividing line between wins and losses is miniscule and we usually don’t deserve to be slated when we lose and we often don’t deserve enormous amounts of credit when we win.

This was one of those games where the team was robust enough to prevent their opponent from doing much, then nicked a goal to take three points. As I write that I see that yes, perhaps that is a perfect recipe for playing away. I would qualify that by saying it’s a perfect recipe for playing away to the really big clubs, from whom you’d expect nothing. Away at Sunderland, effectively a peer of ours, maybe we could have done more and played better. Maybe not though: it was the first game of the season after all

As things stand a win is a win, a very good one at that, but I thought we looked quite ordinary. Bring in Ruiz to coordinate the attacks, Bent to add a goal threat, and all of a sudden we’re different.

Anyway, away win to start the season. Hurray.

14 thoughts on “A nice away win to start the season, but hard to take too much from this match

  1. I was there and largely share your views. Richardson gave us the usual worrying 15 minute cameo before going off injured (hamstring again ) and syrely cannot be our number 1 left back .

    Kasami , despite his goal , offered no signs of any composure on the ball or passing skills and is no ore than a last resort .

    We will struggle to impose ourselves without a physically strong leader in midfield who can distribute the ball but this should be obvious to Jol.

    We had a severely weakened side out against Sunderland , so I have no views on our attacking prowess except that we reain slow and ponderous .

    1. After looking a bit at the match info from the FourFourTwo Stats Zone app, I agree with part of what you said and disagree with part.

      Richardson: While you can’t make too much out of 15 minutes, I hope we (read: Jol, Mackintosh) don’t let the fact that he got injured distract us from the fact that, before he got injured, he looked terrible. He completed 3 of 9 passes including at least one giveaway in a really bad spot. (Briggs had fewer unsuccessful passes in 75 minutes than Richardson had in 15.) He was unsuccessful in his one attempted tackle (he got beat badly near the touch line at one point) and two attempted aerial duels (though, to be fair, we don’t have him for his aerial prowess). (Briggs won 5 of 5 tackles.)

      Kasami: Completed 17 of 20 passes, had one ball recovery, one block, one successful tackle, won 2 of 4 aerial duels, and blocked one cross. He wasn’t as bad as you’re making him out to be, I don’t think.

      Boateng: Looked like a red card waiting to happen, but, on the other hand, completed 33 of 37 passes (contra: Sidwell completed 30 of 36) including, perhaps most relevantly to the common clamoring for a new signing, 19 of 23 forward passes. He also had two recoveries, one successful tackle, 3 (of 3) successful clearances, and won 2 of 2 aerial duels. If he gets over what were hopefully first-match jitters, I think he could be the physically strong ball distributor that you’re asking for.

  2. Funnily enough, I was thinking something along the same lines as I came into work this morning Rich – If Fulham had lost the game, people would undoubtably be screaming for Jol’s head and bemoaning how we looked awful.

    It was a strange game really. Firstly, we were up against a Sunderland side who had been training really hard all season and were expected to race out of the gates. I wonder how much this figured in Jol’s reasoning to try to be more defensive and guard against a Sunderland team with a renewed vigour.

    Secondly, we had a load of players missing who would surely be considered first choice – Ruiz, Kaca, Dejagah, Bent, Amorebieta – in fact most of the players who bring pace, creativity and allow us to hit teams on the counter (a la the Spurs and Swansea games last season). The patchwork team we did put out included Kasami, who’s barely played for Fulham and Taarabt who had barely trained during the pre-season.

    Finally, the injury bug struck again, meaning that only one substitution could be considered tactical.

    All these things considered, the terrible attacking performance but strong defensive performance seem very acceptable. Did we get lucky? Possibly, but tactically we didn’t do much wrong in the circumstances, and by allowing them so few chances other than ‘hit and hopes’ from range, we maximised our chances of getting something from the game.

    What does this mean for the season? I’d agree with you that it probably means very little, other than perhaps we have the ability to dig in an try to force an unspectacular performance that grabs a result away from home. A lot of the main problems still stand, most notably the lack of a cultured midfielder in the middle, and we have to hope that they are addressed by the end of the transfer window.

    As it stands, it looks like Jol will keep his record of a surprisingly stingy defence away from home getting unexpected results, coupled with losses at home when we’ve played well but left ourselves far too open.

  3. What encouraged me was Jol’s BBC interview. When asked inanely by the journalist “The perfect away performance?” he quickly said no – it was the perfect result perhaps, but the performance left a lot to be desired.

    Fine. We can’t produce the goods every week and there will certainly be others when we’re in a better shape personnel-wise, as you say. And that’s before signing anyone. As it was, we made the best of a bad situation/performance. The MOTD ‘pundits’ will tell you fifteen times a season that that’s the sign of a good side.

    Put it this way – I’d be way more worried if I was a Sunderland fan.

  4. Yeah, I was quite shocked about Sunderland. I must admit I’d bought into the Di Canio hype and expected a lot.

    PS Roy Hodgson’s Blackburn team did double training sessions and collapsed in February. Many players said they’d simply trained too hard earlier in the year.

  5. I was amazed to read so many positive comments about our defending on FOF ( apart from Steke ! ) As so often however, I found myself agreeing with your observations Rich. I just hope our injury list doesn’t mean that every time we play it’s a different formation out there. Will know more after Arsenal I guess.

    1. No! We saw that last year once and it completely clipped his wings, as well as giving the rest of us heart attacks when he took the ball off the back four. He’s a wonderful player but should mainly be getting the ball in the other half.

  6. Rich – great recap of the game this weekend. Again, very balanced and accurate. It was nice to get the 3 points despite a less than stellar offensive performance, we performed well defensively.

    We do have nice momentum going into the Arsenal game. And Arsenal is just on the opposite situation at the moment, with a hugely depleted squad, tons of negative pressure and a mid week trip to Turkey which I’m sure will be very draining. We should be all over them and pounce while we have this great opportunity.

    I would look back at the way FFC played against Arsenal less than a year ago at the Emirates in the 3-3 tie and apply similar tactics, which are not different to what Villa did to Arsenal last Saturday. Ruiz and Kaca were outstanding in that game so they would be involved somehow, if Kaca is back from injury.

    My starting 11 would be: Stocks, Riether, Hangeland, Hughes, Briggs, Boateng, Sidwell, Kaca, Duff, Berba, Bent. Would play a cautious 20-30 minutes to relief the Arsenal pressure and play on the counter to exploit their defensive crisis. Ruiz can come on the second half for Duff, or even Sidwell if we need goals and can place him on a CM position. Taraabt can come in for Kaca or Duff, and we still would have options on the bench with Dejagah/Rodallega going forward, or bring in Karagounis if we need to hold a result. My only regret on this lineup is to leave Kasami on the bench after he won us the 3 points last Saturday and he showed so much effort during the whole game and put pressure on the Sunderland defense/midfield.

    I’m hoping for no more injuries, as last Saturday the forced substitutions of Stekelenburg and Richardson really affected Jol’s substitutions plans and therefore his tactics. Jol was planning on bringing on Ruiz for sure and possibly Bent/Dejagah in the second half to improve our creativity and goal scoring threat, but he could not execute on it due to the injuries during the game.

    1. Now that I think about it, Arsenal does not have any senior left back or left side central defender for next Saturday. Should consider starting either Dejagah (more pace) or Ruiz (more creativity and better crosses) on that side to exploit this blatant weakness

        1. Yes. Koscielny out due to red card, Vermaelen out due to injury. No other senior center backs available. I read today that Kieran Gibbs might recover from his cut and made available on the left back position, but we’ll see. Nacho Monreal, the other left back is out as well with injury.

          I can smell the blood!

          1. Seems strange that they would loan out Djourou, even if he is just okay, and leave themselves with just Mertesacker, Vermaelen and Koscielny.

  7. Soon last season’s gut wrenching hole in midfield left by Dembele, and those empty post match days without the leveling CCN match reports will just seem like a distant bad dream… So glad those days are over!

    Thought Karaguonis’ contribution in last 20 min was key. Funny though the difference in ones own reaction when seeing your own player time wasting and diving around when your 1 nil up with 10 minutes to go, to watching Drogba do the same thing for Chelsea.

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