We wanted to see some evidence that the two week break had changed something and I don’t know that we got that, but a 4-1 away win with two fantastic goals is not something to sneeze at, is it?
Some thoughts, then:
Palace are pretty bad. As Jamie Carragher pointed out last night, they’re arguably weaker than they were last season. They’re going to be relegated and there’s not much they can do. Sensibly, I think, they are making improvements to the club while there’s money around but not doing anything rash. But games like tonight’s are matches where they might hope to win, and they emphatically didn’t.
They started well though. With the evening kickoff and the floodlights there was always going to be a decent atmosphere. Palace scored early and Fulham seemed a bit shellshocked: despite all the creative players in our team, the main approach seemed to be Senderos to Hangeland, Hangeland to Senderos….
We were rescued by as good a goal as we’ll ever see. Kasami did well to make the run he did, Riether did well to find him. Kasami did well to control the ball on the full like that. If the move had ended here it would’ve been quite impressive. But to hook the ball into the top corner from there… I always think that the mark of a great goal is whether a park player could conceivably have scored it. Many goals fail this test, as wellying a football is something most of us are half capable of (Sidwell’s own wonder strike, good though it was, will be replicated on parks around the country this weekend). Anyway, basically nobody on earth could have done what Kasami did last night, which raises its own questions, primarily around what on earth has happened to the young man in the last year. We’d seen glimpses but Kasami 2013 is something else. A nice surprise, and, dare we say it, credit Jol for letting him play.
And so on. It’s like one of those FA Cup 3rd round games when you win well but against limited opposition: great for morale but hard to understand in the context of the wider season. What it probably does confirm is that we’re all fighting to avoid a single relegation spot: Sunderland look shot, Palace will struggle, and that leaves only the one space for the remainder of us to avoid.
The second half was a good deal better and it was nice to see a couple of set piece goals. Other thoughts:
Scott Parker very clearly played a much more disciplined role. Previously he has used his experience and quality to adopt a bit of an “I’m running this team” approach, but that’s not the best use of him at this point, and it was nice to see him settle down into a more conservative but more useful role.
They needed help initially though: Palace had Parker and Sidwell outnumbered and this was causing all kinds of problems. With the ball they kept going back to the defenders; without it both were playing on the edge of reason, a predicament Sidwell seems to enjoy but which seems to get both the best and worst out of him. Luckily the goal took the sting out of Palace and this issue ceased to be.
Riether seemed a lot more conservative, too. Ruiz was helping him out and was closed down *very* quickly.
My arguments about Darren Bent as a sub still hold, I think. He touched the ball less than a dozen times in the time he was out there, so a good argument could have been made for using his place to stiffen that midfield and maybe let Ruiz play off Berbatov. That said, his pace offers intangible benefits: Palace couldn’t press too high up the pitch for fear of what we might do if they did, which probably helped us find our feet in the game a bit more.
It’s touch and go though. While I like Bent and agree that he just needs games, I wouldn’t be averse to him being used on the hour every week.
The “it’s all Berbatov’s fault” brigade should be quiet for a bit now. He has been out of form, of course, but quality like that should not be discarded quickly.
I’m worried about Hangeland and at this point wonder if he is worth his place in the team. Senderos, whatever people might like to think, is doing a good job, and Amorebieta looks impressive whenever we see him. Given that Richardson and Riether seem reasonable full-backs, perhaps the time has come to change the back four more dramatically.
The world is moving to a pressing game and it’s something Fulham haven’t really done. To press you need to move up as a team. If only some players press they leave gaps behind them, so it has to be a concerted effort to squeeze the game. This means a high back line, something you can’t do if your centre-backs are slow. You have to weigh up all the team’s strengths and weaknesses but an ongoing theme this year has been the number of shots we have allowed. This might be because the team isn’t compact defensively: the back four stay back, the midfield is fragmented. It feels as if a more compressed unit might be harder to get through. This is just conjecture though. It’ll be worth watching how Southampton play at the weekend though: they’re very good at this.
In any case, bananaskin dodged, nice win, please for the players. We live to fight another day.