Fulham beat Villa, in with half a chance of staying up

Fulham still have essentially no margin for error, but at least live to fight another week. It’s amazing how the season is almost perfectly poised to produce the most nerve-shredding finish possible.

If we do defeat Norwich next week – and really we must – then that leaves Spurs, Hull and Palace.

Spurs are a mess under Tim Sherwood and in that sense there will probably never be a better time to play them.

Hull are pretty much Fulham’s bogey team now. Our last few fixtures have gone:

2008/09 defeat in Hull by a score of 2-1, defeat at home 1-0 (awful game, cold evening)
2009/10 lost 2-0 there, won 2-0 here
2013/14 ahem

So we’ve lost 4 of the last 5 against a team that struggles. That counts as a minor hoodoo and they also have Tom Huddlestone, who loves playing against Fulham whatever team he’s personally involved with. That’ll be tricky.

Then Crystal Palace at home which, had it been the first game of the season, would have been the easiest game on the fixture list, but Tony Pulis has his team playing well and we’ll have to work for whatever we’re to achieve here.

Norwich themselves will be an awkward proposition: they have four games from hell after us so you can well believe that this is their cup final.

Realism, eh?

All we could do was beat Villa and we did that. Magath deserves much credit for building what looks like a coherent football team, and Saturday was a nice manifestation of this. We saw lots of open football, some horrible defending, but some attacking play that drew gasps. I’m thinking particularly of Holtby’s near miss that featured the most delicious feint by an onrushing Dejagah, some awesome nimbleness by Holtby, and…. another goal missed by a millimetre.

Saturday was about Diarra for me though. I have a theory that central midfield has multiplicative properties: get this right and the whole team gets better; get it wrong and the whole team gets worse. Diarra is basically two players and as such brings his team an immediate advantage. The defence benefits, the forwards benefit, and people like Steve Sidwell aren’t under such pressure.

Note for example the winning goal, in which a Villa player passed the ball to Diarra who passed to Holtby who set up Rodallega. It’s like I always used to say with Dempsey’s tap ins: yes, it looks easy, but that’s because he was there. Nobody else was. Ditto Diarra. He could have been anywhere on the pitch but he popped up exactly where he was needed and from that we scored.

Fulham have been basically awful in transition this year, rarely winning the ball except for around our our area, and unable to spring counter attacks. This wasn’t a counter attack but the act of winning possession deep in an opponent’s half cannot be underestimated. The opponent has to turn, is halfway ready to attack and not ready to defend, and that buys you those vital fractions of seconds that differentiate another near thing and something special. So yes, credit Holtby and credit Rodallega but Diarra did the thing that made it happen.

I also loved Kieron Richardson’s goal. I am likely in a minority of one here but I am starting to think of him as our player of the season. For reasons hinted at above, I don’t know that the otherwise admirable Sidwell quite deserves the accolade: he has been extremely busy but my feeling is that our struggles have in no small part been because our midfield hasn’t been able to help our defence *or* our attack. Our midfield has been about as generous to opponents as is possible at this level, so are we really saying with a straight face that the leader of this department is our best player? Maybe. I could be really wrong and I’m not for a minute understimating his goals, his commitment and his leadership, all of which have I’m sure helped. But in the cold light of day I don’t know how effective he’s been overall. (Note the phrasing there: “I don’t know”.)

In any case, I like Richardson’s efforts, he has struggled with fitness but seems to be able to make tangibly positive contributions to the team. I think he’s been effective in what he’s done and his pace and energy have been a nice surprise.

So yes, that was a really good win. Heaven knows we needed it, and it would be easy to get carried away now, but I think we all realise deep down that this is the benchmark now, this is where we need to be for the remainder of the season. Another couple of wins and it gets very interesting. Can we do it?

14 thoughts on “Fulham beat Villa, in with half a chance of staying up

      1. Yes indeed – Ashkan is fast becoming our man who delivers! Newcastle, Everton, Villa – he makes things happen. Direct, pacey, and some of the indecision that perhaps characterised his play in the past 12 months is evaporating as he just goes for it. Ordinarily you think that players who come on, make a difference, and then don’t start the next game might start getting frustrated – it appears not with our man Dejagah….credit Magath for turning his performances up a notch & helping him realise just how forceful a player he can be for us. With him & Holtby on the pitch at the same time, there is a real sense of purpose and threat in Fulhams play that feels like it can create chances. Will it be enough? Have we got enough other players who can take advantage? Who knows – only time can tell.

        There is no doubting Saturday is our biggest game since the Europe League final. Looking at various fixture lists, our only real chance appears to be (a) catching Norwich and (b) keeping Sunderland behind us. We need to keep our fingers crossed that Spurs can help us out tonight on point B. Point A is all about our approach to next Saturday….if we win, we get to 30 points with 4 game remaining, then maybe we can salvage what at times has been a disaster of a season.

        And isn’t it at least nice to have Big Game Fever again – there was a real chance before the Newcastle game that everything was going to peter out with a dull ache. I for one am just delighted that the boys are playing with passion, there’s effort & spirit in abundance and they’re at least giving it a go. Time to be a bit proud of them, time to get behind them, and hope that fortune favours us on Saturday – we’ve had enough unlucky moments this season to merit an upturn in fortune!



  2. Right there with you about Diarra. For the first time in a while, I have to vehemently disagree with the Whoscored.com match ratings, which somehow gave him a 6.54, only ahead of the substituted Kasami (who was off his game), Riise (who played less than ten minutes), and Amorebieta (whose passing was poor). I think this is because they credit him with just one “aerial duel won” but I thought he won a ton of headers (particularly late) in addition to being assured in possession.

    I don’t know what to make of Hangeland right now. He won a lot of headers (Whoscored.com give him 12 aerial duels won, along with 16/16 clearances), but the commentators rightly scapegoated him for leaving his man on the goal to go for and miss the ball, and he (along with whoever he was partnered with at center back throughout the game, which I guess was Amorebieta and then Heitinga and then Amorebieta again?) struggled to deal with Holt, who’s, to be fair, a tough customer, but not so tough that Norwich weren’t willing to let him go last summer, and then Wigan were willing to let him go in January.

  3. Which would you prefer – a six point headstart and a run in against the top five or a fragile revival and a selection of ‘winnable’ fixtures..?

    More of a stay of execution than anything else at the moment but a point or 3 on Saturday could make things interesting (with or without Stoke away ;-))

  4. I feel like we’ll probably still go down, but there was so much to enjoy here: the feeling that the ship is righting itself, the return of Diarra, the youth movement, the incredible away support. I re-watched the MotD (US) highlights half a dozen times over the weekend in a sort of reverie. After the whistle blows, Rodallega gets down on his knees to pray, and Holtby runs up and tackles him. For a mostly lousy team, I’m very fond of a lot of this group.

  5. A draw on Saturday would still leave it perfectly open. Five points behind, four games to go. Norwich’s final four fixtures we know about – our four will all be against teams with nothing to play for (in that sense we’ve got very lucky).

    If Poyet’s interview after last night’s game is anything to go by Sunderland have given up the ghost already.

    A win on Saturday would create a momentum (for both us and Norwich) which would make us about 75-25 favourites to stay up I reckon. A draw makes it perhaps 60-40 in their favour.

    I was personally looking forward to the Championship so have no particular investment in being wildly optimistic (I don’t think…) but it honestly looks very unlikely to me that we’ll go down from here. We have the wind in our sails.

  6. Must be said Villa had a fairly slapdash lineup with all the injuries and the fact they’re clearly in the “loss-aversion” stage of their season.

    But I will commend the performance for showing two things that have been missing for a long, long time: a tactical plan and each player having a role. Kasami and Woodrow’s role was to consistently go at and harry the defenders; which the fresh legs of Dejagah and Hugo exploited. Diarra sitting in front of the defense allowed Sidwell to rove forward, a role he’s actually fairly decent at. Etc, etc.

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