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
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.
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?