Crusaders 1 – 3 Fulham

After last week’s bore-draw in the Faeroes and a loss in a friendly against AFC Wimbledon, it was a bit of a relief to win a game. Still, that did come from two goals in the last 20 minutes after the Belfast team equalised to cancel out Matthew Brigg’s opener.

As far as I’m aware, the tickets for the home leg have been booked. My first live game of the season will be pretty much a dead rubber, a game to avoid losing by more than 2 goals, but a pleasure to see the Whites in action.

The signing of John Arne Riise is also good news. Not as good as it would have been 10 years ago, when we were originally after him (and he went to the Scouse Reds instead), but he made it to the Cottage at last!

Fulham 3 – 0 – NSI Runavik

It’s still a bit odd to see the competitive football season starting in June, but at least Fulham have hit the ground running. Last week’s game wasn’t on proper TV in the UK, and the feed that the ‘Official’ facebook group recommended didn’t seem to work, but after about 20 minutes I did find a feed that showed live pictures from Craven Cottage. One camera angle for most of the match (high up on the Hammy End) and stilted tedious commentary, but it was good enough to see what was going on. Read the rest of this entry »

First of 23?

The new football season starts early for Fulham. A mere 39 days after the last Premiership game of the 2010/11 campaign will see the first match of the 2011/12 Europa League. When Fulham got to the final in 2010, it was the 19th game in Europe. Then, the Whites entered at the third qualifying round. However, this time because the qualification was through the Fair Play place, Fulham have to begin at the very beginning. Should they reach the final again, it would mean 23 games in Europe (on top of 38 Premiership games and at least two more in the Carling and FA Cups).

Today was the draw for the first two of those qualifying rounds. Read the rest of this entry »

Hodgson for God!

I’m still recovering from last Thursday night’s win over Hamburg. The whole thing is unbelievable. The comeback from a goal down was more than just dramatic. That the scorers were two of the unsung heroes of the squad made it seem more Fulhamish to me – Gera has been working solidly with Zamora this season, and Davies is one of the longest serving players who survived the arrival and departure of Lawrie Sanchez and fits in well with Hodgson’s system.

The noise in the ground was brilliant – the supporters were behind the team and in good voice (I’m still a bit hoarse). The memory of the “Stand up if you still believe” chant starting near the green pole and spreading out along the Hammy End brings a chill to my spine.

The odd thing is, Fulham could qualify for next year’s Europa Cup even if they don’t win next week – If England holds it’s place in the top three of the UAFA Fair Play league, Fulham is the top placed club in the English Fair Play table that hasn’t already got a place in the Champions League or the Europa Cup already. If we beat Athletico Madrid, then we will be given a place in the Group Stage of the Europa Cup and Burnley could end up getting the Fair Play place.

All of which is a testament to the team and the manager. Roy Hodgson hasn’t just gotten the team playing well enough to push for a top-half place in the Premiership, they’ve put together two cup runs and have been doing it through positive football and not dirty play.

No fooling

The magic 40 point barrier was breached at the weekend, with a 2-1 win against Wigan – Fulham’s first league victory in six weeks – and as my theory predicts, the even-numbered month of April is proving a better one so far.

I was at the Wolfsburg game last week, and they were definitely tough opponents. It took a long time to break them down, and they were well organised, but finally they seemed to collapse and Zamora and Duff were able to score in quick succession. However, instead of pressing the advantage, it seems that Fulham went onto the back foot, and allowed Wolfsburg to come back into the game, which is dangerous. In the first leg, any goal counts, not so much the end result, and the last minute header from their towering centre-back Madlung left a bitter taste. For the Germans, it was a way back into the tie with an away goal (which doesn’t ‘count double’, but is pretty important) and leaves the Whites in a similar situation to the one against Shaktar Donestk. Mind you, Wolfsburg are not the same as those Ukrainians – where Shaktar played a flowing, fast, skill-driven game, Wolfsburg are more like a traditional English side built on strength and tactics.

Oh, as I was writing this, the away leg started and Bobby Zamora scored after 21 seconds. COYW!

They’ve only gone and bloody done it! Fulham 4 – 1 Juventus

Fulham win 5-4 on aggregate.

Who’d have thought this would be happening after last week? Or five minutes into tonight’s match even?

The past few weeks have not been brilliant for the Whites, with 0-0 draws away to Hull in the League and at home to Spurs in the FA Cup. The game at Turin was characterised by fairly poor defending from Fulham – each of the Juve goals came from errors. Even the away goal was a but of a fluke, with Etuhu’s shot going well wide before spinning and bobbling off a defender.

But for the home leg, even after the conceded goal early on, Fulham never gave up, getting one back within minutes with Zamora allowed space in the middle of the box to slot one in. The Juventus defence seemed to rely more on shirt-pulling and holding than on legal methods, but the officials seemed oblivious to several clear penalty offences. Even so, Fulham got two key decisions perhaps unfairly in their favour – Cannovaro was sent off for a foul that was marginal and was not at a clear goal-scoring opportunity, and Diego gave away a penalty through handball at very close range (mind you, I think this was an ok call, as he did go in with his hand moving up and out). Still, Fulham hit the woodwork twice in the first half, and were making use of the extra man.

Zamora had an outstanding game, setting up the second goal with a deft chip to Davies who was able to put it across for Gera to knock in from 4 yards. Gera also took the penalty from Diego’s handball that put the tie level.

The latter part of the second half was in danger of petering out a bit, as Juventus pulled back and tried to defend, hoping for a chance on the break (pretty much textbook Italian play). But when Dempsey came on as an attacking change for Kelly, the pace of the Fulham team did lift, and the American – who was at one point thought to be injured for the season – was in a great position to score the winner. And it was a classic goal, a deft chip past the keeper into the corner. He’s going to be a bit of a handful if he plays like that in the World Cup.

Juventus were the better team by far last week. But Fulham excelled tonight, and Juve were their own worst enemy. My head is still spinning. Two years ago we were dead certs for relegation, and now we’re in the Quarter Finals of a major trophy.

Shaktar Donetsk 1 – 1 Fulham (2-3 on aggregate)

I just managed to get home in time for this one on ITV4, and spent the first half an hour wishing I’d stayed at work. Donetsk came out with their tails up and threatened from the start. Schwartzer had to make quite a few saves, and the Ukrainian team seemed to have solid control of the game. The home side only needed to win 1-0 to win on the ‘away goals’ rule, and it looked like they could get that and more.

However, with what was Fulham’s first proper chance of the match, a Duff free kick was met by Brede Hangeland’s head and the ball ended up in the net. With that, the tie was 3-1 in Fulham’s favour, and the away goal had been cancelled out. Shaktar had to score three in order to win outright, and two to force extra time. They could feel aggrieved perhaps at the seemingly innocuous challenge that led to the free kick in the first place, but Fulham had some pretty bad luck with officials in the games against Roma last year.

The goal seemed to wake the Whites up a bit, and the play then became more even, as the midfield were able to close down the game a little more. for the remainder of the half.

For the second half, the pattern of play was for Fulham to defend as deeply as possible, while Shaktar tried their same methods over and over to try to score. While the visitors were well organised in defence, and had the odd break, they could not stop Donetsk from pulling a goal back halfway through the second period. Zamora was replaced by Elm for the last 20 minutes, and he did seem to lift the Fulham play a little, as he and Gera were able to jink forward every now and then. The midfield and defensive lines held well too, and were soaking much of the pressure up.

With five minutes to go, and after a period fraught with danger, the pressure suddenly dropped, and Fulham finally got to put in some possession play as they tried to hold the aggregate lead. When 90 minutes had gone, and as four minutes of time to play were indicated, Gera got hold of a misplaced pass and came within inches of slotting in a winner. Ilsinho was lucky to get away with only a yellow card for a foul on Duff that was a kind of body check combined with a cuff to the head. Then Murphy was sent off for a pointless foul in the corner on a different Donetsk player, meaning his influential leadership would be missing for the next game.

With only a minute or so left, Shaktar didn’t have time to make the extra man pay, and so the tie ended 3-2 on aggregate. Fulham had knocked out the holders, a team with prodigious skill and pace, and held them off in a ground where they’d beaten the likes of Arsenal in previous years.

I don’t yet know who the next opponents for Fulham will be. Chances are it’ll be Juventus, who are a goal up with home advantage against Ajax. Either way, it will be a fantastic opportunity for the Whites to show their mettle against one of the most famous clubs in Europe.

COYW!

Fulham 2-1 Shaktar Donetsk

A good win, but I think there are going to be some worries about whether it is enough to take to Ukraine. Shaktar are a talented side, who play a very good passing game and move about quickly off the ball. They certainly didn’t come to England to defend…

Fulham started excellently, by attacking from the kick off and scoring through a Gera diagonal shot on two minutes. However, they soon settled back, and allowed the visitors to come forward. The main problem for the Whites was keeping possession, and that led to several quick breaks. The equaliser came as no great surprise, really, and could prove costly as an away goal.

Hodgson must have had a few words to say at half time, because the team came out with a much better approach and played a bit wider. Shaktar remained keen all the way through, but by defending further up the field, their threat was confined to the breaks, and it seemed that (Etuhu aside, who had an unusually poor game) Fulham were keeping hold of the ball far more confidently. That led to more periods of pressure, and the Whites certainly looked more likely to score. Zamora’s winner was a well-taken strike, and it felt like Fulham could push for more.

Up for the Cup

The 4-0 win against Notts County was a bit over the top really. The visitors played well and it just happened that Elm, Zamora and Okaka hit their stride at to set up and score as they did. All credit to County, the result flattered Fulham.

But now that the Whites are into the Quarter-Finals, they have finally met top-flight opposition, in the shape of either Bolton or Spurs. Both would present a really tough test, and a bit of a dilemma for Hodgson – should he put out a team to go all out to win and risk a wobble in the League? Or should he hold back a bit and risk a loss of confidence.  Ach, I really couldn’t take the pressure of that kind of job…

But now we have the game I’ve been looking forward to since the last big European game – Shaktar Donestk at home in the Europa Cup.

The Ukrainian side are top notch. They won the UEFA Cup last season, and have some pretty good quality Brazilian players amongst their mainly home-grown squad. They lost only one game in the Group Stage, and topped Group J with 13 points and 14 goals scored. Fulham will need to get a decent result tomorrow because Shaktar are pretty solid at home.

But hopefully we will be behind the lads all the way.

FC Basel 2 – 3 Fulham

This was my first trip away to Europe, and it certainly turned out to be a fantastic couple of days. The locals were very friendly, although the prices are pretty steep for everything (even Swiss stuff like the Army knives or Swatch watches costs more over there than in the UK). We had plenty of time to look around the city centre, with the Christmas market, the mighty Rhine passing through and the winding streets up to hilltop churches. Oh, and the bars were good too.

The Basel ground, St Jakob’s Park, is a really good venue – big enough to seat 40,000 but still with a nice close feel, and even though the away fans were in the corner, the view of the pitch was pretty clear. The home fans are certainly enthusiastic – all the way through the game the Ultras were singing, waving flags and jumping up and down. With only 1500 there, the Whites fans were never going to outsing them.

After one initial Whites chance from the start, Basel came forward in the first few minutes and Fulham were under some pressure until they settled in. Over time, the midfield of Murphy, Greening and Etuhu started to gain control, and the defence looked pretty solid. Zamora’s two goals at the end of the first half were well taken – classic six-yarders from Riise crosses, the first poked to the keeper’s right and the second headed in to his left. Bobby Z could have had a hattrick by then, having been given offside when he first found the net after 15 minutes.

The second half started well for Fulham, with less signs of the recent trend of pulling back after taking a lead. However, Basel had made two substitutions, and Alex Frei started to pick up his game, so the contest became far more even. Basel were given the chance to come back after Aaron Hughes had apparently handled the ball (although the ref initially pointed to the corner, and from our position it looked like it was accidental if anything. Frei made no mistake with the penalty, and the stadium came alive.

Shortly afterwards, Greening was replaced by Dempsey, and almost straight away the American was making his darting runs through the Basel defence. Zamora was still hunting for a third goal as well, trying to get through the offside trap. However it was Gera, having picked up a lovely chip ball from Kelly who’d moved up the wing, who took Fulham 3-1 up with 15 minutes to go. By that time, the travelling supporters were going barmy.

But we couldn’t bank on a win yet. Basel had nothing to lose, and still chased every ball. Duff replaced Zamora (who like Greening had been booked earlier), which did signal a slightly more defensive approach, and the Whites were relying more on Schwarzer to make some great saves. One of those led to a corner which saw the home side claw another goal back.

On 86 minutes, it was 3-2 to Fulham. If Basel equalised, they’d be through and Fulham would be knocked out. That last seven minutes (three added for stoppages) seemed to last about an hour, as Basel pushed forward – their keeper running up for corners at times. Dempsey almost killed the game off with a well-taken strike, but the RotBlaus did not give up until the last second.

It was an amazing game, and while it would have been more comfortable to have won 3-0 or 4-2, the close nature of the match and the quality of the opposition did make it worthwhile.

After the game, we took the tram back to the city centre (as it’s Switzerland, they were well prepared on public transport and everyone got away pretty quickly), to continue the celebrations. Cigars and Schnapps!

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