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 »

The Ballad of Roy Hodgson

Poor old Roy Hodgson. In May his stock was high. He’d restored his image in English football and was named LMA Manager of the Year. Now he’s jobless after 8 months at Liverpool.

When Roy joined Fulham at the end of 2007, the team was in deep trouble. Lawrie Sanchez had led them to the relegation zone, and they seemed destined to fail. It took Hodgson some weeks to get the team to put in consistent results, and they faced weekly ‘must win’ games right up to the last at Portsmouth. In itself, the ‘Great Escape’ did a lot to banish memories of Hodgson’s last job in England, at Blackburn. Despite his successes at Malmo, Switzerland and Inter Milan, the awful 1998-9 season at Ewood Park meant he was seen as not fitting in to English football at the top level.

Following the 2008 heroics, the team that Hodgson had largely inherited completely turned things around the following season, leading to Fulham’s highest ever league position (7th). Many of the players who remained from before his time flourished under his tenure, having been regarded as mediocre under other managers.

The 2009-10 season was arguably a greater success than the previous one, for despite ending the season in 12th place, Fulham also managed to get to the final of the Europa Cup. On the way they beat the holders Shaktar Donetsk, three-time winners Juventus and German champions Wolfsburg. Atletico Madrid won the final, but only after a late extra-time winner from Diego Forlan. There were amazing individual and team performances from the players, but it was certainly the manager who was held responsible for taking a fairly small club all the way against some of the best teams in Europe.

All through the late part of that season, Liverpool had been angling to get rid of their manager, Rafa Benitez. In 2008-9 the Reds had come second in the Premiership, and they were expected to be competing for the title again. Instead, Liverpool ended up out of the top-four positions for most of the season. They were knocked out of the Champions League at the group stage and ended up in the Europa League, and despite getting to the semi-final (losing to Atletico after a late Forlan goal) this was also seen to be an underachievement. For some reason, Hodgson was seen as a replacement for Benitez, someone who could turn things around.

It always puzzled me at the time that Liverpool were interested in Hodgson. I can certainly see the attraction the other way around – he wanted to prove his ability at the very top level in England, Liverpool are up there as one of the very best teams historically, and after last season there would be a limit to how much further Fulham could go. I don’t doubt that Hodgson saw Liverpool as a challenge as well, one that would take considerable effort to master.

For Liverpool though, it was not really a good fit. They clearly wanted a quick fix – Hodgson seems to take his time to build teams and tactical systems. They had, and have, a lot of highly paid primadonnas – big egos do not cut much ice with Roy (as Jimmy Bullard discovered), and he demands hard work and loyalty from his players. They have traditionally been a ‘skill’ team, aiming to win games through attacking flair – Hodgson tends to be more conservative, building tactics from the defence and first aiming not to lose.

To be honest, these differences should have given both Liverpool and Hodgson pause. I’m not saying this from hindsight, as a bitter Fulham supporter who can’t get over the ‘betrayal’ of a manager leaving. I was not happy to see him go, but at the same time recognised that his abilities and ambition meant he could move up to a more prominent job. I fully believe that he only waited until July to sign up because there was a possibility that a bad World Cup campaign would see Capello sacked by England (when it seems that a bad campaign only served to keep him in place). The England job would be far more suited to Hodgson’s abilities, but it may be now that he will never get the chance.

It is sad for Hodgson that his big chance ended in such failure. He should have been given more time, but modern football doesn’t allow managers any room to fail, there is no patience for a period of ‘rebuilding’. Managers are expected to take a team from a predecessor who’s been sacked, and transform them within weeks. Players who don’t like the change may leave or be indisciplined, while others might not take to new methods. Fans will boo after a single loss, and offer lots of ‘advice’. Owners who have banked on Champions League football the following season, and the boost of a championship challenge will worry about their financial returns.

And I do have sympathy for Hodgson, far more than I do for Liverpool. He made the mistake of taking on a poisoned chalice, they used their prestige to coax a manager from a ‘lesser’ team and then chewed him up and spat him out.

Not having the World Cup

I would really liked to have seen the 2018 World Cup come to England. Euro96 was great fun and when we are behaving ourselves, the English fans can be really good hosts.

But, what with not bribing enough people, not censoring our media over FIFA corruption, not being a possible new mass market, sending Wills and Cameron and Beckham over to schmooze, and a mini-riot at last night’s 2nd-city derby game, did we really have a hope?

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Fulham 1 – 2 Spurs (or, the fundamental unfairness of the application of the offside rule)

Not that I’m bitter or anything, but the winning goal was scored with Gallas in a clear offside position, he went for the ball and was spotted by the linesman.

Still, Fulham should have scored more than one, and to let an equaliser in within a minute of taking the lead suggests a fair bit of complacency. So the Whites have lost their unbeaten record and have slipped into the bottom half of the table.

West Ham 1 – 1 Fulham

Yet another draw for the Whites, with West Ham getting an equaliser to frustrate us. Dempsey had opened the scoring, and he, Kamara and Eddie Johnson all had chances to score. But Robert Green had a good game, and the hosts posed a threat through the game.

It will be of concern that Fulham are not winning games, but at the same time they are still unbeaten in the league. Andy Johnson is back in training, but is not likely to be starting games for a short while.

Fulham 0-0 Everton

A pretty grim clash really. Everton are at the bottom of the Premiership, but shouldn’t really be. We are in the top half but missing three forwards. The Toffees are also short of the likes of Saha. So attacking play was not going to be a major feature of the game.

Dempsey and Gera are good players, and did not do too badly, but they are best alongside a natural forward like Zamora or Dembele. There were chances, but all went begging.

Still, on the positive side, there’s only one team other than Fulham who are unbeaten in the Premiership, and that’s Man Utd who have a tough away trip to Bolton to come. Arsenal were nearly humiliated by West Brom but ended up losing 3-2 at home in the end, and Chelsea lost at Man City.

Stoke City 2-0 Fulham

It had to come some time. Fulham have now lost a competitive game in the 2010-11 season. And not by fielding a reserve team in the League Cup. No, the first team were out, with Gera starting instead of Duff and the rest as per the last Premiership match.

The last time Fulham went to Stoke it was a mid-week game in January, on a day when most fixtures were cancelled from the snow but the Whites went out to lose 3-2 and Zamora took a bad knock to his shoulder. And that started a really bad run for Fulham.

Hopefully this is just a glitch, and the team will learn from this for the Premiership games. We’ll just have to save our cup form for the FA.

Good on Brentford for knocking Everton out though!

EDIT: when I wrote this, I hadn’t seen that Dembélé was stretchered off after a bad tackle – Stoke have a habit of crocking our players, don’t they? He’s off for two weeks, which leaves Fulham short up front. Not only is Zamora out until next year, but Andy Johnson is still a few weeks away from being able to play. Gera and Dempsey need to step up for the next few games.

Blackburn Rovers 1-1 Fulham

I guess Mark Hughes would know how physical Rovers would be, as they were hardly the most stylish side when he managed them. I think they were among the top three teams for cards every season he was at Ewood Park. But for Fulham, it’s galling to see a goal given to the opposition following what looked like a clear foul on the keeper. And a flukey goal at that.

A goal from Dempsey saw the Whites claim a point from the game, and remain unbeaten. That goal was no lucky deflection following an elbow to the goalie either, but a header from the six-yard box off of a cross from new boy Carlos Salcido.