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.