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.

Transfers and a win at last

A terrible period for Fulham since Christmas has finally ended – they then went six league games with only a single point gained against Spurs on Boxing Day . The cup wins were of course good news in January, but they were also games against teams from lower divisions. But now a win in the Premiership, even against the struggling Pompey, is a welcome boost.

Etuhu returns from the African Nations Cup with a tooth problem that saw him withdraw from the first team after the group games, Konchesky and Gera were injured and AJ remains unavailable. However, Zamora is back earlier than was initially expected following his dislocated collarbone. But still, about half of the first team are currently out, so it was good to see some new players coming in during the transfer window.

Okaka has been discussed for some time now, coming over from Roma to train with the squad in January. He was probably in mind ever since he scored against Fulham in the Europa Cup. With Kamara going to Celtic on loan (with a view to a sale over summer), Okaka is now likely to be a starting forward until some of the regulars return. He had a bright start against Portsmouth, so maybe he could establish himself beyond that. I hope so, and I hope that if he does settle he’ll be available to buy when his loan expires at the end of the season.

Nicky Shorey also played well in the first game of his loan. He’s replaced Konchesky to fill the gap at left-back, which may mean that he’s destined to return back to Aston Villa in May.

What looked to be more of a long term investment was the signing of Christopher Buchtmann from Liverpool. He’s only 17, but has already been in an FA Youth Cup final and was in the team that won the last U17 European Cup for Germany. It’s certainly sent a lot of Liverpool fans into another bout of criticising their management.

Accrington Stanley 1 – 3 Fulham

A bit of a scare there, when the home side equalised a few minutes after the first Fulham goal. It’s hard to know whether Fulham would have broken Stanley down if Darren Kempson had not been sent off for his wayward tackling. I would like to think that they would, even with several injuries and playing on one of the wonkiest pitches in the land.

Either way, Fulham are in the draw for round 5, and hopefully a win will be a good morale boost ahead of a busy stretch – 5 games in 15 days between 26th Jan and 9th Feb.

Blackburn 2 – 0 Fulham

The poor away form continues, with a result that Fulham could have done without. The worry is that after the highs of December, the team is finding it hard to keep the momentum up in January. The loss of several players to injury (and a couple in Africa) makes this a tough period, but there should be depth to the squad: many of the games in Europe against top opposition were played with alternate players.

Both goals came from set-pieces. The first from a corner which led to Duff needing to parry a knock from Murphy that could have been an own goal. That parry led, unfortunately, to the feet Samba. The second from a free kick in which Nelsen was able to get well clear to head in, although there was more than a hint of offside.

Dempsey was off injured, after a pretty good game in which he hit the bar (from a bicycle kick!) and made quite a bit of play. A potential cruiciate ligament knack, and if that’s the case, he could be out for some time. Hopefully Clint hasn’t taken more than a light knock.

Stoke City 3 – 2 Fulham

I’m sure most Fulham supporters would wish this game had been cancelled. Not only was the result bad (although it could easily have ended up as a draw after the Whites came back from 3-0 down and had a penalty denied in the last minute), but Hangeland had a relapse of his knee injury and then Zamora dislocated his collarbone.

Hopefully, Bobby will be fit within a few weeks, but it’s a blow for a player who has hit top form of late and was scoring at the rate of nearly goal a game through December. There are replacements in the wings, who have been playing in Europe or as cover when AJ was injured, but Hodgson had been hoping to see Zamora and Johnson working together up front.

January will also see some tough fixtures, with away trips to Blackburn and Spurs, and whoever we get in the FA Cup, while facing Portsmouth at home this Saturday and hosting Aston Villa at the end of the month.

FFC roundup

Couldn’t be bothered to post about the Xmas-New Year games, so this is just a summary:

Fulham 0-0 Spurs (26/12/2009)

A tough London Derby for Boxing Day, and neither team seemed to be operating at top speed. However, both teams did create good chances to score, and this is more a reflection of the quality of both teams’ defence than of an inability to convert. A point I’d have taken before the game

Chelsea 2-1 Fulham (28/12/2009)

As in many recent games, Fulham took the lead early, and then let the opposition come back. This time it led to the hosts winning, which is hopefully a wake-up call to the players. Mind you, it did take cunning changes from Ancelotti to get Chelsea playing in a way that released Drogba, and the Whites were searching for a late equaliser to the end. The big negative from this game was not the result, but the injury to Pantsil, which may see him out for the rest of the season.

Fulham 1-0 Swindon Town (02/01/2010)

A solid start to the New Year, with a comfortable win in the FA Cup Third Round (even though only one goal was scored, the game was played at a canter and Swindon presented little danger). The draw for Round 4 sees Fulham playing away, either at Accrington Stanley (“Oo are dey?”) or the less attractive prospect of Gillingham.

Pantsil would be unavailable for a while anyway, at the African Nations Cup where Digkacoi and Etuhu will hopefully be maintaining their form. Senegal didn’t qualify for the competition, so Kamara will be in the UK. The next couple of months are likely to decide how the season turns out, as the weather and injuries take their toll. It’s unlikely that Hodgson will make any major purchases in the January window, but he does have an eye on quite a few players apparently, and we could see further strengthening of the squad.

Fulham 3 – 0 Man U

ha ha ha ha ha. So much for European football weakening teams for the weekend games!

Danny Murphy again had an excellent game, and opened the scoring after nabbing the ball from Scholes and taking a simple shot from the edge of the box. It was clear that the Man U defence – featuring few of the regular starting players – were finding it tough to deal with the Whites, and at times they could not get the ball away. Even so, the Man U reserves are no pushovers, and Fulham had to be on their top form to come out on top.

Within seconds of the kick-off for the second half, Duff put a cross in from the right wing, for Dempsey to nod down into the path of Zamora for his fifth goal in four games. Bobby later set up the third goal for Duff to slot in, and had a shot saved near the end, to cap yet another fine performance.

Before the weekend, looking at the fixtures over the Christmas period (this one, Spurs on Boxing Day and away to Chelsea on the Monday after), I would have been happy with three points out of them in total. Now I’m not sure if we should be satisfied with less than 9. The league table is looking good as well. We have a game in hand (away to Stoke early in January), which means we could go above Liverpool – who were humiliated at Pompey yesterday afternoon – and there’s also a gap opening up behind Fulham, which should give the Club some confidence.

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!

Burnley 1 – 1 Fulham

A valuable away point (all away points are valuable for a team like Fulham) up at Turf Moor. Like the last few games, the Whites  scored first (Zamora getting his second in two games) early in the second half, but unfortunately could not hold on for long as Burnley equalised on the hour. Fulham are now only one point behind Liverpool in the table.

The next game is the last Europa Cup group game, away to Basel. I’m all packed and ready to get out there. It’s going to be freezing cold, so hopefully Fulham will be providing reasons to jump up and down a bit.