Fulham 6-0 Port Vale

Last season, Fulham went out of the League Cup in the second round (the first game for most Premiership sides), having put out a team mainly of second-stringers against a full strength Man City at Eastlands. Understandably, with a game the previous week in Sofia and ahead of the visits of Arsenal and FC Basel, Hodgson was not going to risk tiring out the first team in such a game.

But this season there are no European distractions, and we know that we have a squad capable of a good cup run, so it was heartening to see the first team out last night. Read the rest of this entry »

Fulham 2-2 Man Utd

The first home game of the season was a pretty amazing affair. Fulham gave the visitors too much time and space at the beginning, and Scholes was able to use a little back-pass to put the ball into the goal after about 10 minutes. Fulham came back into it during the first half, with the best chance falling to Etuhu when he raced into the box to force van der Sar into two reaction saves.

The second half saw the best action, however, and the first Fulham equaliser was a thing of beauty. Read the rest of this entry »

Bolton 0 – 0 Fulham

Away to Bolton is never a thrilling prospect, and it being the first game of the new season there was a lot a caution from the Fulham team. To add to the air of restraint, young David Stockdale was in goal to cover for an injured Schwarzer. Stockdale had a good game, the beeb website described him as ‘outstanding’, which is certainly something we may need if Schwarzer is tempted by offers over the next few weeks.

Still, it is a point gained away from home. It the easy game at home to Man Utd next weekend. After that the next league game is away to Blackpool. After their demolition of Wigan today, the tangerines are currently top of the table. Erk!

Countdowns…

It’s only two days before the new Premiership season starts, and hopefully Fulham have had time to get over the turmoil of not having a permanent manager for several weeks. Mark Hughes will be pleased that the last friendly game went so well – a 5-1 win over Werder Bremen, meaning a third German team has been defeated by the Whites in a few months.

Zamora did get a run out for the second half of last night’s international, and while he didn’t score he was certainly a threat for England and contributed to a more pressing team. Kiraly, the Hungarian ‘keeper, was busy anyway.

Gera also had a good game, being involved in the play that led to Hungary’s opening goal (even if it the ball wasn’t actually over the line when Dawson hit the deflection from Jagielka clear). Now Zoltan and Bobby can work together and really create panic among defences.

There hasn’t been much in the way of transfer activity, with Steve Sidwell’s move from Villa being cancelled by Hughes. The only buy over the summer was Philip Senderos, who is out for at least 6 months following an injury and surgery. Still, there are a few weeks left and it was this time last year I was worried that we didn’t have the squad to carry a league and European campaign.

Zamora v Zoltan

While a lot of the focus on tonight’s game between England and Hungary has been about how much booing the World Cup flops will receive, more should perhaps be on the new faces in the squad.

Of course the main interest for Fulham fans will be whether Zamora gets to come on from the bench, after having been on the edge of contention at the end of a brilliant season but having to rule himself out of contention for South Africa in order to have surgery over the summer.

And in the international game since… err.. the USA-Ghana tie in the World Cup… there’ll be a Fulham player on each side. Zoltan Gera getting his first start for Hungary in months and the captain’s armband. So, I kind of want a high scoring game (with England’s goals coming in the second half thanks to a canny substitution). And of course no crunching tackles, what with the Premiership opener at Bolton on Saturday.

Sparky!

It’s been a frustrating summer for Fulham. Even before Rafa Benitez got the elbow from Liverpool, there were rumours that they were seeking to take Roy Hodgson to Anfield. Bizarrely, the Reds sacked Benitez and had to pay him off just before he took an offer elsewhere, which seems like a waste of a few million quid.

Anyway, it was sad to see Hodgson go (and had England not kept faith with Fabio Capello, it’s likely that he’d have been up for the national job), but in a way it was fairly heartening to see that it was with Fulham that he restored his reputation in England. He’s also promised not to be poaching players from the Cottage over the summer, which shows that he is still a decent bloke. He certainly likes a challenge, and Liverpool are going to present one. At least they know he can marshall a good run in the Europa Cup.

Of all the names that were being bandied about as a replacement, that of Mark Hughes did pique my interest. He got a raw deal at Man City, being shoved out by new owners to make way for Mancini despite doing pretty well with a team in transition. I also remember him from one of the best games of football I ever saw on TV: Chelsea v Liverpool in the FA Cup – (YouTube highlights) in which he came on as a sub for Chelsea with the score at 0-2, and inspired his team to win 4-2. Hughes scored the first of the comeback goals, and was on absolutely top form.

I don’t have much time for Sven Goran Ericksson. Alan Curbishley may have done well for Charlton, but he was part of the ruination of West Ham and didn’t rate players like Konchesky, Zamora or Painstil much. We have some ex-players who are managing lower league teams and could be ones to watch for the future, like Lee Clarke and Sean O’Driscoll, but it’s perhaps too big a step up. Martin Jol would have been a good choice, but alas, Ajax would not let him go.

So, I’m happy that we have found a decent manager. He won’t be the same as Hodgson, and I hope that supporters give him some time. I also hope that the players rally behind their new boss. With no European distractions, this is a season to make a big statement in the league, if we play it right.

Not a complete disaster

I thought I was doing well on my predictions. France and Uruguay ended up goalless and a Uruguayan saw red, Greece lost to South Korea… and then Argentina were annoyingly good against Nigeria. From what I saw Etuhu and his teammates did pretty well, but unfortunately Argentina somehow managed to keep them at bay. Dickson did put a ball in that could well have resulted in a goal though.

Of course the real disappointment was England failing to beat the Americans. There were plenty of chances, and certainly when Lennon and Johnson got behind the defence the US looked vulnerable, but the luck just wasn’t there at times. Of course at the other end Rob Green had no when he fumbled Dempsey’s speculative shot into the goal. So I got one thing right, dammit.

Still, Gerrard’s goal was classy, and England did look very good going forward. The midfield did track back when needed, and for most of the game the possession play was pretty solid. I don’t think we need to worry too much about the other two in the group on that basis, and as long as Green maintains his confidence I reckon England can too.

Anyway, at the risk of getting these horribly wrong..

Sunday 13 June

Algeria 1-1 Slovenia (a tight game with rubbish defending exposed, please)
Germany 1-0 Australia (Germany very lucky to nick one from a wicked rebound after Schwarzer locks them out for most of the game)
Serbia 2-3 Ghana (a proper knockabout end-to-end game at last?)

Picking a winner

This week two things started properly. One was the Labour Leadership elections, with five candidate qualifying for the final round. Alas, John McDonnell didn’t make it, but at least people stopped nominating Millibands for the other two to get in. I’ve yet to decide who to support. I would put Diane Abbott in as my no1, but my girlfriend has told me I’m not allowed to (so much for sistahood, eh?). All I know is that Balls is no5 in my book and nothing’s likely to change that unless it turns out that Andy Burnham is even worse.

But for now we have the really important competition down in South Africa. This time I will be backing seven teams in the World Cup:

England
USA (Clint Dempsey & Carlos Bocanegra)
South Africa (Kagisho Dikgacoi)
Nigeria (Dickson Etuhu)
Ghana (John Paintsil)
Australia (Mark Schwarzer)
Japan (Junichi Inamoto)

Obviously England are the main team I’ll be supporting. Not with silly flags or by wearing the shirt, let alone with face paint, but in the time-honoured tradition of watching them on the telly with beers in hand. But all of the others have current or past Fulham players in their squads, so I’d want to see them progress. Besides, Ghana and Australia doing well means Germany doing badly, Nigeria are up against Argentina and South Africa are in a group with France so that’s the main rivals covered. None of those teams are ones that I wouldn’t want to see do well anyway, they are all reasonable footballing sides, with a fair amount of underdog status.

If Fulham had a Uruguayan or Italian international I’d have been mightily torn between backing a Whites player and my loathing of negative sides that cheat their way through. When England play the USA tomorrow I certainly want England to win, if for nothing else other than to shut the Yanks up about 1950. But as long as England look good to get through the group, I will want the Americans to do well against Slovenia and Algeria before shockingly putting the Germans out in Round 2.

I’ll be keeping an eye on the games where Whites players feature. I was at work for the opening game of the tournament, which saw Dikgacoi in action against Mexico, so I am reliant on the highlights and web-reports. 1-1 is a good result for the hosts, and while they were lucky not to concede in the first half they could have nicked the game at the end. The Mexicans are usually a very good side, and are often underestimated at the World Cup. They’ve have made it to the knockout rounds in the last four tournaments, and each time fallen at the first hurdle.

Our lad Kagisho made his mark on the game: booked midway through the first half for fouling the rampant Giovani, failing to convert a headed corner at the end of the first half, and then being involved in the build up play for the South Africa goal in the second half.

I’ll be making with more frequent posts (‘onest!) on how my favoured seven teams and the Fulham contingent are getting on. In the meantime, here’s how I hope the next few games go:

Tonight
Uruguay 0-0 France (with several players sent off and loads of bookings. Any Uruguayan who commits a foul to be injured as a result)

Tomorrow
S Korea 1-0 Greece (The Greeks beaten when their offside trap fails)
Nigeria 2-0 Argentina (Maradona turns purple as Etuhu gets an assist)
England 3-1 USA (Rooney and Defoe goals win the game after Dempsey opens the scoring)

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!