Eyesore at the Cottage
Fulham won their first home league match since April today against a Stoke side as uninspired and uninspiring as their hosts. A well taken goal by Darren Bent in the 83rd minute separated the two teams in a match in which neither side did enough to earn three points. As a matter of fact, neither side did enough to gain ONE point. About 65 minutes in, I wondered how many people in the Cottage were watching their first ever Premier League match and wondering to themselves, “THIS is the best league in the world? Really? Is this what all the fuss is about?”
But I digress. Martin Jol, who slipped out of the pressure cooker to frown for 90+ minutes on the Fulham sidelines, turned out an interesting XI. The back four consisted of three centerbacks and one German. One of the many things we learned today is that Amorebieta is NOT a left back, and yet Mark Hughes’s Stoke City was so poor in attack that they were never really able to unlock this makeshift back four.
Those thinking that Jol might go for broke in the shadows of the gallows were disappointed to see that he fielded a 4-6-0 formation – at home. Kasami, Ruiz, and Berbatov – two midfielders and a striker who prefers to play midfeld – were given the job of unsettling the Stoke City defensive behemoths. They did what a team without a recognized striker might do – pretty much nothing. A Fulham player first set foot in the Stoke penalty area in the 23rd minute, and it was not until the 35th that Fulham fired their first shot and earned their first corner. The match totals showed that Fulham took 9 shots over the 90+ while Stoke took 16. This is to be expected for a team that takes the fewest shots and concedes the most in the league.
Sparky is trying to remake Stoke’s image, fielding an attacking flowing side against Manchester City, but fielding a confused disjointed side against Norwich City last week. They were much more the latter than the former today. They won the ball consistently, moved up the field well, but ran out of ideas in the final third. If Fulham resembles a classy side playing negative football, Stoke looks a side with limited skills trying to play classy. The Potters main culprit today was Nzonzi, who had a horrid match. Hughes’s desire to expunge the Stoke City Wrestling Club image still is incomplete, however, as Huth and Whelan demonstrated with their persistent fouling.
The first half was dire. There is no disputing that. For Fulham, Kasami was bright as was Sidwell. I’ve just named two of the three Fulham players who have played hard and strong throughout the season. Amorebieta was less than useless at left back. He was consistently out of position and did not link at all with Damien Duff who was playing left wing. Hangeland was much improved over his form against Cardiff City, and Senderos did well, even though Tony Gale moaned about his every move – even when he won the ball or passed upfield accurately. As for Karagounis, aside from aiming all his free kicks and corners at the first defender’s shin, his most significant highlight was almost breaking Kasami’s leg in an effort to complete the 5th roll after a successful dive. At the half, I banished all thoughts of hanging myself from one of the oak trees in my front yard and, instead, dropped into the FulhamUSA.com chatroom to sample the thoughts of the supporters there. As I’m trying to keep theseViews G-rated, I’ll reproduce none of their comments.
So what would Jol do to change things up? Would he bring on Bent or Rodallega in an effort to – you know – attack at home? Would he get Love Bite out of the left back position before Stoke woke up and recognized his incompetence there? Would Jol release Karagounis to the Greek national swimming team early? As it happened, Richardson came on for Hangeland – who must have been injured. Love Bite moved to center back – where I thought he played well – and Richardson took over left back. This enforced decision was accompanied by a switch between Kasami and Duff on the wings. This was a very good move in that Kasami’s upper body strength gave him a better change to trouble Geoff Cameron on the left while the Duff-Riether partnership was renewed on the right.
Derek Boateng made an appearance on the hour, giving Fulham’s back four the first “protector” they’ve had in a very long time, but the signal change occurred six minutes later when Berbatov hobbled off [after the fifth or sixth time he’d been “Huthed”] to be replaced by the guy who should have started in the first place, Darren Bent. Both Boateng and Bent are one-dimensional players, but each of them is strong in the dimension that Fulham has been lacking all season. Suddenly, Fulham had more steel at the back and a real threat up front.
The game’s only goal was scored when Kasami strong-armed the right side of Stoke’s defense and scuffed in a somewhat lukewarm cross. Bent took it and executed a quick move to the left that freed him from both Pieters [his marker] and Begovic. It was then easy for him to slot home, which he did as the calmest man on the pitch. 1-0 after 83 minutes, and then it was only a question of would Fulham drop 2 points in the last 10 minutes or all three.
Surprisingly, Fulham held on for their second clean sheet of the season – Boateng was on the pitch for both of Fulhams’s 1-0 victories, but didn’t play a minute in any of the other matches. Hmmmm. Bent had another chance, and Riether capped an 80 yard sprint up the field with a solo effort that Begovic turned around his post [This was Fulham’s only other shot on goal today].
So, did Fulham do enough to keep Martin Jol at the helm? I doubt it and I hope not. Fulham were still static, sideways, and slow for most of the match. There was little inventiveness, and the half-time change that made a significant improvement was dictated by injury not by tactics. Fulham’s players are not going to perform at their best as long as the Dutchman is in charge. I really hope that is FINALLY obvious to the folks in charge. But, hey! We won. Fulham have now achieved 17th and are on 7 points from 7 matches.
HatterDon’s Man of the Match is Pajtim Kasami.
Let’s get some things sorted out over the international break, and COYW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!