by Hatter Don
Fortress Fulham is No More
Today, Fulham played the least talented side in the Premier League and lost to them 2-4. Questionable team selection, early lethargy, late disorganization, and the abject failure of fan favorite players to play well all contributed to Reading winning only its second road match of the season, and its first three points anywhere in at least three months.
Fulham began brightly with Damien Duff giving Reading LB Stephen Kelly a quick lesson in how to play out of position. Twice within the first 90 seconds, Duff mastered the Reading left side and, on the second occasion, whipped in a cross that Bryan Ruiz met with a hard volley. It was well saved by Reading’s 23 year old Irish keeper McCarthy – a continuing theme throughout the day. Immediately after, Jol had Duff swap wings with Emanuelson and Fulham’s early pressure was relieved.
For the next 10 minutes or so, Fulham did their best imitation of 11 guys strolling around on a green expanse with little or no understanding why. At that point John Arne Riise attempted a routine clearance which, instead, only cleared the ankle of Hal Robson-Kanu. Robson-Kanu – who we’ve been told repeatedly is not good enough to play for Fulham – coolly converted as Reading assumed a lead it would never relinquish. Fulham seemed content with that lead and continued to loll around in the almost summer almost sunshine.
Until Martin Jol made a significant change in the 26th minute, that is. On came Hugo Rodallega at the expense of Giorgos Karagounis, who had been doing a fine imitation of a statue on loan from the Parthenon. Immediately, Fulham began to gel and, for the rest of the half showed their superiority in both talent and tactical nous. Unfortunately, Reading was the only side to have come out of the dressing room and were soon bossing the ball. In the 62nd minute, Robson-Kanu scored again.
And then the match became fun to watch – for a neutral observer. Fulham gained control and Ruiz scored to reduce the deficit to 1-2. Then substitute Adam Le Fondre made it 1-3. Some superb attacking play by Fulham resulted in a sweet cross from the right by substitute Alex Kacaniklic that resulted in a headed [?] goal by Fulham’s Costa Rican barely two minutes later. At this point, it was 2-3 and Fulham looked the side most likely. There were a few chances by each side before Rodallega nearly shattered the crossbar with as clean a connection as you’ll see in a long time.
The game was in the balance when Brede Hangeland nodded the ball to Reading midfielder Jem Karacan, who immediately slotted home his first ever Premier League goal. Some more excitement followed, but that was that. Fulham demonstrated once again that they can be easily unsettled by teams that press on defense and attack wide … even teams as weak as Reading … even at the Cottage.
And now the inevitable comments. I thought that the match day squad was a bit strange. Special K had played Fulham’s best football at Everton but was relegated to the bench. Kerim Frei didn’t even make the bench. Whatever Jol was thinking at the time was a mystery, but it must be said that the substitutions of Rodallega and Kacaniklic contributed mightily to Fulham’s attack.
As for the players, thank you very much Mr. Emanuelson. I sincerely hope we don’t see you in a Fulham kit again. Mr. Enoh, today’s performance made me wish not only for Emmanuel Frimpong, but also for Dickson Etuhu. Mr. Karagounis, feel free to start your summer holidays Sunday morning. And, Mr. Schwarzer? Well, you deserve your own paragraph.
On the day when Fulham’s on loan keeper David Stockdale saw his now [and future?] club Hull promoted to the Premier League, Tha Big Aussie showed us all why Stockers should have been Fulham’s #1 all season. Not content with just distributing poorly and slowing down our counter-attacks – something we’ve seen all this season, and most of last – Schwarzer showed no positioning sense, collided with his own players, flapped his arms for no apparent reason more than even Dimitar Berbatov, and unsettled his back four to the point where mistakes were inevitable. There’s no way to sugar coat it from my point of view. Schwarzer was god awful today, and the lack of quality in his performance was highlighted by the calm, sure performance of the opposing goalkeeper in his first top-flight season at nearly half our Australian’s age.
On the bright side, I think we saw what Hugo Rodallega can do when paired with Berbatov today. He was great. He laid off the ball well, ran into and created space, passed accurately and wasn’t afraid to take a crack at goal. He could easily have had three goals today. Once the disappearance of Karagounis allowed Ruiz to take up the attacking center mid role, he performed well. He was much more of an attacking presence in this position than he has been most of the season playing just off Berbatov’s shoulder. And, to be fair, Jol’s substitutions and tactical adjustments made the match more entertaining and close. Because, face it, any Premier League side whose best striker is NOT Pavel Pogrebnyak would have toasted us today.
That’s all I’m going to say positive about our gaffer, though. Regardless of what we do against Liverpool next week, we have lost more matches at the Cottage this season than at any time since we began a season with Lawrie Sanchez as our manager. We’re still abysmal at erasing leads, and – after two full seasons – I still can’t figure out what Martin Jol’s preferred playing style is. One thing is for certain: the days of Fortress Fulham are over. Our “hard to beat at home” performances that have kept us in the Prem are becoming a faint memory. While some believe that this is all down to the presence of Philippe Senderos on the pitch, some of us believe that the boss has to take some responsibility somewhere.
So, we’re now 12th, and I expect that victories by AstonVilla and Wigan are going to make some folks even more concerned that Fulham aren’t safe on 40 points. I still firmly believe that no team will be relegated with as many as 39 points. If there’s anyone around to challenge Wigan for 18th, it’s certainly Newcastle, Sunderland, or Norwich.
Finally, I don’t usually award a Man of the Match when we lose by two goals at home, but I’m going to make an exception forHugo Rodallega. He had a hell of a match today and almost turned Fulham around enough to gain points.