Author Archives: HatterDon

The View from South Texas — FFC v. Birmingham City [a bit late]

Mama Told Me Not to Bother …

… watching the replay of Fulham v. Birmingham City, but I just couldn’t resist the temptation to see the players we’ve acquired and fielded after the Newcastle match.

When I listened to the match on Saturday, I noted that Fulham dominated possession throughout – 67% of the first 45 minutes plus and 64% overall. Imagine my surprise then when I actually watched the match. By the first five minutes, City had established the pace of the match, gained control of it, and never really relinquished that control. With the exception of Cairney and McDonald, I thought each of our starters was outplayed by his opposite number. As a matter of fact, considering what I saw this afternoon [stateside afternoon], the most amazing thing is that we lost only 0-1.

Many of my fellow Fulham supporters will hate to hear this, but we really missed two players on Saturday – Scott Parker in the starting XI and Lasse Vigan Christensen off the bench. Parker’s absence allowed Brum to take control of the midfield, and without LVC we had no late pace to inject.

A plus side, for me, was Kebano who replaced Smith [our sacrificial lamb], taken off at half-time to help shore up the defense. Kebano looks fast, sharp, and nippy. He might have made a difference, but City has strength and assertiveness to accompany their discipline and skill.

Who disappointed for me? Well, Smith, for one. He is excellent as set pieces in the box, but really at nothing else, and I only remember him winning one header during his 45 minutes in any case. He clogs up the middle, doesn’t create space for his fellow attackers, and makes it easy for opposing defenders to cover him by basically not running. He continues to be a handy L1-level striker. I really hope I see Martin and Woodrow leading the attack against Burton Albion.

The major disappointment, of course, was Kalas. He was easily manhandled and provided the hospital ball that caused Madl to get his red card as the first half was dying. And then there was Button. After watching the match, I can’t understand how so many supporters thought he was our best player on the day. He was woefully slow in distribution, and his footwork [if you can call it that] almost cost us a couple of goals. Yes, he saved a penalty, but I thought he was substandard overall.

The bright side? We were playing a better side, had no control over the match, and still only lost by a single goal – a goal resulting from a penalty I think was unfairly assessed. If we turn this around on Tuesday, I won’t be all that concerned. I’ll feel better if Parker, Woodrow, and LVC are in the match day squad.

My MotM – Tom Cairney, the class of his class

The View from South Texas — FFC v. Newcastle Utd

Ninety Minutes, Clean Sheet, Three Points

The headline says it all, really. Fulham opened the Championship season against the odds-on favorite to bounce right back up into the Premier League. And, although the Toon huffed and puffed, they never looked like disrupting the flow of Fulham’s new-look football.

The starting lineup included: (a) four players I’d never seen before, (b) three players I’d seen play before – but not for Fulham, and (c) four players I knew fairly well – three of whom I was thrilled to see in the starting lineup.

There’s a couple of things I noticed right away that made me smile. First of all, Fulham are playing wide – for the first time in a long time. FFC were spreading the opponent’s defense, attacking down the wings, and defending confidently along the touch lines. Second of all, this Fulham have pace – pace to burn really. How fast? When Christensen came on, he looked the slowest player in White.

As the game progressed, I saw something else – something missing at Craven Cottage for a very, very long time indeed. Everyone seemed to know his role. The defenders looked a unit when under attack. The midfield linked well with the defense and the attackers. The attackers were numerous and blended nicely with the midfield. There seems to be a PLAN at the Cottage, and I like that regardless of the result.

Like our last four or five matches against the Barcodes, this one went 1-0 to the home team. There will be moans about the refereeing. There will be poorly spelled rants on northern websites about being cheated out of three penalties. Actually, I saw one that, in the Premier League, might have drawn a spot kick, but the rest? Including ours? Naw, not so much.

The referee did make a difference in the match, but he mostly did it by NOT blowing his whistle. Players rolled around on the ground, miming “He bumped into me and look what happened.” Mr. Hooper’s mimed response, “Welcome to the Championship, pretty boy.

Fulham, captained by the brilliant Tom Cairney, completely controlled the first half – as dominating performance as you’ll see. Newcastle was credited with only one shot, a weak lob to the wall on a free kick, and none on goal. Fulham had two shots on goal, one a glorious header by Matt Smith that decided the match in the 45th minute. The Toon defense had overcoated him very well for much of the half, but he could have done two 360s before scoring so free was he when it counted.

The second half tactics were different. Joka figured, “You’re behind, you have to attack. We’ll defend, but watch your ass.” I didn’t care for it much, but I did like it when it turned into the Denis Odoi Show. Boy, is he fun to watch. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone turn away from a pass so he could pass it … off his back … to himself! He had a brilliant match at right back, despite the very early yellow card.

Who else impressed these old eyes? Aluko, Ayite, Madl, and McDonald all played very very well. Our pair of aces have goals in them to complement those bagged by Woodrow and Smith. Speaking of Smith, well, his goal was well taken, and he should be celebrating his assist right now for Aluko converting his brilliant header into our second. The thing is, though, except for those two moments he looked slow, lumbering, ineffective, and not much help to our attack. Of course, I’ve never been all that impressed with him, so there might be some South Texas bias at work.

How do I think we’ll fare over the season? Well, it’s really going to be hard to say after watching this. There were a couple of starters on there today – Malone and Button – that we might not see for a while. Having said that, though. Joka has a plan. He has players committed to that plan. His plan features pace, tenacious defense, and width. I think we’re going to be a lot more fun to watch this season.

HatterDon’s Man of the Match: Tom Cairney.

The View From South Texas — Charlton Athletic v. Fulham FC

Victory at the Valley Averted!

Fulham somehow managed to take a match that they were dominating AFTER taking a two-goal lead in the second half and having its supporters greet the final whistle with the distinct feeling that The Whites had stolen a point. A point on the road is always good to have, and who would have been disappointed a month ago with the prospect of sharing the spoils with Charlton Athletic. But the Charlton side that Fulham faced early Sunday morning [0600 South Texas sub-Standard Time] was not the side who opened the Championship campaign with four wins on the trot. They were there ready to be taken, and taken they really should have been.

The first thing that struck me about the match was the sight of bright sunlight on the VERY quick pitch. My only visit to the valley was on a very murky day – it must have been in November – about 40 or so years ago. All I remember was the tallest single stand I’d ever seen, and thinking that everything looked like an old black and white movie. The stand is gone, and if you’d shown me several photos of the new Valley ground, I’d not have recognized anything. One thing from the old days has survived, however, and that’s the size of their pitch. I don’t know if there’s a more expansive one in the Football League.

Charlton’s manager has obviously built his side to take advantage of the spaces. With the pitch slick and alive, Charlton showed early on that their plan was to shoot long passes into open space beyond the final four for speedsters to run on. The match was barely a minute old when such a pass resulted in a Charlton shot going just wide. There followed several other forays, with Fulham’s back four called into action each time.

After the first ten minutes or so, the match turned into a more even affair, and by the half hour, Fulham looked the more dangerous of the two sides. A free kick awarded at least 40 yards from goal was taken by Ross McCormack on the 32nd minute. Despite the distance, he hammered a laser shot directly at Pope who was minding the Athletic goal. It skipped off the turf and Pope pushed it toward the penalty spot. In sped Ryan Tunnicliffe to tuck it away and it was 1-0. There followed several opportunities to extend the lead but hesitancy and clumsiness foiled Christensen and Dembele and the half ended 0-1.

The half time talk certainly dealt with shutting down Athletic’s only attacking weapon, because Fulham’s front line concentrated on closing down their opponents each time they lost the ball. The quick long pass out of defense was just a memory and, for the first 40 minutes of the second half, Fulham bossed the pitch. Ross McCormack’s remarkable goalscoring run continued when Ryan Tunnicliffe found him at the top of the penalty area in the 59th minute. Turn, strike, goal. 0-2.

And that should have been that. Kit Symons obviously thought so, because almost immediately after that goal he pulled off the ineffective Pringle and replaced him with Luke Garbutt – finally fit enough to make the game day squad. This wasn’t a defensive move, either. Garbutt took to Pringle’s wingback role with relish. He looks as if he may well be completely recovered. On the 75th minute, Cauley Woodrow came on for the very frustrated Moussa Dembele. Once again, the French teenager showed spirit, strength, pace, and discipline, but couldn’t convert any of those into either a goal or an assist. Woodrow does what Woodrow does when he comes on late in the match – he bustled about, ran his socks off, had a couple of very good shots go just wide.

And then the roof fell in. One minute after Johnny Jackson came on as a sub, he found himself completely unmarked on a corner – hauntingly familiar, ain’t it – and Charlton had pulled one back. More than that, however, the goal woke up the home supporters and the supporters woke up the players. From this point on, everyone supporting the Whites were looking at the clock and trying to make it go faster. Because of the two goals and the full complement of six substitutes, Referee Linington called for four minutes of stoppage time.  After on-pitch treatment for Jazz Richards after he had cleared another goal threat, four minute expanded to six. With Athletic now hammering the Fulham goal – really for the only time in the match – the equalizer came from Cousins in the FIFTH minute of the 90th.

Gut punch city. I find it hard to fault Fulham’s game plan or the players execution of it for the defeat … er draw. Rather, it was the fact that the lead had five or six good chances to expand further before Jackson came onto the pitch. So in control were Fulham that the score should have been at least 0-4 by the time he arrived. The two Athletic goals were well taken – especially the equalizer – and they were really the only serious incursions into Fulham’s penalty area. Some times you plan well, you adjust well, you play well, and you still feel – well, like you stole a point from a match that you dominated for 80 minutes.

Individually? Well, I’m wondering who will be our left back when we play next. With the international break coming up, there’ll be plenty of time for Garbutt to be ready to play 90. Both showed attacking intent and defended well when called for. Tunnicliffe had an interesting stint – a goal, an assist, and the feeling that he wasn’t really into the match. The biggest disappointment for me was Christensen. LVC has two more matches to make a case for him to stay in the starting XI when Cairney comes back. He certainly did NOT make that case today.

HatterDon’s Man of the Match – well, it really has to be Ross McCormack. He was all over the pitch and Charlton’s defense never had an answer to him. There’s a special mention for Jamie O’Hara. When he left the pitch in the 90th, it was obvious he had given ever ounce and every sinew for the team. I hope he got some oxygen.

Oh, and well done the travelers. I think I heard every song you guys ever sung – loud, proud, and clear all the way over here in the People’s Republic. That, as much as anything else, made getting up early worth it.

The View From South Texas — FFC v. QPR

Sometimes, everything you try works

Fulham renewed their rivalry with their near neighbors Friday evening before what must have been the largest crowd since the hosts left the Premier League. Manager Kit Symons had been saying that once the new boys got their feet under them, the football at Craven Cottage would be something to see. And so it turned out to be.

Fulham put out what looks to be their default lineup – until James Husband’s loan expires anyhow – with the exception of Ryan Fredericks who replaced the injured Jazz Richards. The way the speedy number 7 patrolled the right touchline, it may be hard to get him off the pitch.

Fulham began the match by knocking the ball about comfortably. There was a lot of one touch stuff on display, with O’Hara and Tunnicliffe especially catching the eye with their accurate long passes. The first goal came just at the end of the 2nd minute when QPR’s Angella calmly watched Moussa Dembele rise alone to nod home his second goal of the season. After a dazzling display of quick, short passes, Ben Pringle found himself free just inside the penalty area and zipped home the second on the 16th minute. Ross McCormack put the match away just after the half-hour to make it 3-0. At this point, Fulham’s defense had been troubled only once.

QPR are a very good side, but they didn’t look like it Friday night. Their defense looked a step slow and the Hoops pretty much lost every challenge on each touch line. It was for this reason that Jamie Mackie replaced Chary on the 35th minute. Mackie is a bit of a bruiser, and I guess the idea was to unsettle Husband and make him less effective. There was a little bit of effort to get back into the game, but the half ended to a chorus of boos from the large QPR contingent who had grown somewhat restive hearing their near rivals chanting “Why are you still here?”

It was a complete surprise when the second half began without Mackie. What he could have done in his ten minutes of activity to upset his manager is a mystery to me. On came Leroy Fer, back from injury, and – as expected – QPR began play by trying to overwhelm their hosts. A funny thing happened, though. Fulham reacted to QPR’s attacks by pressuring Rangers all over the pitch. Fulham looked especially lethal on the break, and it was from one of these counters that McCormack scored the fourth and final goal.

Fulham has been a team of one half pretty much all season, but this was not the case tonight. Every time QPR tried to get back into the game, they found themselves under attack. Who was threatening them? Tunnicliffe … and O’Hara … and Pringle … and Husband … and Fredericks … and Dembele. Not only did QPR never look like cutting the deficit, more clinical finishing by Dembele, Husband, and substitutes LVC and Woodrow could have eclipsed our famous 6-0 thrashing of the R’s back in the Premier League.

Yes, everything worked. I didn’t see anyone to fault for anything, although I’m sure that there will be those that will. The thing is that Fulham showed themselves to be a sharp passing side – short, medium, long – with an eye for attack and the ability to repel counters. In Tim Ream, we may have found the reincarnation of Aron Hughes – the calm, economical, dependable, and elegant support for his #5. When some began calling Jamie O’Hara the new Danny Murphy earlier in the season, I was hesitant to agree, but today he and Tunnicliffe showed steel and creativity in the center of the midfield. Fredericks is crazy good out there. I’ve always valued right backs, and when they are tough in the tackle, and are possessed of blazing speed, then they are especially precious. And Moussa Dembele showed everything you want in a striker in this league. He was both quick and fast, was strong, ran the channels well, set up his teammates, and wasn’t afraid to take a shot or two. His distribution was a bit lacking, but I forgive him that because he tied Onuoha and Henry into knots all match long.

For me, the only thing that didn’t work was my DVR. Although I was promised a recording that lasted 2 hours and 5 minutes, it actually was 1 hour and 50 minutes. Anything that happened after the 85th minute remains a mystery to me.

HatterDon’s Man of the Match decision is a toughie. I narrowed it down to one from Tunnicliffe, O’Hara, McCormack, Pringle, Husband, and Dembele and then I remembered what I used to do on those rare occasions when a Fulham XI dominated all over the pitch while executing a cohesive and coherent game plan. So, a tip of the FFC South Texas sombrero to MotM Kit Symons. Well done Kit and well done all the lads.

The View From South Texas – Notes on the 2015 U-20 World Cup

This year, for the first time in my life, I watched the United States perform in an U-20 World Cup. I watched every minute of every match the lads played, and enjoyed much of it. I learned a considerable amount about the state of our game vis-a-vis the rest of the world at this age group. Here’s some thoughts.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen American soccer players in a competition where they were not the fittest and most disciplined players on display. Fitness, discipline, and a total commitment to the team is the trio that was immortalized by Sir Alex Ferguson as “that American thing.” With the exception of our match against New Zealand, this was not this case. If our players were remarkable in this, it’s certainly not down to any of them. What it IS down to is our system of player development in this country.

In countries like Ukraine, Germany, Serbia, and Colombia, players attach themselves to professional clubs at very early ages. They play competitively while still young. In Europe, everyone does this, but it is especially in the “smaller” countries, where players in their late teens and early 20s are most apt to be playing regularly in professional leagues. The Ukranian and Serbian teams were filled with players who play on first team squads in the lower divisions of their professional systems. Of the players in the US squad, only Rubio Rubin is first choice in a professional league, and – and I might be wrong here – only Bradford Jamieson and Emerson Hyndman have contributed to their clubs while playing significant minutes. It should be no surprise that those three players, along with three or four others, displayed the kind of fitness that their opponents [other than New Zealand] displayed.
For other American players who are tied to MLS clubs, or clubs in the Mexican, English, or German leagues, most of their match work is in scrimmages or short appearances in cup matches. It became obvious also that these players are not high enough up the hierarchy to work on ALL their skills. For this reason, we fielded flair players without discipline or vision, and hard workers without remarkable technical skills. Only players who have heavy doses of both are going to make a professional career at any level in any country. I wonder, also, if we and New Zealand [again] were the only countries who fielded amateurs at this level?

How can we produce professional footballers in their teens with significant experience as well as training that emphasizes fitness, discipline, and skill? One thing that’s been rolling around in my head since the Ukraine match is that I’d like to see at least two MLS minor leagues – staffed with established professionals and kids right out of college or high school. The main MLS clubs can start their high draft choices there and give them 90 minutes each week rather than 15 minutes every three weeks. With each MLS club providing a team concept throughout the three levels, a player “making it to the majors” will be more ready for prime time, and those still working their way up the ladder will be forged in the crucible of meaningful matches and league tables. Also, clubs will be able to identify those who will never make the big club.

Yes, it’s hard to put something like this together. I think it will take the amalgamation of the MLS with USL 1&2 and the NASL. I’d be happy with San Antonio as the top level farm club for one of the MLS sides. Will it happen? I don’t know. Since the league began, I have yet to see a coherent “long view” from the halls of MLS ivy. I have a sneaking suspicion that JK would love that sort of scheme.

And now to the games. I saw a sustained level of toughness from our kids. There were a couple who routinely infuriated me, but several who I think have a bright future in the game. Paul Arriola is strong and has a tireless motor. Tommy Thompson may be starting in the MLS before his 21st birthday. Matt Miazga and Joel Soñora show a lot of promise. Here’s the list, in order, of players who impressed me most:

1. Rubio Rubin – He’s a hard worker with a good eye for the pass and he’s greedy in front of goal. It’s a shame that he was so often up there by himself. I’d like to have a word with Tab about that. Yes, he’s small, but he’s very strong. I think he has a bright future and was, in my opinion, clearly the best American on display.

2. Cameron Carter-Vickers – I had never heard of this guy, but boy can he play. When I found out in the Serbia match that he was only 17, I was stunned. I think if I were Spurs, I’d be considering turning him into a defensive mid. He’s got two good feet to match his heading, and there wasn’t a striker he faced that bettered him for speed or strength.

3. Zack Steffen – When they name the “Best XI,” I expect him to be the keeper. While his penalty saves were remarkable, it was his decisiveness that really caught my eye. He has great footwork and positioning. His distribution needs work, but – please don’t shoot the piano player – he already looks a better keeper than Bettinelli.

4. Emerson Hyndman – After the New Zealand match, the word was out: shut down number 8 and the Americans are weaker. EVERY team we faced put him in a straight jacket, but he still found 8-10 minutes a match to break through and influence the game. He’s very decisive on the fast break and has a good shot. I’d like to see him replace Parker for Fulham this season. We’ll see.

5. Bradford Jamieson – If he doesn’t get injured, I think we’re still playing. He’s fast and strong and committed. The Galaxy have a fine player here, and he was just what we needed as an attacking partner for Rubin. When he came on as a sub in our first match, things changed dramatically for the good, and when he left the pitch injured, Rubin never had a reliable attacking partner.

Who disappointed? Well, it’s hard to level too many brickbats at players who had poor matches. As long as Rubin was up front by himself and Hyndman was shackled, we were always going to struggle to stay in matches. The fact that we nearly got to the semis is testimony to the entire playing squad, but … . The player I was MOST looking forward to seeing was the player who frustrated me most. This entire past season, I heard and read about Gedion Zelalem, the attacking midfielder who is in Arsenal’s youth squad. Man did he drive me crazy. When we were counter attacking, he was the guy most likely to hose it up. How? Mostly by making the best pass one or two seconds too late. The guy he was passing to would have to backtrack to get the ball, or a defender would intercept. He got his head up in time to see what was happening, but his reactions were much too slow. He also seemed to be easily manhandled at times. This was especially maddening, because there were other times that he was aggressive and hard to dispossess. Yes, he has flair, but all too often all I could think of was Freddy Adu.

Over all, though, I enjoyed watching the lads, and I’m looking forward to seeing some of them feature more over the coming 18 months.

The View From South Texas — Our Story so Far

After eight matches this season, we had earned the startling total of 1 point. Our clueless manger was out, and we were left with a squad full of promising kids and a few remaining players who could be best described as “journeymen.”

Four people who had not been involved during this stretch, turned that completely around in just a few months, bringing Fulham to at least mid-table respectability while providing interesting football that was FINALLY enjoyable to watch again. Who were those four?

1. Kit Symons — using the exact same squad that Felix was torturing, he turned Fulham into a side that — at one point — was averaging 2 points per match — up quite a bit from 1/8 points per match.

2. Marcus Bettinelli — despite his tender age, he inspired confidence and showed forthright courage and no little skill. While nowhere near the finished article, he was at least an equally talented replacement for the recently departed David Stockdale.

3. Lasse Vigan Christensen — the man from nowhere. I had completely forgotten he was with us, but Kit brought him in almost immediately, and he was magnificent. The last time I got as excited when a Fulham player tore upfield with the ball at his feet was when Luis Boa Morte was running our left wing. We suddenly had a fearless attacking force — with no little defensive nous — that opponents had to be concerned about. His inclusion in the starting XI made us a credible Championship side.

4. Bryan Ruiz — Yes, I know, probably 75% of you who read this don’t like the man, but I think you know that what I’m about to say is true. With Kit finally using the man properly, Bryan was able to help dictate the game. His short flicks and longer probing passes, spread out our offense and had us — for the first time since Hughes left — attacking across the width of the pitch. He showed a lot more defensive commitment as well, and was the settling veteran influence that this group of kids needed.

Were we still underperforming? Well, if you’re measuring our performance against the aggregate talent in the squad, then yes. But if you’re measuring our performance against what might be expected from any other group of talented but inexperienced kids, then I don’t think the answer was yes.

Others disagreed. Every time we lost the knives were out. We play long ball. I hate the diamond. X isn’t playing enough. Y is playing too much. Why can’t we play more than one good half? I hate Ruiz! I remember when we had just ended a 5-match unbeaten run with a loss and a significant percentage of Fulham forum contributors wanted a new manager, a new owner, and … I guess … a new bicycle for Christmas.

Now, of course, we are REALLY in a bad patch. Hugo is off form. Ross is feeling the loss of Ruiz in the lineup. LVC has still not recovered from his injury, Hyndman was unavailable the entire time that Parker was ill and, worst of all, Betts has suffered a pretty severe loss of form.

This happens all the time with professional teams. What SHOULD happen is that the experienced professionals make do with what they have, put up the best effort that they can, and the fans understand the situation and cheer harder until the overall health and form return. This isn’t happening.

The thing is that when the first XI is made up of 7 or 8 young still-developing players, a sudden loss of form is harder for them to cope with. They know that how they play now will inform the rest of their careers. They know that if they become the cause of losses, this may stunt their careers entirely. They are also more susceptible to barracking from the terraces than more experienced players are. As a result, they become tentative, hesitant, and terrified to go-for-broke for fear of incurring even more wrath.

One of his former National Team managers was asked what made Clint Dempsey so successful. His response? “Clint’s not afraid to try poo.” Our young players — aware of our gentle slide down the league table, and booed forcefully at home — are deathly afraid to try poo for fear of even more negative support. That’s why a good build-up ends in an interception or a loss of possession. Everyone is afraid to, as I like to yell pretty much constantly during our matches, PULL THE DAMN TRIGGER when in front of goal. The worse the abuse becomes, the more tentative they’ll be, and the longer this slump will last. I hope it ends at Millwall.

What do I think? I think that given the squad we have, there’s nobody around who can get more out of it than Kit. I think that we need to keep bringing the kids out there, but with a lot more REAL support. I would like to see more of Woodrow, and I’d like to see Roberts come off the bench EVERY match from 60-75 minutes just to scare the holy crap out of our opponents. I’d like to see Ruiz and a fully-fit LVC help energize the attacking midfield so that Ross can go back up front. I think we’ll get out of this, and I think we’ll end 12-16 before the season is over. I also think we’ll have a productive summer transfer period and put on a real dash for promotion NEXT season.

I just wish that some of the passion for their side that Fulham fans are known for was more “This is my team and I cheer for them no matter what” and less “I pay good money and I’ll shout anything I like at these spoiled over-paid jerks.”

Abbreviated View from South Texas — Fulham v. Watford

by HatterDon

First of all, I hate them damned Dirty Yellows. The Hatter in me has never had any good thoughts about that crew, and today didn’t change my mind.

Having said that, I’ve seldom seen such a textbook display of quality passing as we saw from Watford. Long, short, back, forward, sideways — all of them clear, smooth, and accurate. With that passing acuity against a 10-man squad, it was always going to get ugly early. And so it did.

From the beginning it was obvious that something was not right with Betts. His crap decision making almost cost us a goal early on when Budurov had to jump in and concede a free kick. He completely lost his rag in giving up the penalty. Since when does an early red card become the better option? Whenever the keeper is sent off, two players suffer. With the exception of his weak distribution, our young keeper has impressed me so far this season. Today, it looked like he left his brain hanging on a hook with his civvies.

Fulham throughout looked confused and out of sorts. Watford looked like a calm, top table side, even given their four game losing streak, and man did their finishing match their passing. That 4th goal was stunning. Fully six Hornets caught the eye, but I’m not going to mention any of them. They’ll be in the playoff picture at least with this squad. Fulham? I’ve seen some great performances from the Whites this season, but today was about dispirited mediocrity. Down 2-0 inside 25 minutes is tough, but a resolute side would have stopped the bleeding and made Watford pay for every yard of turf. Today we never looked like causing even a single threat.

This season, there have been several Fulham players who caught my eye from time to time. Today, the only two players in white I thought put in a decent shift were Grimmer and LVC. The rest looked lost.

I still think we’re going to finish in the top half. I never thought we would be relegated. I never thought we were going to get promoted, but I really had hoped that we were going to stop playing like our manager was Martin Jol.

Oh, and my hat is off to the 2-300 Fulham supporters to stuck around for the bitter end. With the place apparently half full at best, there never was much atmosphere to dissipate with early exits.

There’s obviously no HatterDon Man of the Match in this abortion, but I’m also not going to single out any one person as responsible for this debacle. I’m hoping there’s a bunch of players looking hard at themselves and asking, “Couldn’t I have done more tonight?”

The View From South Texas – Ipswich Town FC v. Fulham FC

Suffolk Shakedown Cruise

No fewer than eight Fulham players made their first-team debut today at Portman Road as Fulham played their first match in the second tier of English football for 13years. With so many new players playing in a new league with a fairly new manager, it was to be expected that there would be some rough spots in Fulham’s first competitive match.

And there were.

With Burgess and Parker appearing to be responsible for supporting the defense, and David and Hyndman setting up as the attacking portion of the midfield, it was clear that only one pairing was working as planned. David looked especially lively early on, playing with confidence and no little style. Hyndman looked competent and made good use of space to keep himself open. Having said that, it was the connection with Parker/Burgess and the new CB pairing of Budurov and Hutchinson that never quite clicked over the 90 minutes.

Although he was to be faulted for neither of Ipswich’s goals, Young Keeper Joronen looked well out of his league. He made a very classy save early on, but he was woefully hesitant in his area and demonstrated the worst distribution I have seen from a Fulham keeper in a very long time. A lot of this is, of course, inexperience. It was his first-team Fulham debut, and his first match at this high level period. Inexperience can be overcome and confidence will make him more in charge of his area, but his most glaring inadequacy may take many years to correct: He is completely one-footed. With modern goalkeeprs acting as sweepers, he’s outmatched. Several times his kicks went directly into touch because he was in no position to use his left foot, and he has neither capability within or confidence in his right. This is troublesome.

As a matter of fact, the times when I was most concerned during the match was when the ball was at the feet of Joronen, Hutchinson, or Budurov.

McCormack started today and was the first player subbed off. The television guy [and how nice to have only ONE voice in the box again] seemed to think that it was due to his ineffectiveness. I disagree. I think it was due to his lack of pre-season pitch time. I generally liked what I saw from him. As for his strike partner, I’m willing to bet that Moussa Dembele has never had a less effective 90 minutes on a pitch in his life. He couldn’t keep possesion, couldn’t turn, couldn’t find a teammate, and – most problematical for the near future – couldn’t bring either his strength or quickness to bear on Ipswich’s defense.

The match turned around when young Mr. Roberts came on. The ENTIRE TEAM went into attack mode and the Tractor Boys found themselves on their back heels for the rest of the match. Some will be shouting “ROBERTS MUST START NEXT WEEKEND,” but again I disagree. He’s 17, and I think we’ll be seeing him in the role we saw him in today for a few more months.

Of the new boys, the one who impressed me most was Stafylidis. Fulham might actually have a left back that can attack and defend. Also handy was his RB partner Hoogland, although not so much on the defensive end.

So, Fulham opened the season with a defeat, and it took 75 minutes to get hold of the match. It’s early days, though. Here’s what I’m hoping that Felix noted today.
1. Fulham have to take control of the match. By my count, the very first corner – and the first set piece of the match came in the 77th minute. This will not do.
2. Fulham have to realize that the Championship is the Land of the Giants. Hoofing the ball upfield from defense to moderately tall strikers is not going to work. Fulham have an advantage in ball skills, quickness, and fitness. The quick on-the-ground movement we saw after the Roberts substitution should be our prime mode.

HatterDon’s Man of the Match? Well, I was ready to give it to David after the first half, but there was that substitution. So, instead, it goes to Patrick Roberts, and may it be the first of many.

 

The View From South Texas — WBA v. Fulham FC

Another Saturday, Another Disappointment

Today was Match Day One of the Felix Magath Era at Fulham FC, and it was a mixed introduction for the enigmatic German. Fulham played their traditional game of two halves, dominating a dispirited Albion in the first 45 and falling back into a shell in the second. Ashkan Dejagah had a very good match which was highlighted by a well taken goal. The shame of it was, of course, that it could very well have been our third of the first half, and the second 45 could have been a stroll. Instead, the second half was a slog, and when Matej Vydra’s shot slithered under Stekelenberg’s body for the equalizer in the 86th, it was completely with the run of play. Neither team had the class to get the deciding goal, so West Brom remain four points and about +30 goal difference above Fulham.

Now that all that is out of the way, let’s talk about Magath’s Fulham. The first thing I noticed was that our fullbacks – Riether and Amorebieta – are staying at home and defending. The work along the wings under this manager appear to be the job of … say it quietly … wingers. Richardson and Dejagah took control of the wide attack and Hugo Rodallega was alone up front. With the back four ACTUALLY a back four, Felix called upon Fulham’s English central mid pair with Holtby filling the 5th midfield slot. Heitinga partnered the recalled Hangeland and Fulham looked solid in defense for the whole 90 minutes. Back from his literal black eye against Liverpool, Stekelenberg was solid in the goal and delivered a few top quality saves. He came off his line on two occasions to relieve the pressure on our defense. The equalizer aside, this might have been his best performance in a Fulham shirt, and for 85 minutes, he was my man of the match. JA Riise, who came on early in the second for Amorebieta upgraded the defense.

Fulham’s midfield linked well, and Holtby, Richardson, and Dejagah spread out the Albion defense and opened several holes. Heitinga could have opened the scoring with a header over the bar from a corner, and Sidwell missed the sort of chance he’s been putting away all season. When the goal came, it arose from a good surge up the left wing by Richardson. His cross was comically whiffed by both Hugo and an already-fading Holtby. Luckily it rolled to Dejagah who put it away calmly.

When Fulham forced a corner in the first 30 seconds of the second half, it looked like the Whites might get the early goal that could bury the Baggies. It was not to be. Despite incoherent attacks by Albion that were easily rebuffed, Fulham didn’t seem to be able to keep the ball on the deck and work it to Rodallega, Richardson, or Dejagah. When the expected substitution of Mitroglou for Rodallega occurred – more on the debut Greek later – some of the sting went out of Fulham’s counter attacking threat. The NEXT Fulham substitution was a puzzler.

While most in the FulhamUSA.com chatroom were expecting Burn to come on for Hangeland – who was having a very good game – instead he came on for Richardson. For my money, that one substitution took Fulham out of contention for scoring again. Riether was moved to central midfield. Now, if Magath wasn’t going to take off Hangeland, the obvious choice was to move Heitinga to midfield. The Dutchman has played that position as much as he has center back, but that option wasn’t available since Heitinga had his hands full with Victor Anichebe, and was containing him very well. So, with one subsitution, Fulham weakened its attack, midfield and defense. It was a complete headscratcher.With Holtby a shadow of what we’ve seen earlier, it was just a question of hold on and hope for a clean sheet. Unfortunately, Fulham were unable to keep possesion and an equalizer was inevitable.

If Albion weren’t such an abysmally poor side, they’d have handled us easily. Still we looked organized in defense and played well overall. I do believe that Felix will get the best out of the squad, but I think he’s here much too late to keep us up. The fact that I’m so wrong about so many thing so much of the time does give me a little hope.

And now about our record signing. Setting aside the question of why we spent so much money on a guy who not only was not match fit but was carrying an injury in the first place, let’s talk about what we saw out there today. Yes, I know it was his first match, but Kostas Mitroglou:
can’t run
can’t jump
can’t hold and distribute
can’t keep possession
looks petulant
looks lost, BUT
has a devilish beard
The man is NOT an upgrade on Bent. Now he will get more fit and he will look more at home, but he gave no evidence of moving or thinking quickly enough to make a difference for us.

Given Stek’s fumble dropping us two points, I can’t give him the virtual bottle of Dos Equiis his earlier play so richly deserved. Instead,HatterDon’s Man of the Match is Johnny Heitinga, who played brilliantly today. His blanketing of Anichebe was good to watch. I think he has earned the “CB partner” position.

Next up? Our neighbors. Oh joy! If Holtby shakes off his logy, and Dejagah, Richardson, and Heitinga maintain their form, nice things could happen, but I don’t see The Undead’s back four and GK being the slightest bit concerned by Rodallega, Bent, or Mitroglou. Perhaps it’s time for the resurrection of Kasami? Stay tuned.

The View From South Texas — Sheffield U v. Fulham FC — FA4

Worst Possible Result?

Fulham slopped through the mud at a half-empty Bramhall Lane this morning with a makeshift lineup and managed to come away with a draw. Fielding three promising young players and eight who haven’t been able to nail down a regular starting position, Fulham faced another relegation struggler two divisions down. With the condition of the pitch, it was never likely to be a celebration of classic football. Instead, it had all the earmarks of a traditional January match in the third division.

The first victim of the playing conditions was John Arne Riise who went off after 9 minutes. He was replaced by Ange Freddy Plumain who slotted into midfield with Damien Duff taking over at left back. Plumain joined Muamer Tankovic, Chris David, and Joshua Passley to give us what must be our youngest lineup in ages – even accounting for Duff and Karagounis.

For Fulham there was a lot of patient buildup and either wild shots or loss of possession. Of the kids, Plumain was the most disappointing. He moves well and is comfortable with the ball at his feet, but he seemed unable to pass or cross from wide positions. David is easily the most mature and “at home” of the four, and Passley – who I’d not heard much talk about – was more than competent in the RB position.

Fulham continued to control the ball – ESPN gives us 74% possession over the 90+ minutes – with little danger imposed on the Blades’ goal. United scored first completely against the run of play, and it took the sending off of United’s captain for a disgusting off-the-ball attack on David to finally rouse Fulham to the realization that they might actually win this tie. The last 20 minutes saw the introduction of Bent and Taraabt to supplement the woefully ineffective Rodallega. Our enigmatic Colombian provided the equalizer with a clinical turn and shoot from just outside the area. It was Tankovic who found him.

Senderos hammered the cross bar with a nice glanced header, and there were a couple of decent saves by the Blades’ keeper, but when the whistle finally blew it was clear that neither relegation struggler got a result they could be happy with – another match in a crowded schedule just ten days from now.

Oh, each team had a reasonable shout for a penalty ignored by Andre Marriner. Of the two, I thought United had the better claim, but that’s all academic.

HatterDon’s Man of the Match is Pajtim Kasami. If I were Alistair MacHatter, I’d be building Fulham’s future around the guy.

Tuesday at Swansea looms. COYW