Category Archives: Game reports

Fulham game reviews

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

Quality over quantity

by danniboi-ffc

How wonderful is it to have so many options? Yet the squad is smaller than last season. Now we have more than one player for every position bar strikers which I am very confident the club will rectify before the deadline.

If I had to pick players that I’d be happy to see go before the window slams shut they would be Stearman/Ream, Tunnicliffe, Kavanagh, Grimmer and Woodrow.

I want 2 strikers in and with Smith as a third option I don’t really see a need for Woodrow. I’d loan him out with a recall option for emergencies. Same with Tunnicliffe as I believe he is the weak link squad player that is in Adeniran’s way. Just like O hara and Matilla were last year for Hyndman.

We could make 4 changes when everyone is fit and still be strong. The club may have broken even with money in and out but that doesn’t bother me. I am very impressed with this window. Compared to last season where I was very critical on deadline day and criticised this has been a breathe of fresh air. We have actually identified a system and built/signed players with the attributes and versatility to suit it. Compare the likes of Aluko and Ayite to the likes of Pringle or Odoi comfortable with both feet and both flanks in contrast to Garbutt or Jazz  who didn’t look comfortable wearing football boots let alone 2 positions.

No over the hill O’hara either, instead all our players are either in their prime or at a very good age all in the mid 20s.

We also have more strength in depth than most championship squads now bar strikers. This will surely give us an advantage as the season moves on and injuries/suspensions take their toll. We also thanks to our academy have the likes of Sess, Ade, Edun and De la torre who combined would cost others millions to have 4 players in the squad even just as back ups. Another advantage as with ffp most clubs won’t be able to both assemble a strong eleven and have a big squad. There’s always give and take with their budgets but we now have an opportunity to get in 2 top strikers and be one of the favourites. Something I never imagined saying a few months ago.

Fulham are defying maths. A 20 man squad should not be bigger than a 26 man squad of last year but it is.

Really buzzing about today, COYW!!!!!!

My view of the Cardiff game

by dannyboi-ffc

I always thought Smith was the donkey but at least even he has a purpose. We become very one dimensional with the long ball but as a sub he’s a weapon to be used in times of desperation with 10mins to go. Woodrow on the other hand with 10 minutes to go would influence absolutely nothing.

He’s slow, weak, makes dreadful runs if at all, isn’t an outlet, never scores simple goals because he’s not intelligent enough to be in the right place to score them. I used to think he was hard done by when it was always Dembele and Ross because Woodrow seems to do well when given a chance. But he’s had two starts now and I saw them both, Leyton Orient and today. He was easily the weak link and the reason we were forced to play everything in front of Cardiff as there was no penetration. No ability to hold onto the ball with his back to goal and lay it off for the midfield runners. Come to think of it there’s only one word to describe Woodrow’s performance today, non-existent (or is that two words lol)

Apologies to those who rate him and to the young man himself. Its certainly not for the want of trying but imo he shows no potential that his game can improve or change. I think physically he is what he is and its just not enough. We lost 40 goals this season and whilst I expect everyone to chip in with goals I expect my centre forward to give more of an overall contribution to our attacks.

This is just born out of pure frustration that the club have taken so long to sign a striker. I was the first to say Ross needs to go and well done to the club for receiving a good fee. If truth be told I wasn’t even that bothered about Dembele either other than the fact we allowed his situation to cost us a potential big transfer fee. But I expected a top quality striker who was more suited to Joka’s style to come in by now. Imo we have dropped 4 points in less than a week simply because our strikers aren’t good enough. You cant expect to win by one goal every week.

Woodrow isn’t the only culprit tonight, Cairney was very quiet although I can certainly forgive him of that. But this is life in the limelight TC, you are the new McCormack and he needs to learn how to cope with teams focusing on stopping him from playing. But what today proved is that when Cairney is quiet and when we get just one injury to Ayite we are literally down to the bare bones and depending on some magic from Aluko. We need more attacking options, a winger and 2 strikers.

I like Sessengon and congrats on becoming Fulham’s youngest ever goalscorer and possibly our youngest ever player at the Cottage? Only Briggs betters it but that was away to Boro. He looks very good going forward but there was a spell in the second half where I thought he looked out of his depth and lost the ball several times. But he has a bright future and belongs with the first team squad.

I can now see why Cardiff fans celebrated the Malone swap. Although definitely better than Richards and defensively pretty decent but going forward I thought he was shocking. Still think we really missed out on Husband even though he’s injured at the minute. But I think in games like Newcastle where its more about defending then he’s a good squad player. But games like today where teams know we are better than them and sit back waiting for us to break them down, he’s doesn’t add much.

It’s a shame Parker is so old as a couple of years younger and McDonald/ Parker would be the best partnership in this division. They ran the game and were both outstanding. But we need another Parker to share the burden as Tunnicliffe isn’t of the same standard and we are weaker without Parker who cant play every game.

Overall I’m disappointed to have dropped 2 points because I believed we deserved the win and were so capable of running away with it. Cardiff bar 2 wonder goals, and even then the second I question the keeper but haven’t seen a replay, Cardiff did sweet FA and showed no intention of wanting to score until they had to. And we were naive to allow them back into the game. But that disappointment is fuelled by what’s been an amazing start to the season and when the players have defied all of our expectations and raised the bar I think its harsh to be too hard on them at this stage of the season when they rescued a point. I see a massive positive contrast in our mentality. Last season that equaliser makes us crumble and go onto lose 3-1. But there was only one team in it once they were winning and that was us. It showed the kind of hunger, fight and character needed from a team that wants promotion. And I loved the fact we didn’t celebrate the goal, we picked the ball up and ran back to the kickoff as we could smell blood. Thats clearly come from the manager and I’m so optimistic with him at the helm.

I said it before a few weeks back and i’ll say it again. There’s something about Jokanovic that not even the great Hodgson or Tigana had. Something about his presence on the touchline and his attitude. That’s not to say he will achieve what they did or even close to it but if the club can sort out the transfer/ kline issues and make Joka happy, then I believe he has something about him to become our greatest ever manager. Or I should say the best in my lifetime as I’m not in a position to judge past greats before my time.

We are still joint second, goal difference means nothing at the stage and we should beat Blackburn. I know the old cliche’s of this is Fulham so you cant treat anything as guaranteed but something about this team and what could be with a few quality additions that gives me the confidence to believe we will win.

Onwards and upwards

COME ON YOU WHITES!!!!!!!!!

orient game- the good and bad

by Danniboi

First of all anyone who saw the score and were gutted to miss out, trust me it was certainly not a 5 goal thriller. But it was enjoyable none the less to see 4 young men make their professional debuts and do us proud. And what better way to start but talking about them.

Sess and Adeniran are a class above Edun and De la Torre. Physically strong and big enough to compete now IMO, everyone hypes up Sess and rightly so, he does the simple things with ease and plays like a fullback with years of experience. But for me Adeniran was just as special last night. He protected the defence so well and over powered the orient midfield and they were not small either. In fact Parker and Ade were so in control that it only became noticeable when Ade went off with a knock and Tunni came on. We started to become bullied and it was no coincidence both goals conceded came after Ade went off and were both towering headers.

Edun was tidy but drifted in and out of the game. He linked up well with Sess on the left but not sure he affected the game enough to be considered for the first team. De la torre IMO was not good enough. Physically much weaker than the other 3 and with no end product. For his debut and at his age I’m certainly not writing him off as he showed glimpses of magic dribbling with the ball Robertsesque but the game passed him by and he fizzled out. Joka was right to sub him.

Onto the senior players, whilst the youngsters showed promise the senior players proved why they didn’t start on Friday. Stearman and Ream were OK when it was easy but once Ade went off and orient lumped it into the box we looked physically weak and unorganised. You just can’t underestimate how much better madl and Kalas are. And this was league two opposition who being bluntly honest, were woeful.

Considering Kavanagh was right back he had his best game for us but even then he is nowhere near the standard required. Physically he is like a 10 year old and it showed when he was flattened when jumping for their second headed goal.

Jorenen not good enough yet, needs a loan. He had very little to do and I haven’t seen replays yet but I thought he should have come for both crosses that they scored from and the first he came half way and ended up in no mans land. Then he tried to catch or punch a third cross and ended up missing it completely resulting in Kav clearing off the line. He has potential but is certainly the number 3.

LVC huffed And puffed but with little end product. Although in his defence at times it seemed where he was our only chance of breaking through and tried a little too much. Again good impact sub but not better than those who started.

Woodrow and this will shock many but IMO he was very poor. He scored 2 world class goals so it seems strange to knock him but his touch was shocking when his back was to goal. Picture Zamora take it down on his chest and bringing runners into play. Instead the ball bounced off of Woodrow and although a good squad player he is not the answer so many think he’s worthy of the chance to be. We need two strikers because we are very short on quality.

Parker was the only one who showed his experience and qualities. I’d be tempted to start him over Tunnicliffe who isn’t good enough. IMO Adeniran looked more disciplined, quicker and better. Going back to Ade and his goal. Shame on the ref and shame on the FA for such a stupid rule for celebrating a goal. This lad is 18 making his pro debut and scored. He didn’t jump into the crowd or take his shirt off. His Dad was in the front row and he hugged him resulting in many fans and half the team jumping into a group hug. Parker like the good captain he is was straight in the refs ear to explain and get Ade off the hook but the ref booked him which was pathetic. But then even more impressively despite being eagar Ade showed fantastic maturity and discipline to avoid risking a second yellow, in fact I dont even remember him giving away a foul. There was one incident where Ade shoulder barged their big centre forward and he went flying, the same guy who bullied Stearman and Ream a couple of times.

I will finish on the manager. He never sat down once, he stands on the edge of his technical area and his presence was very commanding. He is certainly the boss but at the same time the players looked like they were having fun. IMO he could well go onto be our greatest manager. I don’t remember a manager standing with such a profound and commanding presence as Joka. And ultimately I can’t see Craig Kline or Rigg winning if Joka wants his way.

Others may not agree but there was little coverage of the match from what Ive heard so thought I’d give a little analysis. Onwards and upwards

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 — Fulham v. Blackburn Rovers

by HatterDon

Another Weekend, Another Mixed Bag

For most of the first half, I told myself that if today’s lineup was Fulham’s default starting XI for the rest of the season, I’d be happy with it. Fulham started brightly, striking deep and quick into Blackburn’s unsettled defense with a great example of – dare I say it – direct, long-ball strikes. With Cairney and Pringle playing as out-and-out wingers and with McCormack and Dembele an actual strike pair, quick counters looked to be on all day. When O’Hara and Tunnicliffe got into the mix with excellent short passing, Fulham looked to be a very good side indeed.

And so it was as early as the 4th minute, when Dembele shook off his defender a few yards into the Rovers’ half and headed straight for the goal line. A quick stop and a blind pass to his left was all it took for Fulham’s captain to be one-on-one with Blackburn’s keeper. Ross doesn’t miss these and it was 1-0. From then on throughout most of the first half, Fulham treated the crowd with a great exhibition of passing – short, long, diagonal, flicks, the lot. Especially noteworthy were Jazz Richards’ cross-field inch-perfect arcing deliveries to Ben Pringle. During this portion of the first half, Tunnicliffe gave a great demonstration of the art of box-to-box midfield play.

On the 30th minute, Fulham got the goal they deserved. McCormack was the recipient of another delivery on the left wing and provided a cross that Tom Cairney fired on. It was then deflected to Tunnicliffe who blistered the palms of the very busy Steele. The rebound fell to Dembele who made no mistake burying the ball into the roof of the net for his first Championship goal.

At this point, Fulham could have run rampant, and a third goal didn’t seem out of the question, but some profligate passes and hesitancy in front of goal deprived them of the goal that could have ended the contest before half-time. Most notable was another gorgeous McCormack cross – this time from the right wing – that Dembele met almost on the goal-line. All it needed was a gentle flick, and that’s exactly what Dembele gave it. Unfortunately, it turned out to be too gentle and the result was nothing but hand wringing and disbelief.

It was also at this point that the Rovers began to play. And a funny thing happened on the way to a clean sheet: Blackburn Rovers are NOT a bottom-three team. A series of blistering attacks from both wings resulted in Andy Lonergan being called upon to make some very nice saves and clearances. Still, on the half-time whistle, Fulham were very much in charge.

The second half was, of course, a totally different slice of sausage. It wasn’t so much that Fulham came out hesitant and over-protective of their lead; it was more that Rovers made a tactical substitution that irrevocably turned the match around. Off came the speedy, but serially disappointing Nathan Delfouneso to be replaced by Bengaly Fode-Koita. From that point on, Rovers got more physical. I’m not saying that they played dirty or even negative. Far from it. I’m saying that they made it clear that every Fulham possession was going to be robustly challenged, and each Rovers possession was going to result in an assault on Lonergan’s goal.

This change showed me a lot about Gary Bowyer, Rovers coach. Going from quickness to strength was exactly what was needed on the day. Fulham was always going to “out-football” Rovers, but had little chance in beating them in commitment. Blackburn has a lot of tall, strong defenders and midfielders, and Jordan Rhodes is no Andy Johnson either. Throughout the second half they kept the ball in the air and won almost every challenge. They were very effective at dead-ball situations, not because Fulham defended them poorly, but because they were able to deliver consistently into an area where an aerial contest would result in their favor. And so, for most of the half, they hammered Fulham. Jordan Rhodes had the devil’s own luck, hitting the post more often than a half-drunk corgi. When James Husband was adjudged to have taken him down in the six-yard box, I was doubtful. The replays confirmed what I should have realized all along: only a foul was going to keep Rhodes from heading in that cross.

Once Rhodes converted the penalty, the game got to be lots of fun. Dembele finally demonstrated the fine art of meshing pace and strength, winning several one-on-one battles and nearly tacking on another goal. At the other end, yet another goal-mouth scramble that featured woodwork contact ended when O’Hara provided what television replays showed to be an ACROSS the goal-line clearance. The battle continued until the final whistle – which I actually got to see since I got up at 0600 to watch it live. Had I slept in and watched the recording, I’d have missed the last four or five minutes of activity.

And so Fulham won and moved to 11th in the league table. The new boys were blooded and the fans went home happy – I’m assuming. The Blackburn following must be even more convinced than ever that they don’t deserve their current league position. They are very good in all aspects of the game and, in Rhodes, have a game-changer deluxe.

Fulham? We’ll we’re significantly better than we were at any point last season, and I like our attack more than I have since Jol screwed it up. We played wide, the fullbacks got into the attack, we had two goal poachers up front and O’Hara and Tunnicliffe marshaled the middle nicely. Stearman and Ream looked sound, and Jazz Richards was marvelous all day long. What was disturbing was Mr Hyde replacing Dr. Jekyll in goal about 55 minutes in. Twice Lonergan hit a hard pass upfield directly to a Rovers player, the last time hitting Rhodes in the back so hard that the rebound went into the stand. It could have easily bulged the back of the net. He also punched a clearance directly to Koita which really should have led to a goal.

Over all, though, I am still upbeat about the future. If these guys can play this well in such a short time together, the future looks good for me.

HatterDon’s Man of the Match: Well, with all due respect to Dembele, Cairney, Richards, and McCormack, I’m giving the award to Richard Stearman. He played a quality center half all match and, when we looked as if we were going to be out-muscled in the second half, he was a rock out there. One thing is for sure, if I’m in a crowd and it all kicks off, I was Stearman to be on my side. Welcome to Craven Cottage, Richard!

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.”