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 hold and distribute
can’t keep possession
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.