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.

 

Looking ahead

Looking ahead

So many times we have come close to the drop. Usually we manage to escape. However, as we all know, that plan has this year failed. As long as I have been a Fulham fan (my first game was December ’03) we have been top flight. I have never know the pains and heartache of relegation. Now there is another story. I’m not disappointed, because the way we had been playing, we all expected it. However, when it was confirmed, I have no shame in admitting there were tears falling down my face.

The Championship is an exciting prospect for me. I think that with the right squad, under the right management, we will thrive. There are a lot more local games too; Reading, Brentford, Watford, Wolves and potentially QPR being around – hell for the schedulers mind. Yes, we won’t be playing the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal next season, but we will be better for it. Some of our less positive players will move on and we can actually have a look at some of the youth players we have lying around. When you look at how well Huw Jennings has done with our youth teams, and you look at the players in them, you can imagine them tearing experienced Championship players to shreds.

Of course it leaves a sour taste in the mouth that Mark Hughes was the one to relegate us, but if we’re honest, it was him or Pulis. I prefer Hughes. This will be the first time Felix gets to play using players that he has brought in. Players that he wants. Players that know his style. When you look at some of the things he achieved in Germany, taking over teams and leading them to titles, you know that can be done with us. Maybe not the Premier League, but baby steps for now. I’m half expecting a Sanchez-esque transfer window and lots of Germans to come in. But if that’s what Magath thinks will take us up, then I will stand by him until it fails.

I’m not one of those people who will just pack it in because we’re down. I will still wear a Fulham shirt with as much pride as if we had just finished 7th again. We are Fulham. And we can do this. Fulham til I die.

Six cup finals to go.

Fulham haven’t been well known for winning much, anyone who has watched Fulham for a bit will be able to tell you this. Even a cursory glance at a Google search will confirm this. That being said Fulham are about to embark upon the most important six match run in recent history. Whether we will see shades of 07/08 or go out with a whimper is yet to be seen.

Villa, Norwich, Spurs, Hull, Stoke and Palace is an easier run in that that of our opponents in the relegation table, but based on the way the squad has played this season it is not enough. All of these matches are winnable, and while in seasons past you could pick a few of these matches for Fulham to be a dead cert winner, this year some of the matches have been lost before a ball has been kicked.

Under a few matches of Rene’s ill-fated term and the past few of Felix’s, notably Everton, the squad seems to have reinvigorated themselves, which is a good sign. However, we have yet to see matches to the whistle, a bit worrying considering our position. That being said, it is exactly this that is why we are bottom of the table.

In the end it’s the effort that counts. We all know that Fulham won’t win every match and that’s part of why a surprise away win at Arsenal or a blow out of Norwich at home. For most of the season the effort put forth by our players for lack of better terms has been appalling, and even then that is tame for some of the matches we have witnessed.

We just want our squad to fight to the last minute, show passion and effort. It’s not too much to ask for people who take home in a few weeks what many of us make in a years’ time? Throughout this season very few of our players have shown this. Sidwell is the exception, every minute on the pitch he personifies what any Fulham supporter would try to do in his position. What really makes you think, and it’s a bit sad really is our most passionate player in the most recent weeks will be packing his bags and returning to White Hart Lane at the end of the season.

Six matches to go which will determine the future of London’s oldest top flight club and regardless of what happens at the end of the season, who comes in and who goes, we the supporters will remain. In the end, in this new age of football, it is really the supporter who makes the club. There are days when I yearn for Haynes, to look on the pitch and think “Yes, he is one of us” and with the youth coming up, we might just have someone like that. Those are the types of players who, while not necessarily English will bleed for the White.

Six to go, and win, lose or draw at the final whistle versus Crystal Palace. Let’s hope that the eleven players on the pitch make us proud of their effort and give us memories. Here’s to hoping the effort that is put forth become yet another famous date in our club’s long history. West Ham in 75, Portsmouth in 08, the entirety of our Europa league campaign in 2010 in recent history. If by some miracle we stay up Palace will become another “I was there” said with pride, rather than disdain.

Supporters will surely be there, but will the players be?

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.

Is this still Fulham?

When I fell in love with this club, we were a well organised, confident, Premier League side. We had a Chairman who’s first priority was what was best for the club and, above all else, the fans. Mohammed Al-Fayed was a man of the club, through-and-through. When the time came for a manager to be moved on, through performance or otherwise, he took the decision and made it clear to everyone what was happening. I presume there weren’t any bitter tastes left in the mouths of those relieved of their duties; Chris Coleman still speaks fondly of his time at the club. I was proud to be Fulham then. Even in the Great Escape season, when it looked like we would be playing Championship football, I still had faith in the club. We sacked Lawrie Sanchez, he was given a great amount of time to get the team playing his way, it didn’t work out, but we were good about it, and brought in Uncle Woy.

Surviving that year was one of the best moments of Fulham I can remember. The sheer jubilation of knowing that next season, you won’t be playing the likes of Doncaster Rovers or Sheffield Wednesday, but you’ll be playing the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal for another year. I walked in to school the next day looking and feeling like we’d just won the league, I was that happy about finishing 17th because we had done it the Fulham way.

Now, however, things are changing.

Since Shahid Khan took over from Al-Fayed, things have changed around Fulham. While before, sinking quickly down the table was given time to change, this time around, sinking was given an age, far too long before any action was taken. Now, as a mere fan, I wouldn’t know the inner workings of the club, and why it took so long for Jol to be pushed, but I think all Fulham fans would agree, it was too long. Things needed to start turning around faster, and that didn’t come.

When Rene came in, he had a very difficult squad to work with. The likes of Berbatov, Ruiz, Taarabt, Kasami, Senderos, Hughes and Riise perhaps not being the players they should week-in, week-out. His first opportunity to change that was in January, allowing 5 out of the 7 aforementioned players to leave. That, immediately, lowered the average age. Bringing in Dempsey was, perhaps, the deal in January that didn’t work out so well, but, bringing in Kvist, Tunnicliffe, Cole, Heitinga, Holtby and, hopefully, Mitroglou has made an amazing difference to the shape and playing style of the team. It seems strange that we would allow Meulensteen to make these transfers in January, only then to give them 3 games to play as a unit. We had a poor result against Southampton, but that was expected. Against Manchester United and Liverpool, however, we had two outstanding performances, earning 1 point (and being robbed of another, but we’ll skip over that) out of two games that were almost certainly going to be annihilations.

We were turning a corner, and then it all fell apart at the hands of Khan, or whoever was actually in the country overseeing the club. At this time last season, if a similar thing had happened, for starters, Al-Fayed would have allowed more time for results to turn in our favour, but he would have made perfectly clear whether or not someone had lost their job at the club or not. The fact that even Rene doesn’t know what’s going on astounds me. He was the manager and suddenly a new manager (a fourth manager!) has been appointed. I understand bringing in Wilkins as assistant. I also understand bringing in someone of Curbishley’s experience, not to undermine the management, but to help them. What I don’t understand, and I’m struggling to keep this PG, is why we would then bring in someone with Magath’s reputation, in a country he’s never managed in.

One thing I have read, is that Magath doesn’t like players that don’t follow his instructions to the letter. That means anyone with a football brain is likely to be offloaded. I’d say that means goodbye to: Parker, Sidwell, Kvist, Burn, Riether, Heitinga, Karagounis, Richardson, Riise, Tunnicliffe, Stockdale, Stekelenburg, Kasami, Tankovic, Hangeland and Kacaniklic. Not something I would personally agree with.

The handling of the situation, the sheer lack of patience, the idiocy and the general ignorance to the football suggests that Khan knows very little about how football works. And I mean real football, not the American version. We are bottom of the Premier League. In 2007/8, we were never bottom. I’m sorry, Mr Khan, you have changed everything I love about Fulham. I’m sorry, Mr Khan, I don’t believe you are the right person to be head of this club.

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

The View From South Texas — Fulham FC v. Norwich City FA3 Replay

Up for the Cup

Yesterday – yes, I know, not my usual publishing speed – Fulham roasted an all-at-odds Norwich City at half-empty Craven Cottage and sent them down the mine in search of a Canary and out of the FA Cup.

Bouncing back from perhaps the most embarrassing league result in recent memory, Fulham controlled the action almost from the beginning and ran out 3-0 winners. It was much easier than the scoreline indicated. Yes, young Murphy started again and caused Riether some problems early on, but also early on Norwich displayed a tactical flaw. Passes upfield out of defense were tentative and to zone rather than to player. What was needed here was a greedy opponent – preferably a young winger – to capitalize on this weakness. In Alex Kacaniklic, Fulham have such a young winger, and he purloined passes all match. Fulham also showed a desire to press Norwich’s defense and midfield all evening, which made it easier for the Whites to turn toothless City attacks into ruthless Fulham attacks.

Fulham’s first goal combined two wingers, a center mid and a fullback, but was scored by our much maligned striker Darren Bent. Bent’s not the most industrious chap ever to wear the black and white, but he knows what to do with a cross and a distracted defense. Fulham’s second came from the Andrew Johnson playbook. Bent stretched out the defense by going wide, Kacaniklic moved to the right wing further confusing them, and found right winger Ashkan Dejagah racing into the penalty area like an Iranian Clint Dempsey. Two crosses, two easy conversions. What next?

Well, it wasn’t immediately next, but Fulham’s third goal came from a cross hammered into the back of the net by the White’s own special one Iniesta. How sad is it when your leading goalscorer is a central midfielder and you have two proven goalscorers in your striker corps? Pretty sad, but just imagine how poor our season would be if we didn’t have Sidwell out there – match after match – winning the ball, supporting the attack, and converting chances. Yeah, just imagine … we might be playing crap match after match and finding ourselves in the middle of a relegation struggle.

Hey, wait a minute … .

Individually? This match was my first look at Dan Burn. I liked what I saw. I think he’s better than any CB we have on our books and should stay. Yes, I noticed that Hangeland was back, but I also noticed that he was still tentative and slow on the turn. It might be a fitness thing, but I think Fulham supporters are kidding themselves if they believe that they’ll ever see the Hangeland that was the Rock of Defensive Ages.

Generally speaking, starting Special K and Super Iranian made Fulham instantly better. Two attack minded wide players increase the threat of Darren Bent significantly. I’m not all that sure about Karagounis as the protector of the back four, however. Despite the fact that I’ve seen several shouts for him to be man-of-the-match, I though him most responsible for Norwich’s early attacking moves in each half. He dwelt on the ball and conceded possession leading to almost every threat to the Fulham goal. Oh, and speaking of which Stekelenberg was back, and impressed me not at all. I thought Richardson showed why he should be first choice LB, but I haven’t figured out what Rene wants his sides to do yet, so I’m not predicting.

Finally, I was pleased to see Tankovic, Dembele, and Christensen get minutes. The highlight of the match for me was watching Dembele muscle Bassong out of the play and retain possession. I don’t think City’s central defender has had that sort of treatment from many teenagers.

All it all, it was a very good win and round four sends us to darkest Yorkshire to face Sheffield United. If we continue to use youngish players in the Cup, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t continue to look better in that competition than in the league. Or, maybe our leadership triumvirate will see the benefit in using the youth in the league as well. Well, perhaps.

HatterDon’s Man of the Match – With a special salute to Alex Kacaniklic who set the tone of the match early on, the non-existent Shiner Bock keg goes to Steve Sidwell for being an old-fashioned English box-to-box midfielder. Well done you!

The View From South Texas — Fulham FC v. Sunderland AFC

Fulham Got the Black Cat Bone

No sign of John the Concheroo, however.

Today’s match was the benchmark for the rest of the season. If Fulham win today over Sunderland, then there’s a good chance for salvation at the end of the season. If Fulham DON’T win … at home … against the last place club … well, end the sentence yourself.

News flash: Fulham aren’t good enough. Sunderland came in with only five road goals all season and nearly doubled that total. I watch most Sunderland matches and I know they’ve been playing more organized and solid football, but I still thought Fulham had enough at the Cottage to shut them down. But it didn’t happen.

Much of the result must go down to a brilliant performance by Adam Johnson – who is obviously fighting for a ticket to Brazil. He played very well against United in the League Cup and did well in their last league match as well, and he was dominant today.

Much of the result must go down to systemic problems at Fulham – and specifically at Motspur Park. Fulham have two major problems that have led us to become the most goal generous opponents in the Prem: (1) We play an extremely high line despite having only one member of the back four with any pace AND we still have no midfield destroyer [well, we have one, but we don’t play him] and (2) We have no discernible scheme for defending set pieces. These two elements have contributed most to our shocking goals against tally of 46! How bad is that? As I write this, the second most generous defense – Norwich City – as given up ELEVEN FEWER GOALS. Sorry for shouting.

Yes, Stockdale had a twenty minute stretch there where he looked like he had no clue about how to keep goal. Yes, Amorebieta and Senderos proved again that they’re out worst central defensive pairing. Yes, until Dempsey provided some 2nd half assistance, Riise was completely over-matched against Johnson, but individual defensive performances aren’t the reason for today’s shameful result. Our defense is in disarray because we are not prepared well and our tactics are just flat wrong. I’m waiting for the Manchester United magic coach mojo to kick in, but perhaps he’s not the seventh son of a seventh son after all.

Fulham could have made life easier on Stockdale and the back four had they taken advantage of some good attacking work early on. Even an off-form Berbatov would have converted one of the two gilt-edged chances presented to him, and had Taarabt noticed the unmarked Dempsey instead of firing straight at Mannone, Sunderland could have been two goals down before Johnson took over. Instead it was Fulham’s own Suarez, our special one Aguero who got our goal and – but for some great reflexes from Mannone – should have had another.

In the FulhamUSA chatroom I was calling for Dejagah and Kasami for Duff and Taarabt before the start of the second half, and their introductions helped. By that time, however, Berbatov was playing with his head down and all seemed lost.

Given that we’ve sent Trotta back to Brentford and Burn back to Birmingham, it’s obvious that Fulham aren’t interested in involving our top-of-the-league U18 and U21 players in this relegation fight. Unless we already have a strong central defender, a midfield bone-cruncher, and at least one striker ready to sign in January, then the fight is going to continue to be waged by the folks we saw out there today. You know, the folks who gave up four goals to the weakest attack in the league, the folks who were completely masted by what was until the final whistle, the worst team in the league.

HatterDon’s Man of the Match? – This award might not be given again this season, considering this performance. Let’s hope I’m wrong about that, but there AINT one today.