All You Need is Duff
Fulham cruised to a famous victory today in front of nearly 30,000 in the Reebok Stadium, totally dominating a desperate Bolton Wanderers side. The three-goal defeat flattered Bolton, as 0-6 would have been a better reflection of the difference in quality and organization between the two sides. Clint Dempsey got his 14th and 15th league goals of the season – keeping him in the top five on the scoring charts and eclipsing Louis Saha as Fulham’s single-season scoring leader in the Premier League – followed by a first-ever goal for the impressive Mamahadou Diarra.
Bereft of a healthy striker – again – Fulham started with Dempsey and Ruiz up front. Kacaniklik started on the left and, along with Diarra, were the only two changes from the XI that started against Norwich. Pogrebnyak’s ankle injury persisted and Danny Murphy was, perhaps, rested for Monday’s match against Chelsea. In any case, neither were on the substitute’s bench.
Despite the strong commitment of Petrov, Reo-Coker, and Ricketts, Fulham dominated the first half – in reality if not statistically. Bolton’s tendency to fall back en masse whenever Fulham gained control in and around our penalty area, gave the defense plenty of time to stroll forward. These strolls often ended in defense splitting passes generally through the middle of the pitch. The presence of Special K and Damian Duff on the wings kept Bolton’s defense spread thin, and Dempsey and Ruiz exploited those gaps with the assistance of great passing from Dembélé, Diarra, and Hangeland.
The goal came as the result of a 35 yard free kick awarded after some sloppy defensive work by the Wanderers. As the entire FulhamUSA.com chatroom bristled in excitement – was this going to be the time for our first Riise blockbuster? – metaphoric heads dropped as Dempsey took control. But, somehow, even at that distance his accurate curling strike had the giant Adam Bogdan beat, and it was 0-1.
Early in the week on Friends of Fulham, I began a thread requesting posters to name a situation that, once it had been seen, would cause supporters to respond “It’s about time.” One popular response was “scoring from a free kick. Have we done that yet this season?” Well, there you go. Another was OUR inability to score late in the half. And this came to pass as well. Fully expecting Fulham’s complete dominance to result in a razor-thin 0-1 lead, I was delighted to watch Damian Duff skin Marcos Alonso yet again, and curl in a delicate right-foot cross. The wide-open Dempsey made no mistake and, with fully five seconds left in the first 45, we were up 0-2.
Anyone would have expected Bolton to make adjustments and take that game to us. And, as it turned out, Bolton’s dual substitution looked like turning the match around. Eagles and Kevin Davies came in for Miyachi and Pratley and suddenly Bolton were a danger. And yet, after scarcely 10 minutes of concerted effort, Bolton completely ran out of gas. This happened for two reasons: Fulham’s defense was resolute and Damian Duff was enjoying a second helping of Roast Alonso. Bolton’s last real threat was snuffed out by a gorgeous intervening tackle from Riise that dispossessed Ngog cleanly well into the penalty area. A few minutes later, Diarra was on hand to clinically put away a great cross by Riise and it was 0-3.
Fulham’s defense looked brilliant. Kelly and Hughes [with the help of Duff] kept Petrov and Alonso under control, and Hangeland cut out Bolton threats like the skilled surgeon he is. Riise’s tackle on Ngog was the defensive highlight of the day – if not the season. Schwarzer didn’t have many saves to make, but I thought his decisiveness and distribution was as good as I’ve seen it this season.
Fulham’s midfield was excellent. Diarra-Dembélé proved as effective as Murphy- Dembélé has at any point since they became partners. Kacaniklik didn’t contribute as much as he did against Norwich, but he looks at home on the left wing, and is not shy about going for goal. He can stay. Duff was brilliant. You’d have to go back 10 years to find any match where he looked better and more effective than he did today. Credit Adam Bogdan with keeping the score down as Duff had two second-half opportunities to score that only highly-skilled goalkeeping prevented.
Dempsey and Ruiz worked well up front. Their telepathic understanding is growing. In truth, this was more of a 4-5-1 today with Dempsey very much taking over leadership up front. It’s not his best position, but – hey – he got two goals and might have had an assist. Ruiz looked physically strong today, and helped out in defense when called upon. He passed very well and was a concern at all times to the home team.
So, Fulham came to town to face a side desperate for points, dominated them completely, and got their third away win and second double of the season. Job done, and job well done. A salute to Jol for persisting with youth today, including a late-match cameo by Trotta. Marcello [which is Italian for Del-boy] had a good turn and shot on goal which was good to see. He looked absolutely terrified in his previous appearance against Everton. If Ruiz’s late injury proves to be serious, I think it wouldn’t hurt to run Trotta or Orlando Sa against Chelsea on Monday.
A couple of notes. In the “in my day” category, I must say I never expected to watch a football match IN ENGLAND where the goalkeepers were dressed in Lime Green and Pink. The fact that Bodgan is a redhead playing in pink played hob with my color control. Lime green and pink, I ask you.
The other comment is about our travelers. I heard the attendance today announced as a shade under 30,000. Very few of them were Fulham – at least to look at the empty area we were attacking in the second half – but all of them were clearly audible. Buoyed, no doubt, by the Marauding Fulham Scandies, they were loud and proud. I knew that Etuhu was warming up the moment I heard them singing “Dickson, Dickson, what’s the score?” Well represented lads and lasses, and I’m glad you got the reward you deserved.
Finally, [b]HatterDon’s Man of the Match[/b] was the matchless [u][i]Damian Duff[/i][/u]. That, boys and girls, is what a veteran winger can do to a pretty good fullback. I feel sorry for all of those in England who didn’t get to see him play today. Absolutely wonderful.
Now, let’s get three more against The Undead on Monday – COYW