Tag Archives: Bryan Ruiz

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.”

The View From South Texas — Hull City v. Fulham FC

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to our 0-0 Result

Well, if anything positive was accomplished today, it would be that Scott Parker has wrapped up his Player of the Season award for 2013-14. Without him on the pitch, Fulham found it impossible to get the ball from defense to attack for the entire match. We’ll never know how Rodallega might have done in attack. We’ll never know how Kasami could have exploited the space created by Hugo drawing defenders to him. But we do know that there wasn’t a player on the pitch today who had the ability to make any move that threatened Hull CITY’s goal.

To be fair, it’s hard to blame the players for this one. Rene had obviously decided that the best result we could hope for was 0-0, and the first half was as drab and dire as a result. Hull City didn’t look all that threatening but, as I remarked in the FulhamUSA chatroom, the problem with a 0-0 strategy is that if you concede, Hull is damned difficult to score against. I’m looking back on that dire first half with the same longing that one might have for his first ever girlfriend. She may have been ugly at the time, but oh my god, what came after.

We conceded early in the second half, and that was that. The best then we could hope for was that Hull would pull back in defense and we could stalemate ourselves throughout the remaining second half. Instead, the Tigers engaged in what used to be known as “Jolly Stomping.” You have a completely defenseless opponent in the mud, and you don’t ever let him up. And the goals came predictably and regularly.

It’s perhaps unfair to single out players in a match like this, but only Kasami comes out of this with any positive marks. Stockdale wasn’t at fault for the first three, but the last couple were shocking. Amorebieta showed again that he doesn’t have the temperament nor the judgment to be a Premier League center half, and Bryan Ruiz well, he might have just said his farewell to us. Zverotic’s only contribution was showing us all how much we missed Riether.

And speaking of “missed,” Tom get-a-haircut Huddlestone showed what we missed when we allowed him to leave London and go to Hull. He was the best player in Yorkshire today. What could we be doing if we had his combination of grit, skill, and creativity.

So, the holiday glut of matches is the traditional separation of the contenders from the pretenders or, if you prefer, the men from the boys. We get to see just how deep the big boys are and how shallow the minnows are. We, my friends, are shallow boys, and two months of Clint Dempsey isn’t going to improve that. We need to buy well and extensively in January, and we need to relegate some of our pensioners to the shadows.

What’s next? Well, we’ve already got as many away wins as we did in Jol’s first season with us, so what we need to do now is get mean and grimy at home. Our next two league matches are against West Ham and Sunderland. These are REAL six pointers. If we win them both, we’ll be on 22 points from 21 matches and on our way to a struggling survival. If we don’t win them both, we’re in serious trouble, and we can’t count on our goal difference to see us to safety.

Partnerships: Hodgson and Jol

by EJL

Martin Jol will go into Fulham’s game with Stoke on Saturday knowing that only a win will likely be good enough to save his job. The Whites have won just one of their opening six Premier League fixtures, now totalling only three wins at home since the start of 2013.

Often when teams are struggling, like Fulham were last season, they rely on cliques or partnerships on the pitch to get results. Apart from the constantly disjointed right-flank of Ashkan Dejagah and Sascha Riether, there was nothing but an occasional moment of brilliance from Giorgos Karagounis or Dimitar Berbatov to carry them through games. Jol was the first manager to really take apart the 2010 Fulham team and attempt to mould his own squad and style, but the Dutchman has failed to find that grouped consistency that made Hodgson’s sides so difficult to beat.

Under Roy Hodgson, the entire team was constructed around numerous sets of players that complimented each other perfectly. Firstly, the formerly named ‘Thames Barrier’ — consisting of Brede Hangeland and Aaron Hughes — played a significant part in the Cottagers only conceding 34 goals in the Premier League during the 2008-09 season — the fourth best defensive record in the division. Hodgson famously said upon appointment at Fulham that everybody in his squad was the same size; there was no commanding defensive presence to slug away in a relegation battle. Sure enough, he solved the problem by bringing in the 6 ft 5 Norwegian, forging one of the best centre-half partnerships outside of the top four in recent memory. Hughes provided the athleticism, pace and conservatism that Hangeland lacked, whereas the latter’s sheer size, strength and aerial consistency compensated for the Northern Irisman’s flaws. It was a running theme in Hodgson’s system: start players that have one or two outstanding strengths and team them up with their near polar opposite.

Another example of Fulham’s balance was exemplified in the centre of midfield. Dickson Etuhu’s contribution towards getting the best out of Danny Murphy shouldn’t go without praise. A 2008 summer signing from Sunderland, Etuhu came to Fulham with just a season’s worth of Premier League experience under his belt and a fiery reputation. Similar to the strengths in Hangeland’s game, the Nigerian added a physical and ubiquitous presence to Hodgson’s new look midfield. His job was to break up attacks before they had a chance to bloom, collect the ball, give it to Murphy and let him ‘do his thing’. Mark Hughes’ attempts to convert Etuhu into a rampaging box-to-box midfielder were admirable, but it was his role as the enforcer that suited him best.

Those two pairs were Fulham’s spine for a good three-and-a-half years. Other notable duos included Bobby Zamora and Zoltan Gera’s exploits in the Europa League, and the connection between Zamora and Damien Duff — their trademark being a one-two coming in off the right-wing, sometimes leading to a goal (Everton 2009). The problem with Jol’s time at the club has been failure to establish, or continue, successful partnerships.

Developing understanding has been toughest in the centre of midfield. Fulham fielded thirteen, yes thirteen, different midfield pairings over the course of last season. Those ranged from Moussa Dembele and Mahamadou Diarra — who started the Whites’ first two matches against Norwich and Manchester United — to then loan signings Eyong Enoh and Emmanuel Frimpong lining up against Swansea on the final day of the season. To comprehend the sheer number of variations Jol used, Steve Sidwell, who started more games than any other Fulham central-midfielder, lined up alongside five different partners.

Partly down to the departures of Dembele and Danny Murphy, along with the incessant injuries of Diarra, the inconsistent midfield selection caused games to be won and lost in a matter of minutes. There was no similar harmony of playmaker and powerhouse for long spells until Enoh and Karagounis started together. But, of course, the following week a brand new and unbalanced midfield would wipe out any chemistry built the previous match. The standard and type of player that the club needed to bring in during the summer was painfully obvious. Fulham lacked, and still do, a central-midfield playmaker who can pass the ball well under pressure.

Bryan Ruiz, Clint Dempsey and Moussa Dembele were starting to show that said chemistry midway through the 2011-12 season, but the departure of the latter two saw the Costa-Rican struggle to work equally well enough alongside the remaining Fulham squad. Jol’s attempts to accommodate Ruiz have stretched as far as deploying him in a wide midfield position — a role the Costa-Rican unsuccessfully played in for much of his debut season — causing the split of the aforementioned partnership of Dejagah and Riether.

Even this season, with Jol under immense pressure from fans and, more recently, the media, team selection is still too varied. The 2-1 victory over Everton in the Capital One Cup was supposed to be the turning point of Fulham’s season, but instead of starting the same eleven that won the game, Jol made five changes for the following must-win match against Cardiff. If he survives the encounter with Stoke at the weekend and is given a vote of confidence by the board, his first port of call ought to be establishing the side that works the best. Hodgson proved that he didn’t need luxury players like Dimitar Berbatov or Bryan Ruiz to make the team tick. Relying on favourites now rather than in-form players and maintaining the law of divine right would be Jol kicking the chair away.

The View From South Texas — FFC v. Cardiff City


Uninspiring, Unsurprising, Unacceptable

Today, Fulham performed as poorly at home as I’ve seen since that cold November day that was Lawrie Sanchez’s last game as Fulham manager. On that day against a sub-par Newcastle, Fulham showed little effort and no cohesion. We saw that again today … at the Cottage … against Cardiff. Yes, we lost Scott Parker to injury within 5 minutes, and that certainly hurt us, but it doesn’t explain the overall lack of impetus, the impossible to detect game plan, nor does it explain the fact that our back four resembled a bunch of fit young gentlemen standing on an underground platform not looking at each other.

If you don’t want to read any further [and I certainly don’t blame you], just read this: Fulham faced the weakest side we’re likely to see at The Cottage this season and let them dictate the terms of the match for nearly all of the 90 minutes. According to the stats I saw, Fulham got off a massive nine shots against the VISITOR’s 22. Our corporate inability to capitalize on set pieces – a two-season plus feature of Martin Jol Sexy Football – was matched today by our defense of these same set pieces. Going into extra time it looked as if Fulham would collect possibly our luckiest point since the three at Sunderland on opening day. Cardiff are a good bet for relegation this season, and they could easily have beaten us by five or six. As my British friends like to end statements like these, you do the maths.

So, yes, Stephen Caulker scored an uncontested header off a corner to make it 1-0 in the 12th minute. Bryan Ruiz, on for Jol’s latest young sacrificial lamb Alex Kacaniklic, equalized with a “goal of the year” strike [aren’t all his goals stunning?] in the 45th minute – completely against the run of play. And Jordon Mutch, who looks a very promising youngster, curled in the winner deep into extra time. A very nice goal it was also. There’s the facts. Here’s some analysis.

Brede Hangeland had his worst performance in a Fulham shirt today. He didn’t mark, he didn’t jump, he didn’t run, he was the weakest link in a very poor back four today. When he fouled Cardiff’s goalkeeper in the second half, it turned out to be the only attack he foiled the entire match.

There was a point a minute or so into extra time when Fulham might have gotten the three points. For the only time all day, Kieran Richardson whipped in a good cross that zoomed across the face of goal completely ignored by Fulham attackers. The Fulham player most likely to have been sniffing around to convert that goal – Darren Bent – had been subbed off for Adel Taarabt.

Finally, at the risk of getting flagged for piling on – yes, yes, I know, a pointy football reference – I must admit that those who have criticized the decision to make Hangeland captain have a point. There have been plenty of times over the last several seasons where Fulham have gone on to the pitch lethargic and disconnected. What we had gotten use to seeing was a short, grouchy midfielder giving them what for and geeing them up. There’s only one Danny Murphy, and boy have we missed him since he left, and boy what could he have done for us today.

I didn’t stick around to see how the crowd reacted to Jol and the players after the match. I can only imagine that there were boos galore. I certainly know that they was well deserved. Fulham continue to be a side filled with talented players who are lacking only coherent leadership and coaching. I certainly hope that my next View from South Texas will be filled with references to Fulham’s new gaffer.
HatterDon’s Man of the Match: Are you kidding? Nobody!

International Watch

by Frankie-Peter Taylor

I usually do a weekly loan watch but I thought I’d give you an International update.

So far, Pajtim Kasami scored a penalty in Switzerland’s 2-0 win over Latvia, and Kerim Frei scored the 3rd in Turkey’s 4-0 win over Malta, both under 21 European Championship qualifiers.

To add, Jack Grimmer was an unused substitute in Scotland u21s 4-0 loss to the Netherlands. And finally, Jesse Jorenen captained Finland’s u21s to a 1-0 win over Lithuania.

Noe Baba started Ireland u19’s 2-0 win over Slovenia, playing 79 minutes until Fulham team mate Dean O’Halleron’s came on for him.

Coming up:

– Lasse Vigen Christensen represents Denmark u21’s as they play Andorra tomorrow.
– Josh Pritchard, currently on loan at Tromso, is in the Wales u21 squad to play San Marino tomorrow.
– Cameron Burgess is in the Scotland u19 squad that will play Iceland on Tuesday.

– Elsad Zverotic is in the  Montenegro squad to play Poland tomorrow, of course in the same group as England.
– Alex Kacaniklic is likely to start for Sweden in a must win game against Ireland tomorrow.
– Brede Hangeland’s Norway will play Philippe Senderos’ Switzerland.
– Giorgos Karagounis is looking to make cap 126 for Greece vs. Liechtenstein.
– Bryan Ruiz playsfor Costa Rica against the United States in a top of the table clash.
– Fernando Amorebieta, who obviously we are yet o see this season has travelled with the Venezuela squad for their game against Chile.

Lastly, Dimitar Berbatov will take part in a charity football game in honour of Stan Petrov. Also taking part will be John Terry, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Jamie Redknapp, Roy Keane and Robert Pires. Also taking part, Louis Tomlinson from One Direction and comedian John Bishop.

Deadline Day Build Up …

Following Jols pre game press conference prior to the weekends trip to Newcastle, many have already speculated that there will be little activity from Motspur Park in the coming days. There was a hint that he was looking at back up in the right back position with Benalouane from Parma being mentioned as someone under consideration although little else was mentioned in terms of activity. Of course no one really expected him to reveal the ins and outs of any future deals and sometimes it can be a little to easy to speculate when you only know half of the story.

Jol also said that there was a possibility of a few of the “fringe” players leaving in the next few days. We can all speculate who these may be although in my opinion it will most likely be Frei who departs for Turkey and Diarra who will leave the club having not been able to convince the coaching staff of is fitness and justification for a new contract.

Even if it is quiet for us over the next few days then we should be content that the club have acquired some excellent signings over the summer, and all for less than £10,000,000. Every football fan of every team up and down the country will tell you that their team is in desperate need of reinforcements somewhere within their respective squads and we at Fulham are no different. If however you had asked the same fans back in June if they would have been happy with the players that we have acquired to date then I suspect most would have bitten your hands off.

We all know that the so called “Dembele replacement” has still not been found and given the talent of the Belgian it isn’t a surprise that we have struggled to find someone in a similar guise. Both Scott Parker and Derek Boateng have added much needed depth to what was the weakest area of the squad although neither are naturally attacking minded. If there are no further midfield signings then it may be an indication that Jol has seen enough in Kasami to consider giving him the chance to establish himself , certainly until January.

Bryan Ruiz is yet to play in the league this season and while we all know that he is not up to playing central midfield,  illustrated by a truly woeful individual performance against Burton Albion mid week,  he will still be factored into the numbers by Jol and I suspect at some point be considered as an option for creativity in the middle.

If Berbatov and Bent are to play up top , whether as a pair or with the Bulgarian in behind , it will leave us with a lot of names to squeeze in to 4 midfield berths. Parker and Boateng could perhaps play in the middle but that leaves Kacaniklic, Dejagah, Ruiz, Taarabt, Duff, Sidwell, Mesca, Karagounis and Kasami all fighting for 2 places so is it really surprising that we are not still looking to add in this area?

The other area of major concern and is now more of a priority than anywhere else is at left back. The only player to eclipse Ruiz on Tuesday in terms of looking out of his depth against a League 2 club was John Arne Riise. Having given Walcott acres of space the game before, he afforded the same respect to Burton and a lack of any marking on his part gave them 2 goals. Kieran Richardson on his day is capable of being a solid option but given his hamstrings are about as reliable as Riise’s marking we really could do with another player there.

No one knows what Jol and Makintosh have going on behind the scenes and it would be rather stupid of them to show their hand at this stage in terms of requirements given that it would more than likely make us appear desperate and lead to the club being bent over the proverbial barrel for any given target. Anyone who remembers the transfer windows of the previous few seasons will know that the players we bring in on deadline day had not even been mentioned in the same breath as Fulham football club in the days preceding it. Perhaps this year more than the last few, there is less chance that we will see a last minute signing although unlike the years before we certainly have the capital available should the right player come around.

Forget year of the snake, it’s the year of Bryan.

Bryan Jafet Ruiz González or just Bryan as it states on his kit is entering the third season of his contract at Fulham Football Club. If you were to rate players on how much they divide supporter’s opinion on players, Ruiz would finish just behind Senderos and Berbatov. Brought in from FC Twente, via Gent and recent opponents L.D. Alajuelense, there were very high hopes for the Costa Rican, having had a good career in Holland.

It is coming on three years after former Chairman Mo Al Fayed parted with a large sum of money that ventured into Marlet territory, with various numbers bandied about by the papers. As always Fulham announced the transfer as undisclosed so the exact amount is unknown.

The first of Bryan’s years here could be described as very unpolished. You could clearly see the talent he had in glimpses with a bit of skill here an amazing pass there or two outrageous chipped goals to mark the arrival of his scoring boots. It took a little while and it looked like a star was emerging by the Thames, but April of that year saw Ruiz injured away at Bolton.  It was an abrupt end to a season that threatened to spark into life.

The second season Bryan produced another mixed bag of results. However some of these cannot be placed on one player, let alone the team. Having trained more it looked as Ruiz had put on some more mass in order to cope with the more physical English League, whereas he had free reign of scoring areas in Holland, defenders in England aren’t so keen to allow that. Ruiz was ever present in Fulham’s first team this season. Once again he showed immeasurable skill and contributed to his team’s cause with 5 goals and 7 assists. Rather impressive considering the fact that he was shuffled about Fulham’s midfield like a hot potato. He played every position across the top aside from the left and even played two (?) matches in central midfield in a failed Dembele type experiment. While the two players are very similar in the technical aspect, Ruiz does not have the physical prowess to dribble and hold off opposition like Dembele did. (Side note, the Author does not believe Dembele would have been remembered as fondly as he is now if he was never moved to midfield. Ruiz’ and Dembele’s scoring record is very similar in the forward position)

Ruiz’ second season also saw the arrival of a certain Bulgarian by the name of Dimitar Berbatov. It was proven time and time again during this season that both of these players would start regardless of output. After all, one was a high priced signing and the other probably wouldn’t have arrived without the current manager and a guarantee of match time. Some would argue that both of these players cannot function in the same match day team. The two players can and do function well together, this is not the issue. The issue with these players is a lack of service.  During both months long rough patches of this season the highest attacking player was neither of these. Often times our forward players had to venture into the heart of midfield to receive the ball, which does not make attacking, or counter attacking for that matter an easy task at all. This makes it all the more impressive that Ruiz was Fulham’s joint top rated player alongside Dimitar Berbatov, based on Opta Stats.

Production wise that season Bryan averaged 45.8 passes a match, completing 84.8 percent of these. Key passes in the final third came 1.7 times a match, while he was fouled in the same number. Being ever so consistent his tackles averaged 1.7 as well. A better service from deeper in the midfield should help his offensive output this season.

This upcoming season could very well be the season Ruiz wins over those who doubt his purpose at Fulham.  A preseason tour of Costa Rica geared very much toward his star in his homeland could do nothing but boost his confidence regardless of his output. There is nothing better to go to your backyard and play in front of those who first saw your career take off. Ruiz definitely made a statement in his homeland, being very much involved in the action. Scoring 3 in 3 and assisting others he looked lively throughout the tour. A well taken volley and a brilliant dummy, fooling both the defender flying in and the keeper were highlights of his tour. While the opposition wasn’t up to the English League’s standard it was a very good test for the squad as a whole. It was good to see David, Kasami and Mesca given chances and the return of Ashkan Dejagah.

He still has a lot to prove in the upcoming matches versus Parma, Werder Bremen and Real Betis.
Expect to see him get as much time on the pitch as Jol begins to solidify his first team for the coming season. Where will he play? Expect it to be just behind Berbatov, as it was last season. Kasami played well in this position, but not well enough to depose Ruiz in Jol’s order. Though there is a possibility he could be tried out on the wing, looking good there in preseason, even though this provided mixed results during last season.

Ruiz has what it takes to be a professional footballer at this level. He has the range of passing, a whole bag of tricks, a wonderful free kick and decent pace and while his finishing last season wasn’t the greatest, when he did finish it was classy. Confidence is everything in the profession of a footballer and it looks like Ruiz is full of it. All of his past experiences in the various leagues and his venture into the English League look to come together , and barring injury this could be a very, very good year for Ruiz.

However if footballing doesn’t work Bryan could always push some high priced salons newest shampoo, he certainly has the looks for it.

The View from South Texas — Fulham FC v. Reading

by Hatter Don

Fortress Fulham is No More

Today, Fulham played the least talented side in the Premier League and lost to them 2-4. Questionable team selection, early lethargy, late disorganization, and the abject failure of fan favorite players to play well all contributed to Reading winning only its second road match of the season, and its first three points anywhere in at least three months.

Fulham began brightly with Damien Duff giving Reading LB Stephen Kelly a quick lesson in how to play out of position. Twice within the first 90 seconds, Duff mastered the Reading left side and, on the second occasion, whipped in a cross that Bryan Ruiz met with a hard volley. It was well saved by Reading’s 23 year old Irish keeper McCarthy – a continuing theme throughout the day. Immediately after, Jol had Duff swap wings with Emanuelson and Fulham’s early pressure was relieved.

For the next 10 minutes or so, Fulham did their best imitation of 11 guys strolling around on a green expanse with little or no understanding why. At that point John Arne Riise attempted a routine clearance which, instead, only cleared the ankle of Hal Robson-Kanu. Robson-Kanu – who we’ve been told repeatedly is not good enough to play for Fulham – coolly converted as Reading assumed a lead it would never relinquish. Fulham seemed content with that lead and continued to loll around in the almost summer almost sunshine.

Until Martin Jol made a significant change in the 26th minute, that is. On came Hugo Rodallega at the expense of Giorgos Karagounis, who had been doing a fine imitation of a statue on loan from the Parthenon. Immediately, Fulham began to gel and, for the rest of the half showed their superiority in both talent and tactical nous. Unfortunately, Reading was the only side to have come out of the dressing room and were soon bossing the ball. In the 62nd minute, Robson-Kanu scored again.

And then the match became fun to watch – for a neutral observer. Fulham gained control and Ruiz scored to reduce the deficit to 1-2. Then substitute Adam Le Fondre made it 1-3. Some superb attacking play by Fulham resulted in a sweet cross from the right by substitute Alex Kacaniklic that resulted in a headed [?] goal by Fulham’s Costa Rican barely two minutes later. At this point, it was 2-3 and Fulham looked the side most likely. There were a few chances by each side before Rodallega nearly shattered the crossbar with as clean a connection as you’ll see in a long time.

The game was in the balance when Brede Hangeland nodded the ball to Reading midfielder Jem Karacan, who immediately slotted home his first ever Premier League goal. Some more excitement followed, but that was that. Fulham demonstrated once again that they can be easily unsettled by teams that press on defense and attack wide … even teams as weak as Reading … even at the Cottage.

And now the inevitable comments. I thought that the match day squad was a bit strange. Special K had played Fulham’s best football at Everton but was relegated to the bench. Kerim Frei didn’t even make the bench. Whatever Jol was thinking at the time was a mystery, but it must be said that the substitutions of Rodallega and Kacaniklic contributed mightily to Fulham’s attack.

As for the players, thank you very much Mr. Emanuelson. I sincerely hope we don’t see you in a Fulham kit again. Mr. Enoh, today’s performance made me wish not only for Emmanuel Frimpong, but also for Dickson Etuhu. Mr. Karagounis, feel free to start your summer holidays Sunday morning. And, Mr. Schwarzer? Well, you deserve your own paragraph.

On the day when Fulham’s on loan keeper David Stockdale saw his now [and future?] club Hull promoted to the Premier League, Tha Big Aussie showed us all why Stockers should have  been Fulham’s #1 all season. Not content with just distributing poorly and slowing down our counter-attacks – something we’ve seen all this season, and most of last – Schwarzer showed no positioning sense, collided with his own players, flapped his arms for no apparent reason more than even Dimitar Berbatov, and unsettled his back four to the point where mistakes were inevitable. There’s no way to sugar coat it from my point of view. Schwarzer was god awful today, and the lack of quality in his performance was highlighted by the calm, sure performance of the opposing goalkeeper in his first top-flight season at nearly half our Australian’s age.

On the bright side, I think we saw what Hugo Rodallega can do when paired with Berbatov today. He was great. He laid off the ball well, ran into and created space, passed accurately and wasn’t afraid to take a crack at goal. He could easily have had three goals today. Once the disappearance of Karagounis allowed Ruiz to take up the attacking center mid role, he performed well. He was much more of an attacking presence in this position than he has been most of the season playing just off Berbatov’s shoulder. And, to be fair, Jol’s substitutions and tactical adjustments made the match more entertaining and close. Because, face it, any Premier League side whose best striker is NOT Pavel Pogrebnyak would have toasted us today.

That’s all I’m going to say positive about our gaffer, though. Regardless of what we do against Liverpool next week, we have lost more matches at the Cottage this season than at any time since we began a season with Lawrie Sanchez as our manager. We’re still abysmal at erasing leads, and – after two full seasons – I still can’t figure out what Martin Jol’s preferred playing style is. One thing is for certain: the days of Fortress Fulham are over. Our “hard to beat at home” performances that have kept us in the Prem are becoming a faint memory. While some believe that this is all down to the presence of Philippe Senderos on the pitch, some of us believe that the boss has to take some responsibility somewhere.

So, we’re now 12th, and I expect that victories by AstonVilla and Wigan are going to make some folks even more concerned that Fulham aren’t safe on 40 points. I still firmly believe that no team will be relegated with as many as 39 points. If there’s anyone around to challenge Wigan for 18th, it’s certainly Newcastle, Sunderland, or Norwich.

Finally, I don’t usually award a Man of the Match when we lose by two goals at home, but I’m going to make an exception forHugo Rodallega. He had a hell of a match today and almost turned Fulham around enough to gain points.

COYW

The View from South Texas — Fulham FC v. Arsenal

by HatterDon

Brave, Strong, Resilient, and Defeated

On the whole, I’d rather we played poorly and got the three points, but an undermanned Fulham showed Arsenal and much of the football world how to play for 80 minutes with only 10 men. I can’t remember a time this season when I have been more proud of the mighty Whites. The final score was 0-1, but this was a million miles away from a boring match.

If there was any doubt who would come out on top when the opening whistle sounded, the mystery essentially ended in the 12th minute when Steve Sidwell, fresh from a three match suspension for a straight red card, earned another with a reckless, two-footed, over-the-ball tackle. There were chants of “You don’t know what you’re doing” aimed at referee Andre Marriner from the Hammersmith End, but if there ever was a clear red, this was it. It’s a shame that Sidwell will end his very best season in the Black and White with only 12 minutes of play sandwiched between six days of suspension.

Despite the fact that Arsenal were in complete control of the ball inside the first 10 minutes, Fulham could have actually been ahead well before Sidwell left the field of play. After some very good work on the right wing by makeshift RB Stanislav Manolev, Urby Emanuelson missed a clear opportunity to play in a wide open Dimitar Berbatov for what would have been his easiest goal of the season.

To get the details out of the way, Arsenal’s Per Mertesacker got the only goal of the match when Bryan Ruiz fell asleep while marking Lauren Koscielny on a free kick. Arsenal had two other shots on target, and Berbatov, Emanuelson, Ruiz, and Kieran Richardson all had creditable efforts repelled. Arsenal found themselves down to 10 men in the 90th minute when Olivier Giroud autographed Manolev’s ankle.

Okay, Hatter, what exactly was it that made you so proud in losing the match? Didn’t you notice that Arsenal had more than ¾ of possession? Yes, I did notice that. I also noticed that we counter-attacked with gusto – and, for perhaps the first time this season – with pace from the wings. Kacaniklic started on the left and ran at and turned defenders with aplomb. Emanuelson played on the right wing and bedeviled Arsenal’s Monreal the entire match. Richardson was put in to counter the pace of Arsenal’s right-sided attack and did well, while still managing to get forward on occasion. Manolev had the most difficult job on the pitch, that of replacing Fulham’s player of the season, Sascha Riether. Not only was his defense excellent, but he slipped into Riether’s role of primary attacker quite seamlessly. He even put the ball into the net late in the match, but he was one of two players who were in offsides position at the time.

As the match went on, Fulham became more aggressive in their counter-attacks using both wings and excessive speed – all this while maintaining good defensive shape and organization. Arsenal’s defense was not happy, and resorted to fouling to slow Fulham down as they continued to wonder why they couldn’t score against what should have been a depleted and dispirited team. When Martin Jol finally got around to resting his exhausted warriors, the two substitutions – Mladen Petrić and Kerim Frei – didn’t miss a beat in pressuring the Gunners. And the spirit! For me, Fulham’s attitude was exemplified by the much maligned Philippe Senderos in the right winger’s position[!], crossing into the penalty area and winning a corner, and then taking up his attacking position with a roar and a pump of that giant left fist.

I have a few moans, but none of them were the cause of anything that determined the points distribution. Once Sidwell left his mark on Mikel Arteta and the match, the points were essentially decided. If there was one player who disappointed me it was Berbatov. If he expended as much effort in moving his legs as he did waving his arms in disgust at his teammates, he might not have been caught offsides so much. At times it looked as if he wanted to be known as the Bulgarian Collins John.

On the plus side, I really am warming to Eyong Enoh. He was lucky not to get a yellow early in the first half for repeated fouling, but he looks like he’s going to become an excellent central midfielder. I don’t know his contract status, but I think he’s one we should hold on to with a contract longer than one year. Emanuelson also looked very good, but he’s only got four more matches left in our colors. Richardson looked a natural left back today and played with a lot of spirit and heart. As I said before, Manolev played a great game. I hope we keep him as well. Senderos was strong in central defense and partnered well with the man whose name I heard more even than Arsene Wenger’s: Brede Hangeland. His brief two-match slump is over.

The gaffer selected a good squad and starting XI, and the lads did a great job of work today. With special mention to our giant Norwegian Texan, HatterDon’s Man of the Match goes to Martin Emanuelson Manolev Enoh Kacaniklic.

COYW!

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

by HatterDon

Lost in the Sunshine

If J.M. Barrie were reincarnated as a sports journalist, he might be tempted to refer to AFC Sunderland players in today’s match as “The Lost Boys.” Time after time throughout this very entertaining match, the players in red and white demonstrated their basic inability to accomplish routine football tasks. Thankfully, for them, the very organized and smoothly efficient team they were facing were Fulham FC, and so they paid very little for their sins. As usual, Fulham were calm, passed well, played passable defense, and only dropped by The Black Cats penalty area every now and again to make sure it was still there.

There were goals, though, by gum. Each team received and converted a penalty, courtesy of Mark Halsey. In my judgment, each incident was a foul in the penalty area. In my experience, on most days, with pretty much all other referees, neither of them is called. Fulham scored first. Set free by the endlessly creative Bryan Ruiz, Ashkan Dejagah was busily tying Craig Gardner into a knot, when the frustrated number 8 kicked him in both shins. Dejagah’s over-elaborate fall made it look as if he were diving, but he actually was fouled. Berbatov executed a passable military two step before rolling the ball into the net as Simon Mignolet looked as if he didn’t know whether to go blind or do the alternative. Fulham had scored in the 16th minute and they were still quite a while away from their first actual shot on goal.

That first shot on goal came in the 34th minute courtesy of Dejagah who was set free on a quick break away by a long accurate clearance from Mark Schwarzer [yes, Don, you really just typed that]. Fulham broke upfield rapidly while Sunderland did not. As a matter of fact, the only defender who raced to the Sunderland penalty area was Sascha Riether. As Dejagah pulled the trigger, Mignolet made an excellent save but could only parry the ball to the German RB, now playing left winger! Our very best player all season scored his first goal and either waved to God or to the Fulham supporters who were seated just a few yards below Him.

0-2 on the road … against a team that had lost three in a row … who didn’t look like they could attack an unmanned taco stand. What could possibly go wrong enough to erode that lead? Well, two Sunderland goals for a start. First came the penalty decision – which was NOT in my old but lovely blue eyes payback. Phil Senderos was examining the stitching on Danny Graham’s jersey just a little too closely for the referee’s liking and that was that. Gardner hammered the ball home and it was 1-2, and if there was a Fulham fan anywhere who wasn’t immediately filled with impending gloom, then I guarantee he was nowhere near South Texas nor was he or she in the FulhamUSA.com chatroom.

The final goal was an interesting mirror of the second. Bryan Ruiz lofted a beautiful ball into Berbatov’s stride, the Bulgarian’s quick shot was deflected by Mignolet, and off went Sessegnon haring towards Fulham’s goal. Where just a few minutes earlier a Senderos deflection caused Graham to miss a chance on goal, this time a Senderos deflection enabled Sessegnon to eualize.

The rest of the match was fun to watch – especially for me since I had heard the result on the radio many hours before. Since there was no tension, I could enjoy the end-to-end action – regardless of the ineptitude of the play at times. There was also some enjoyment from the international broadcast feed of the match. The first was the graphic when Fulham’s number 5, Brede Hangeland, received his yellow. The card, we were told, went to #2, Stephen Kelly. I immediately remembered the time that the Europa League “ref behind the goal” couldn’t tell Hangeland from Bjorn Helge Riise, but at least Riise Minor was (a) on the pitch at the time and (b) playing for Fulham.

Another fun moment was when Berbatov dramatically pouted at a misplaced pass from Hangeland [is “Berbatov” Bulgarian for “flounce” I wonder]. Anyhow, the color announcer said, “He’s complaining that Hangeland’s 40 yard pass landed a few inches from where he wanted it. What does he expect, the man’s a center half.”

So we got a point on the road and, somehow, that was enough to get us into 10th. I see no way we’ll make up the seven points necessary to get into 9th, but it could have been worse. And speaking of worse, I wonder what is in store for Sunderland. Their defending was a shambles at times and, despite having two hard working and talented strikers in Fletcher and Graham, and two talented wide attackers in Sessegnon and Johnson, the four can’t seem to support each other. The look a dispirited lot, all in all, and this is not a great time of the season to go into a funk.

Sunderland’s fans are no help either. Despite the fact that the best bet you could get would be that the 5th goal – if it came – would be scored by the team in red and white, their “supporters” started pouring out of the stadium with what turned out to be 10 minutes of football left. In the very apt words of one of the denizens of that chatroom I mentioned earlier, The Stadium of Light looked like Dodger Stadium in the seventh inning.

I’m typing this about 20 minutes after watching the match, but a good 6.5 hours after listening to it, so most of my outrage at – once again – giving up points from a winning position [something we’re top of the league at this season] has abated. I am more positive of what I saw.

I like Dejagah’s growth from game to game. I was impressed with Frimpong and even more so with Emanuelson. I was pleased to see that Demitar Flounce spent more time at the front of our attack than behind it. Although both Hangeland’s and Senderos’s performances weren’t up to the standard of their last two, things were passable, and I am really beginning to warm to Karagounis. Riether continues to be an ongoing joy, but HatterDon’s Man of the Match is, by a huge margin, Bryan Ruiz. Of all the boys playing in the Northeastern sunshine, he was the least lost.