Tag Archives: Clint Dempsey

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 — 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!

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 — Tottenham Hotspur FC v. Fulham FC

by HatterDon

Fulham Steady, Tottenham Unready

Fulham made the short trek to North London today to face the Tottenham side who had demolished them 0-3 earlier in the season. There was little hope that the Southwest London side could get anything from the return fixture. Spurs were at home, in the top four, and their best player – Gareth Bale – did not participate in their midweek Europa League tie. Add to that the fact that Fulham have been a woeful eyesore on the road this season, and the match promised to be the Tottenham walkover that most pundits, including the South Texan writing this report, predicted.

But funny things happen on the way to the final whistle, and many of them occurred at White Hart Lane today. In the first half, Fulham displayed the football that has driven so many of their supporters nuts this season. Each possession featured multiple sideways and backwards passing until, eventually, the ball was surrendered to the team in white. It’s hard to moan about these losses of possession. If your [apparent] game plan is to get from your penalty area to the opponent’s penalty area in no fewer than 27 passes, chances are at least one will go awry. And so it was that Steve Sidwell took Fulham’s first shot in the 41st minute, and arced it a good 40 yards above the crossbar.

While Fulham’s “attack” was sputtering along going nowhere, their defense looked solid almost from the start. Spurs decided to rest Defoe and Lennon – who had niggling injuries – and persist with Adebayor up front despite season-long indifferent form. Bale looked a bit the worse for wear after a challenge, and Assou-Ekotto looked more than out of place in midfield. Dembélé was excellent, but the pieces that made up the Spurs XI didn’t seem to fit. Much of this was down to the consistency of Fulham’s defense. After twice conceding possession in dangerous positions within the first 70 seconds – Karagounis and Riise the culprits – Fulham’s back four settled down well, and were mightily assisted by Karagounis and Sidwell.

It didn’t take the White Hart Lane faithful long to express their frustration. EVERY Spurs pass that went sideways or backwards was greeted by growls of disapproval. I have to wonder how they’d like watching Fulham every week. They’d all be hoarse inside 30 minutes.

The second half looked like more of the same until the always-dangerous Ashkan Dejagah won possession in his own half, managed to slip past Dembélé and then feed Sascha Riether wide on the right. From deep midfield, Dimitar Berbatov streaked upfield with pace I didn’t know he possessed. Cross, calm conversion, and 0-1. Our 3rd shot in the match was our 1st shot on goal and a goal – all in minute 52. Not too shabby. For the next 20 or so minutes, Fulham dominated the pitch. Far from being gored into fighting back, Tottenham had their hands full keeping Fulham from a second. Hangeland, playing on the left wing [!] won a corner and then was presented with a clear header with half the goal to aim at. Somehow, he put it wide, and increased the acid content in my stomach exponentially.

How much were Fulham in charge? Clint Dempsey, who was subbed on at half time – first affected the play guarding Senderos in a succession of Fulham corners about 15 minutes later. Adebayor, despite working very hard, was mastered all day by his man-marker Philippe Senderos. Riether and Riise were tidy on the wings and Hangeland took care of everything else from his goal line to the center circle.

Tottenham did make some inroads, most especially when Jermain Defoe came on after the hour mark, but one brilliant Mark Schwarzer save aside, everything Defoe, Dempsey, Adebayor, and Bale threw at Fulham was meat and drink for an extremely well-organized and disciplined defense. I’ve seen Spurs play many times this season, and I’ve never seen them create so few clear chances.

Do I have quibbles about today’s performance? Of course. It is beginning to appear as if Karagounis actually came to us from the Royal Shakespeare Company. I haven’t witnessed such serial anguish since I saw King Lear. But mostly, I think there’s some kudos to pass along. Dejagah, who can be forgiven for not getting Fulham’s second late in the match, was a massive pain in the ass for everyone in white today. Riether was excellent. Duff did a fine job – especially in defense – and Schwarzer’s late save from Defoe was amazing when you consider how little he had been called upon to do.

HatterDon’s Man of the Match is Philippe Senderos. Part of this award is in recognition of dozens of cool and efficient decisions he made in his own penalty area in pressure situations. Part is in recognition of him marking Adebayor out of the match. And, of course, part is to piss off the huge cohort of Senderos haters who, each week, have less and less reason to despise him so.

Great result today and, given today’s other outcomes, we just might be clean and clear. Well done the lads and, if nobody gets hurt during the international break, it might be fun against QPR in a fortnight’s time.

COYW

Derek Boateng and Giorgos Karagounis to restore familiar midfield partnership?

The backbone of Roy Hodgson‘s Fulham team was its balance between the midfield and defence. First of all you had Brede Hangeland and Aaron Hughes; any weaknesses they had were made up by the other’s strengths. Then you had the underrated duo of Danny Murphy, the captain, and Dickson Etuhu. The midfield was pivotal in Fulham being able to stand up to some of the best teams in European Football: Shakhtar Donetsk, Juventus, Hamburg and Wolfsburg, all succumbed to the partnership consisting of two aging Premier League underachievers who, simply, complimented each other perfectly. Fast-forward a few years and the Cottagers find themselves struggling to rebuild their midfield after the unfortunate departures of former skipper, Murphy, the fantastic Moussa Dembélé and the once hero, Clint Dempsey.

When Mahamadou Diarra signed for Fulham in February last year, Martin Jol essentially had a £24 million player at his disposal. With the aforementioned Moussa Dembélé being deployed in a deeper, central midfield role, there was a new partnership in the making. Both of them were strong, quick, very good on the ball and excellent defensively. Dembélé would maraud forward, linking midfield to attack, while Diarra would act as the more conservative member of the two, opting to break up opposition midfield play. Due to Diarra’s prolific injury absences and, of course, Dembélé’s £15 million exit to Spurs, yet another combination had gone down the pan. Manager Martin Jol has experimented with many different alternatives so far this campaign. Baird & Sidwell, Sidwell & Baird, Diarra & Sidwell and Sidwell & Karagounis have all been tried and tested; the latter being the most successful due to the refreshing influence of Giorgos Karagounis.

Many football fans would’ve looked at the Bosman transfer of the Greek as an unimaginative signing; inadequate compensation for not bringing in midfield replacements in the summer. Ten appearances into his Fulham career and the former Panathinaikos man has impressed with his boundless energy and passion for the team. His performances make you wonder why he didn’t come to the Premier League sooner.  Similar to Carlos Tevez, he doesn’t let his size or physique get in the way, using his tenacious streak to make the middle of the pitch his own. He offers something Fulham have been lacking over the past four or five months: the ability to pass effectively in a number of different ways. Chris Baird showed signs of being able to fill the ‘creative midfielder’ void but has tailed off in recent weeks; showing his ineptness when being pressed by a more clued-up side. West Brom, early season, gave Baird all the time and space in the world and because of that, it looked as if Xavi Hernández had secretly slipped on a Fulham shirt.

Derek Boateng looks set to seal a £2 million deal to West London from Ukrainian outfit, Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk. After the Ghanaian returns from African Cup of Nations duty, there may be a return of a midfield play style reminiscent to Fulham’s most successful years. The combination of Danny Murphy and Dickson Etuhu was the ideal blend of playmaker and powerhouse. Murphy had all the tools to unlock a defence with his inch-perfect passing and incredible vision. His one downside was his lack of athleticism. Similar to how Hughes and Hangeland combined, Etuhu made up for that flaw. Being a 400 metre runner in his youth, the Nigerian could run and he could carry on running for as long as he wanted. His job was to do all the unattractive donkey work that Murphy was, perhaps, not capable of doing. It was often difficult to tell the difference between Etuhu and a bulldozer when he was in full flow; uncompromising in the tackle and not afraid to put his opponent in their place early on in a match. He, like Murphy, had his own drawbacks: his distribution. Although his role involved getting the ball and giving it to the nearest creative player, his passing really wasn’t on other players’ level.

The potential collaboration of Boateng and Karagounis (or the Greek and the Ghanaian?) is as close as you can get to the Europa League Final central midfield partnership. Karagounis can do his own running and Boateng will instil some bite back into the Fulham team. There’s little doubt over is physical presence, but whether he’ll be able to make the huge leap from Ukrainian football to the Premier League is not yet clear.

The View From South Texas — Liverpool v. Fulham FC

by HatterDon

Historic Victory for Fulham At Uninspired Liverpool

Ho-hum, yet another double by the Mighty Whites.

There’s a point to be made that Liverpool purposely fielded a weakened XI against Fulham Tuesday evening, since they have the FA Cup Final on Saturday. And Ian Darke made that very point 273 times during the 90+ minutes of his “commentating.” I’m sure there will be plenty of press decrying Liverpool’s makeshift side, and using this fact to denigrate Fulham’s victory. Truth be told, there was only one side showing any creativity out there and that was Fulham. Despite fielding Kuyt, Carroll, and Maxi, the three most creative players on the pitch were Dembélé, Dempsey, and Kacankifrei. Ably assisted by Danny Murphy who pulled the strings masterfully, Fulham basically played without being under sustained pressure for a moment. And the result? The fact that despite the typical crowd size, the “few Fulham supporters who bothered to make the trip” [this quote again from Darke] could be heard clearly. I especially loved the “Take Me Home, Al Fayed” and Moussa’s song.

Fulham fielded three ex-Reds, with Special K joining Riise and Murphy in the lineup. The young left winger looked very dangerous early on, and it was a neat combination play between him and Dempsey that resulted in the goal. Dempsey put Special K through and, with Pogrebnyak pressuring Liverpool’s defense, Martin Skrtel put into his own net off his shoulder. And that was pretty much that. Liverpool fired off a raft of shots, but the majority of them hit everything nowhere near Mark Schwarzer’s goal. They nearly scored after an unusual gaffe by the Fulham keeper, but Jonjo Shelvey’s weak shot was cleared off the line by the excellent Brede Hangeland.

Liverpool’s most threatening shot on goal came from the forehead of Andy Carroll, but Tha Big Aussie had little trouble with it. Most of the evening the local “faithful” groaned as pass after pass was misdirected. Initially, most of the interceptions came from and active alert defending up and down the pitch. In the end, though, Fulham scarcely had to move to gain possession as Liverpool players – out of original ideas – passed across the pitch to a wide open Fulham player time after time.

Fulham might have scored twice more. Dempsey set up Frei, who came on for Kacaniklic, and the youngster hammered a fierce shot that threatened to shatter Doni’s right hand post. Later, some brilliant close control by Moussa Dembélé put Dempsey through, but the Texan’s curler was met with a brilliant piece of goalkeeping by Doni. Skrtel attempted to screw up a back pass to his keeper and, possibly, open up yet another opportunity for Dempsey, but there was barely a foot between the two Liverpool players, and Clint was lucky to be able to put a boot on it.

How did Fulham look? Composed, controlled, a bit disjointed when the passing came to Pogrebnyak (The Russian received a pass from a teammate and passed it to another teammate in the 73rd minute. This was, to my knowledge, the only time this sequence occurred). Kacaniklic started off brightly and troubled the right side of Liverpool’s defense for about 15 minutes, but Liverpool’s Kelly soon figured him out and his contribution was reduced to dribbling too long and giving up possession. He is DEFINITELY a prospect. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make the left wing position his by Christmas. Frei was a good substitute for Special K, and his pace and quick movement was also troubling. But after his wood-work adventure, Frei became less and less vital to the attack. He was, however, brilliant in defending Downing who came in to cause some threat from the Red right wing. Dembélé left with a knock, as did Pogrebnyak, but the Belgian should be giving several Liverpool players nightmares as he ran and juked through their side with the ball seemingly velcroed to his boot.

Fulham’s defense was very good. Except for a near suicidal 5 minutes from Aaron Hughes in the second half, the Liverpool attack didn’t trouble them much. The most enjoyable matchup was the Carroll v. Hangeland affair. The Houston-born Norwegian won most of the 50-50s, but Carroll was a creditable presence up front.

The best player on the pitch tonight was Clint Dempsey. The enigmatic Texan helped create both our goal and Frei’s near second. He also had a good shot beaten away by a superior goalkeeping effort.

HatterDon’s Man of the Match is Clinton Morrison Dempsey. A close second is Alexim Kacankifrei.

And so we have matched our points total from last season, and, with two matches left we’ve put three points between us and West Bromwich Albion. We’re equal on points with Liverpool, albeit 6 down in goal difference. We could pass them, though, as they have a couple of tough matches to come after their FA Cup Final against Chelsea. We’ll see.

On to Sunderland at the Cottage. COYW

 

The View from South Texas — Bolton Wanderers v. Fulham FC

by HatterDon

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