Tag Archives: Jazz Richards

The View From South Texas — Charlton Athletic v. Fulham FC

Victory at the Valley Averted!

Fulham somehow managed to take a match that they were dominating AFTER taking a two-goal lead in the second half and having its supporters greet the final whistle with the distinct feeling that The Whites had stolen a point. A point on the road is always good to have, and who would have been disappointed a month ago with the prospect of sharing the spoils with Charlton Athletic. But the Charlton side that Fulham faced early Sunday morning [0600 South Texas sub-Standard Time] was not the side who opened the Championship campaign with four wins on the trot. They were there ready to be taken, and taken they really should have been.

The first thing that struck me about the match was the sight of bright sunlight on the VERY quick pitch. My only visit to the valley was on a very murky day – it must have been in November – about 40 or so years ago. All I remember was the tallest single stand I’d ever seen, and thinking that everything looked like an old black and white movie. The stand is gone, and if you’d shown me several photos of the new Valley ground, I’d not have recognized anything. One thing from the old days has survived, however, and that’s the size of their pitch. I don’t know if there’s a more expansive one in the Football League.

Charlton’s manager has obviously built his side to take advantage of the spaces. With the pitch slick and alive, Charlton showed early on that their plan was to shoot long passes into open space beyond the final four for speedsters to run on. The match was barely a minute old when such a pass resulted in a Charlton shot going just wide. There followed several other forays, with Fulham’s back four called into action each time.

After the first ten minutes or so, the match turned into a more even affair, and by the half hour, Fulham looked the more dangerous of the two sides. A free kick awarded at least 40 yards from goal was taken by Ross McCormack on the 32nd minute. Despite the distance, he hammered a laser shot directly at Pope who was minding the Athletic goal. It skipped off the turf and Pope pushed it toward the penalty spot. In sped Ryan Tunnicliffe to tuck it away and it was 1-0. There followed several opportunities to extend the lead but hesitancy and clumsiness foiled Christensen and Dembele and the half ended 0-1.

The half time talk certainly dealt with shutting down Athletic’s only attacking weapon, because Fulham’s front line concentrated on closing down their opponents each time they lost the ball. The quick long pass out of defense was just a memory and, for the first 40 minutes of the second half, Fulham bossed the pitch. Ross McCormack’s remarkable goalscoring run continued when Ryan Tunnicliffe found him at the top of the penalty area in the 59th minute. Turn, strike, goal. 0-2.

And that should have been that. Kit Symons obviously thought so, because almost immediately after that goal he pulled off the ineffective Pringle and replaced him with Luke Garbutt – finally fit enough to make the game day squad. This wasn’t a defensive move, either. Garbutt took to Pringle’s wingback role with relish. He looks as if he may well be completely recovered. On the 75th minute, Cauley Woodrow came on for the very frustrated Moussa Dembele. Once again, the French teenager showed spirit, strength, pace, and discipline, but couldn’t convert any of those into either a goal or an assist. Woodrow does what Woodrow does when he comes on late in the match – he bustled about, ran his socks off, had a couple of very good shots go just wide.

And then the roof fell in. One minute after Johnny Jackson came on as a sub, he found himself completely unmarked on a corner – hauntingly familiar, ain’t it – and Charlton had pulled one back. More than that, however, the goal woke up the home supporters and the supporters woke up the players. From this point on, everyone supporting the Whites were looking at the clock and trying to make it go faster. Because of the two goals and the full complement of six substitutes, Referee Linington called for four minutes of stoppage time.  After on-pitch treatment for Jazz Richards after he had cleared another goal threat, four minute expanded to six. With Athletic now hammering the Fulham goal – really for the only time in the match – the equalizer came from Cousins in the FIFTH minute of the 90th.

Gut punch city. I find it hard to fault Fulham’s game plan or the players execution of it for the defeat … er draw. Rather, it was the fact that the lead had five or six good chances to expand further before Jackson came onto the pitch. So in control were Fulham that the score should have been at least 0-4 by the time he arrived. The two Athletic goals were well taken – especially the equalizer – and they were really the only serious incursions into Fulham’s penalty area. Some times you plan well, you adjust well, you play well, and you still feel – well, like you stole a point from a match that you dominated for 80 minutes.

Individually? Well, I’m wondering who will be our left back when we play next. With the international break coming up, there’ll be plenty of time for Garbutt to be ready to play 90. Both showed attacking intent and defended well when called for. Tunnicliffe had an interesting stint – a goal, an assist, and the feeling that he wasn’t really into the match. The biggest disappointment for me was Christensen. LVC has two more matches to make a case for him to stay in the starting XI when Cairney comes back. He certainly did NOT make that case today.

HatterDon’s Man of the Match – well, it really has to be Ross McCormack. He was all over the pitch and Charlton’s defense never had an answer to him. There’s a special mention for Jamie O’Hara. When he left the pitch in the 90th, it was obvious he had given ever ounce and every sinew for the team. I hope he got some oxygen.

Oh, and well done the travelers. I think I heard every song you guys ever sung – loud, proud, and clear all the way over here in the People’s Republic. That, as much as anything else, made getting up early worth it.

The View From South Texas — FFC v. QPR

Sometimes, everything you try works

Fulham renewed their rivalry with their near neighbors Friday evening before what must have been the largest crowd since the hosts left the Premier League. Manager Kit Symons had been saying that once the new boys got their feet under them, the football at Craven Cottage would be something to see. And so it turned out to be.

Fulham put out what looks to be their default lineup – until James Husband’s loan expires anyhow – with the exception of Ryan Fredericks who replaced the injured Jazz Richards. The way the speedy number 7 patrolled the right touchline, it may be hard to get him off the pitch.

Fulham began the match by knocking the ball about comfortably. There was a lot of one touch stuff on display, with O’Hara and Tunnicliffe especially catching the eye with their accurate long passes. The first goal came just at the end of the 2nd minute when QPR’s Angella calmly watched Moussa Dembele rise alone to nod home his second goal of the season. After a dazzling display of quick, short passes, Ben Pringle found himself free just inside the penalty area and zipped home the second on the 16th minute. Ross McCormack put the match away just after the half-hour to make it 3-0. At this point, Fulham’s defense had been troubled only once.

QPR are a very good side, but they didn’t look like it Friday night. Their defense looked a step slow and the Hoops pretty much lost every challenge on each touch line. It was for this reason that Jamie Mackie replaced Chary on the 35th minute. Mackie is a bit of a bruiser, and I guess the idea was to unsettle Husband and make him less effective. There was a little bit of effort to get back into the game, but the half ended to a chorus of boos from the large QPR contingent who had grown somewhat restive hearing their near rivals chanting “Why are you still here?”

It was a complete surprise when the second half began without Mackie. What he could have done in his ten minutes of activity to upset his manager is a mystery to me. On came Leroy Fer, back from injury, and – as expected – QPR began play by trying to overwhelm their hosts. A funny thing happened, though. Fulham reacted to QPR’s attacks by pressuring Rangers all over the pitch. Fulham looked especially lethal on the break, and it was from one of these counters that McCormack scored the fourth and final goal.

Fulham has been a team of one half pretty much all season, but this was not the case tonight. Every time QPR tried to get back into the game, they found themselves under attack. Who was threatening them? Tunnicliffe … and O’Hara … and Pringle … and Husband … and Fredericks … and Dembele. Not only did QPR never look like cutting the deficit, more clinical finishing by Dembele, Husband, and substitutes LVC and Woodrow could have eclipsed our famous 6-0 thrashing of the R’s back in the Premier League.

Yes, everything worked. I didn’t see anyone to fault for anything, although I’m sure that there will be those that will. The thing is that Fulham showed themselves to be a sharp passing side – short, medium, long – with an eye for attack and the ability to repel counters. In Tim Ream, we may have found the reincarnation of Aron Hughes – the calm, economical, dependable, and elegant support for his #5. When some began calling Jamie O’Hara the new Danny Murphy earlier in the season, I was hesitant to agree, but today he and Tunnicliffe showed steel and creativity in the center of the midfield. Fredericks is crazy good out there. I’ve always valued right backs, and when they are tough in the tackle, and are possessed of blazing speed, then they are especially precious. And Moussa Dembele showed everything you want in a striker in this league. He was both quick and fast, was strong, ran the channels well, set up his teammates, and wasn’t afraid to take a shot or two. His distribution was a bit lacking, but I forgive him that because he tied Onuoha and Henry into knots all match long.

For me, the only thing that didn’t work was my DVR. Although I was promised a recording that lasted 2 hours and 5 minutes, it actually was 1 hour and 50 minutes. Anything that happened after the 85th minute remains a mystery to me.

HatterDon’s Man of the Match decision is a toughie. I narrowed it down to one from Tunnicliffe, O’Hara, McCormack, Pringle, Husband, and Dembele and then I remembered what I used to do on those rare occasions when a Fulham XI dominated all over the pitch while executing a cohesive and coherent game plan. So, a tip of the FFC South Texas sombrero to MotM Kit Symons. Well done Kit and well done all the lads.

The View from South Texas — Fulham v. Blackburn Rovers

by HatterDon

Another Weekend, Another Mixed Bag

For most of the first half, I told myself that if today’s lineup was Fulham’s default starting XI for the rest of the season, I’d be happy with it. Fulham started brightly, striking deep and quick into Blackburn’s unsettled defense with a great example of – dare I say it – direct, long-ball strikes. With Cairney and Pringle playing as out-and-out wingers and with McCormack and Dembele an actual strike pair, quick counters looked to be on all day. When O’Hara and Tunnicliffe got into the mix with excellent short passing, Fulham looked to be a very good side indeed.

And so it was as early as the 4th minute, when Dembele shook off his defender a few yards into the Rovers’ half and headed straight for the goal line. A quick stop and a blind pass to his left was all it took for Fulham’s captain to be one-on-one with Blackburn’s keeper. Ross doesn’t miss these and it was 1-0. From then on throughout most of the first half, Fulham treated the crowd with a great exhibition of passing – short, long, diagonal, flicks, the lot. Especially noteworthy were Jazz Richards’ cross-field inch-perfect arcing deliveries to Ben Pringle. During this portion of the first half, Tunnicliffe gave a great demonstration of the art of box-to-box midfield play.

On the 30th minute, Fulham got the goal they deserved. McCormack was the recipient of another delivery on the left wing and provided a cross that Tom Cairney fired on. It was then deflected to Tunnicliffe who blistered the palms of the very busy Steele. The rebound fell to Dembele who made no mistake burying the ball into the roof of the net for his first Championship goal.

At this point, Fulham could have run rampant, and a third goal didn’t seem out of the question, but some profligate passes and hesitancy in front of goal deprived them of the goal that could have ended the contest before half-time. Most notable was another gorgeous McCormack cross – this time from the right wing – that Dembele met almost on the goal-line. All it needed was a gentle flick, and that’s exactly what Dembele gave it. Unfortunately, it turned out to be too gentle and the result was nothing but hand wringing and disbelief.

It was also at this point that the Rovers began to play. And a funny thing happened on the way to a clean sheet: Blackburn Rovers are NOT a bottom-three team. A series of blistering attacks from both wings resulted in Andy Lonergan being called upon to make some very nice saves and clearances. Still, on the half-time whistle, Fulham were very much in charge.

The second half was, of course, a totally different slice of sausage. It wasn’t so much that Fulham came out hesitant and over-protective of their lead; it was more that Rovers made a tactical substitution that irrevocably turned the match around. Off came the speedy, but serially disappointing Nathan Delfouneso to be replaced by Bengaly Fode-Koita. From that point on, Rovers got more physical. I’m not saying that they played dirty or even negative. Far from it. I’m saying that they made it clear that every Fulham possession was going to be robustly challenged, and each Rovers possession was going to result in an assault on Lonergan’s goal.

This change showed me a lot about Gary Bowyer, Rovers coach. Going from quickness to strength was exactly what was needed on the day. Fulham was always going to “out-football” Rovers, but had little chance in beating them in commitment. Blackburn has a lot of tall, strong defenders and midfielders, and Jordan Rhodes is no Andy Johnson either. Throughout the second half they kept the ball in the air and won almost every challenge. They were very effective at dead-ball situations, not because Fulham defended them poorly, but because they were able to deliver consistently into an area where an aerial contest would result in their favor. And so, for most of the half, they hammered Fulham. Jordan Rhodes had the devil’s own luck, hitting the post more often than a half-drunk corgi. When James Husband was adjudged to have taken him down in the six-yard box, I was doubtful. The replays confirmed what I should have realized all along: only a foul was going to keep Rhodes from heading in that cross.

Once Rhodes converted the penalty, the game got to be lots of fun. Dembele finally demonstrated the fine art of meshing pace and strength, winning several one-on-one battles and nearly tacking on another goal. At the other end, yet another goal-mouth scramble that featured woodwork contact ended when O’Hara provided what television replays showed to be an ACROSS the goal-line clearance. The battle continued until the final whistle – which I actually got to see since I got up at 0600 to watch it live. Had I slept in and watched the recording, I’d have missed the last four or five minutes of activity.

And so Fulham won and moved to 11th in the league table. The new boys were blooded and the fans went home happy – I’m assuming. The Blackburn following must be even more convinced than ever that they don’t deserve their current league position. They are very good in all aspects of the game and, in Rhodes, have a game-changer deluxe.

Fulham? We’ll we’re significantly better than we were at any point last season, and I like our attack more than I have since Jol screwed it up. We played wide, the fullbacks got into the attack, we had two goal poachers up front and O’Hara and Tunnicliffe marshaled the middle nicely. Stearman and Ream looked sound, and Jazz Richards was marvelous all day long. What was disturbing was Mr Hyde replacing Dr. Jekyll in goal about 55 minutes in. Twice Lonergan hit a hard pass upfield directly to a Rovers player, the last time hitting Rhodes in the back so hard that the rebound went into the stand. It could have easily bulged the back of the net. He also punched a clearance directly to Koita which really should have led to a goal.

Over all, though, I am still upbeat about the future. If these guys can play this well in such a short time together, the future looks good for me.

HatterDon’s Man of the Match: Well, with all due respect to Dembele, Cairney, Richards, and McCormack, I’m giving the award to Richard Stearman. He played a quality center half all match and, when we looked as if we were going to be out-muscled in the second half, he was a rock out there. One thing is for sure, if I’m in a crowd and it all kicks off, I was Stearman to be on my side. Welcome to Craven Cottage, Richard!