Tag Archives: McCormack

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!

The View From South Texas – Ipswich Town FC v. Fulham FC

Suffolk Shakedown Cruise

No fewer than eight Fulham players made their first-team debut today at Portman Road as Fulham played their first match in the second tier of English football for 13years. With so many new players playing in a new league with a fairly new manager, it was to be expected that there would be some rough spots in Fulham’s first competitive match.

And there were.

With Burgess and Parker appearing to be responsible for supporting the defense, and David and Hyndman setting up as the attacking portion of the midfield, it was clear that only one pairing was working as planned. David looked especially lively early on, playing with confidence and no little style. Hyndman looked competent and made good use of space to keep himself open. Having said that, it was the connection with Parker/Burgess and the new CB pairing of Budurov and Hutchinson that never quite clicked over the 90 minutes.

Although he was to be faulted for neither of Ipswich’s goals, Young Keeper Joronen looked well out of his league. He made a very classy save early on, but he was woefully hesitant in his area and demonstrated the worst distribution I have seen from a Fulham keeper in a very long time. A lot of this is, of course, inexperience. It was his first-team Fulham debut, and his first match at this high level period. Inexperience can be overcome and confidence will make him more in charge of his area, but his most glaring inadequacy may take many years to correct: He is completely one-footed. With modern goalkeeprs acting as sweepers, he’s outmatched. Several times his kicks went directly into touch because he was in no position to use his left foot, and he has neither capability within or confidence in his right. This is troublesome.

As a matter of fact, the times when I was most concerned during the match was when the ball was at the feet of Joronen, Hutchinson, or Budurov.

McCormack started today and was the first player subbed off. The television guy [and how nice to have only ONE voice in the box again] seemed to think that it was due to his ineffectiveness. I disagree. I think it was due to his lack of pre-season pitch time. I generally liked what I saw from him. As for his strike partner, I’m willing to bet that Moussa Dembele has never had a less effective 90 minutes on a pitch in his life. He couldn’t keep possesion, couldn’t turn, couldn’t find a teammate, and – most problematical for the near future – couldn’t bring either his strength or quickness to bear on Ipswich’s defense.

The match turned around when young Mr. Roberts came on. The ENTIRE TEAM went into attack mode and the Tractor Boys found themselves on their back heels for the rest of the match. Some will be shouting “ROBERTS MUST START NEXT WEEKEND,” but again I disagree. He’s 17, and I think we’ll be seeing him in the role we saw him in today for a few more months.

Of the new boys, the one who impressed me most was Stafylidis. Fulham might actually have a left back that can attack and defend. Also handy was his RB partner Hoogland, although not so much on the defensive end.

So, Fulham opened the season with a defeat, and it took 75 minutes to get hold of the match. It’s early days, though. Here’s what I’m hoping that Felix noted today.
1. Fulham have to take control of the match. By my count, the very first corner – and the first set piece of the match came in the 77th minute. This will not do.
2. Fulham have to realize that the Championship is the Land of the Giants. Hoofing the ball upfield from defense to moderately tall strikers is not going to work. Fulham have an advantage in ball skills, quickness, and fitness. The quick on-the-ground movement we saw after the Roberts substitution should be our prime mode.

HatterDon’s Man of the Match? Well, I was ready to give it to David after the first half, but there was that substitution. So, instead, it goes to Patrick Roberts, and may it be the first of many.