Are Referees Getting Worse? The State of Officiating and Lawmakers Impending Existential Crisis

Monday’s announcement that Fulham were to be charged by the FA for failing to control their players in the recent Leeds United fixture is the straw that has broken my proverbial camel’s back when it comes to officiating.

There has been a fairly unilateral feeling that refereeing standards have been going down over the past few seasons, an opinion that has only been enhanced in Fulham fandom by the regular lower calibre of decision we’ve seen during our inaugural foray into the Championship.

However, I don’t take criticising officials in print lightly. Yes between 3pm and 5pm on a Saturday afternoon we are all automatically pre-disposed to blame them but let’s face it, they have a difficult job, and a vital one at that. They are the last line of protection for players’ safety and often hold the key to keeping a game entertaining, but in the career of a referee or assistant you mostly either face criticism or anonymity.

Yet there is a time and a place to speak up and the quality of officiating in this country needs to be addressed. This is not simply a biased spectator looking for an excuse to pardon his own team’s inefficiencies. Referee’s don’t have Fulham fighting a second successive relegation, but they do play a part in every game and the evening out of decisions for and against you over the course of a season is no reason to gloss over the underlying issue.

However, to start with, let’s be a little biased and look at the aforementioned Leeds game. Kostas Stafylidis gets booked for dissent after launching a verbal tirade against the assistant referee after he gave a throw in against the Fulham defender. The decision to give Leeds a throw in was a wrong one, and having just gone two goals down, Kostas took out his frustrations on the hapless official. A yellow card was probably fair, officials don’t need berating, even if they have made a boo boo. Twenty seconds later, Stafylidis rather idiotically decides to foul a Leeds player directly in front of the same assistant referee (and the Leeds fans). The referee gives him the old “calm down” motion and sets off towards the box ready to oversee the resultant free kick. However, his assistant has other ideas. The Leeds fans (of which there are some 6,000) reign down from the Putney End with a cascade of “off off off” chants and the assistant tells his referee to send off Stafylidis. Seeing this change of scenario unfold, several Fulham players (Captain Scott Parker and Vice Captain Ross McCormack included) charge towards the referee, incensed that their match has just been effectively ended with Stafylidis’ sending off. These are the facts [Imagine that said in the voice of Rafa Benitez and you’ll get where I’m going].

Why did the Fulham players (and the entire stadium) react with such anger? Well, the appearance was that the assistant referee either sent off Stafylidis because he was still upset about the earlier dissent, or because the Leeds fans encouraged him to do so. Or both. Yes, Stafylidis was a first rate hothead and shouldn’t have put himself in that scenario, but the entire situation came about from what was frankly poor officiating by the linesman in the first place. This was a linesman that was consistently yards behind the play (but we’ll get to fitness later).

Fast forward to later in the game and Ross McCormack gets taken out from behind, leading directly to a knee injury that has seen him have to withdraw from the Scotland squad after a hard earned recall. Was the relevant Leeds player sent off? Or even booked? No. Of course not. What was that about player protection?

The frequency of refereeing howlers is on the face of it alarmingly high. This last weekend we even had not one, but two wrong man sending off incidents across the Football League where Cauley Woodrow was dismissed wrongly against Huddersfield and West Brom’s Craig Dawson managed to hide from the referee for long enough after bringing down Manchester City’s Wilfried Bony that Gareth McAuley was sent off instead. However, there has been a magna carta-full of refereeing blunders this season and these were just the latest.

So why is this?

Well, a few weeks ago top flight referee Lee Propert delivered a lecture at the University of Bath entitled “The Demands of a Modern Referee and Why Angles are so Important”. What Mr Probert said was both revealing and highly unsatisfactory and points to an increase in difficulty and a resultant drop in standards and a high level of deniability.

Firstly a caveat, it was Probert who sent off Brede Hangeland v Sunderland in 2012 thus commencing the downward spiral that Fulham are still in, so my opinion of him is reasonably low, however what I write here is a direct report of what he himself said in that lecture at the University of Bath.

There were two main strands of the debate on standards that came out of his discussion; fitness and the media.

Firstly, Mr Probert described how up to about 2012, Premierleague referees had made an enormous effort to get themselves on the same level of fitness as the players. Indeed some of the fitness tests referees have to pass would make Olympic hopefuls blush. However, he said there was an overriding feeling amongst officials that players had since got fitter at a rate referees simply could not match. This means that for a referee to be in the right place and the right time to make the right decision is harder than it ever has been before as the game, and the players, are always getting faster. This is a legitimate explanation for an apparent drop in standards. The game is becoming simply too fast for the referees to catch up.

The second, and far more unsatisfactory point, is that referees are mindful of the media. Probert said referees don’t want to be the story, therefore there is a tendency to shy away from big decisions if they think they might be scrutinised. The more worrying aspect of this is that he said referees know decisions involving (and against) the big teams will inevitably generate more controversy and therefore coverage and therefore they are less likely to take them. The sum of that statement being that referees really do favour the big teams.

Probert gave an example of when another referee, Mike Dean, sent off Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany in a game against Arsenal back in 2013. The incident in question involved the Manchester City defender being shown a straight red card for a 50/50 tackle against Jack Wilshere. Probert’s explanation was that the Arsenal man should also have been sent off as both tackles were red card offenses. Why did only one man get sent off? To avoid the controversy as a double sending off would have made the referee the story. Interestingly, Kompany’s red card was actually overturned, something that went undiscussed.

However, Probert’s comments serve merely to reinforce the opinion that refereeing is suffering a bit of a crisis at the moment. With video technology not being utilised referees simply cannot achieve the ultimate levels of performance that their colleagues in other sports can. Without the quality of performance, they will not command the respect they crave and for the most part deserve. It is hard to talk about referees without using rugby union as an example, but watching Nigel Owens, the welsh referee, summarily end a conversation with the England Captain Chris Robshaw during last weekend’s Six Nations encounter between England and France with a simple, “Christopher, that’s enough” and the player responding with an even simpler “Yes sir”, it is hard to think that there is a long way for football to go.

What is the answer? Video technology is certainly the most obvious way to start, but football also needs to not be afraid of adapting and clarifying the rules themselves. Lawmakers need to ask themselves some questions. What are the purpose of the rules and what are the purpose of referees? Are referees set to be at the middle of football’s existential crisis? Of course not, this is football, we don’t worry about such things.

Reflections on Relegation

Writing the article that has been in my head for the last eight months is proving quite difficult. After a season of consistent and ever more discombobulating failure the appropriate way to sum it all up has somewhat escaped my grasp. Instead I will tell my story from last Saturday.

Unable to be at the Britannia Stadium for our capitulation to Mark Hughes’ annoyingly not awful Stoke side, news of our insipid performance (apt given the trend of our season) percolated through to me 900 miles away on the streets of Nice in south west France.

In the company of 12 of my best friends in the world, I had spent the better part of Saturday afternoon watching Toulon play Stade Francais in Top 14 rugby action as the centrepiece of my own stag weekend at OGC Nice’s spectacular new stadium the Allianz Riviera [built in preparation for France 2016]. The fervent atmosphere aside, the match was notable for the palpations suffered by one of my groomsmen, a Birmingham City supporter who heard his team go 2-0 down to Bolton only to then survive in the Championship against all odds via a 93rd minute equaliser.

As news of his relief swept through our party, the grim reality of Fulham’s impending doom crept up on me. Fortunately there was enough distraction from events in Staffordshire in the short term.

Once the match was over and we began our passage back to Nice city centre, phones were checked with the benefit of restored 3G service and the news was not good. The searing high of the afternoon’s erstwhile action we had witnessed ourselves was slowly making way to a gathering darkness.

As the journey wore on news took a turn for the worse. Sunderland were winning at Old Trafford while Stoke were enjoying themselves to an ever increasing degree. As we disembarked our bus, news of Sunderland remained silent. They must still hold the lead against Manchester United. Worse still Fulham were at it again playing their prized role as a meek cat rolling over and accepting defeat, goal after goal serving nothing but to provide emphasis to the full stop on our Premier League career.

Finally, in the shadow of deserted French streets, twitter refreshed for that final time. Fulham were relegated. For the first time ever we had to say goodbye to the Premier League.

At this point I was hit with a wave of sadness. The melancholy of reality hit me. A silent hug from a friend and nod of genuine remorse from another. This is not a feeling anyone wants to have, and not something one wishes on his friends.

At this point practicality set in, we crossed the street into a handily located Carrefour convenience store, bought a bag of chocolate chip brioche, and used baked goods as a way to eat away my sadness.

After a few pity-laden bites a fresh emotion washed over me. And then another. And another. Relief, excitement, intrigue. At last a year of discontent and endless worrying what if was over. Where there had been false hope or no hope there was now something. If not hope itself, there was a new feeling of possibility. The condemnation of relegation finally released the shackles of negativity that have entombed the rhetoric of this season. Exaltation for the future set itself upon me.

If there was any place I’d have wanted to be when Fulham were relegated, it would have been surrounded by my friends (knowledgeable football fans in their own right) in a place full of ample distraction. There is great honour in being one of the near 3,000 who travelled to Stoke and those fans deserve respect and thanks, but that feeling of hopelessness as our team give them no reason to believe must have been awful. We all deserved more from this Fulham team, but they deserve medals. Many of those at the Britannia will have also been at our 6-0 loss to Hull.

The performances of this team have not instilled any pride or honour, instead that feeling in the pit of the stomach has become an overwhelming desire for the ground to swallow you whole. Tell me the Championship might not be a better experience as long as we don’t get worse.

Spending the days following our relegation discussing Fulham’s downfall ad infinitum was catharsis in action. There is plenty to still smile about as a Fulham fan. Only by smashing all the bricks to the floor can you see which ones you need to rebuild. Our house is now at that point where the bricks must fall and only those that will build us back stronger can remain.

There is time to hypothesise what that might mean in practice. For whom should the metaphorical axeman cometh? After a year of attempting to mask the catalogue of problems with haphazard incremental manoeuvres, Fulham must embolden real change both on and off the field. For now though, we can look at next season as a new horizon. We have an academy glowing with praise and littered with talent. Whilst it may take until a cold midweek night in Huddersfield for the grim reality of relegation to really settle in, I for one am genuinely delighted to have my season ticket already renewed. Craven Cottage may even become a fortress again.

Of course there are no guarantees in the Championship save for the fact that we will be the prized horse with a target strapped to our backs. Football is a game of what have you done for me lately. When we visit the likes of Leeds, Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Wednesday next season it won’t matter who’s trophy room has what in it. We must play our role as the Premiership club in temporary exile, it would be all too easy to become the Football League club that lives in the past.

Hopefully though, brick by brick, Fulham will be rebuilt stronger than ever. With our house soon to be cleaned and our prized future stars let loose on the Football League there is every reason to anticipate August with a smile, not a frown.

On Sunday, let’s celebrate what Fulham have achieved over the last 13 years. Let’s show the team we will be there for them on the way back up even if some of them will hopefully not be. For his part, I hope Felix Magath has the sense to use Sunday as an opportunity to signal the start of a new era. One of youthful intent and positivity.

The first book on Fulham’s Premier League history is about to finish its final chapter. Let’s hope the club now takes us on a journey to write the next one.

COYW

Fulham Summer Transfer Targets Part 2 – Central Midfield

It’s been a tremendous start to the transfer window at Craven Cottage. We have our new starting goalkeeper in Maarten Stekelenburg and a new starting centre back in Fernando Amorebieta, while Derek Boateng has joined to provide much needed central midfield depth and Sascha Riether has completed his permanent transfer at right back. The benefit of getting all this shopping done early in the window, more time to focus on what we really need; a new midfield maestro.

The problem with writing a scouting report on possible midfielders is that there’s just so many out there. Finding a gifted Premiership central midfielder can be a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. Midfielders can be scouted at length, yet until they get their chance in the middle of a Premiership pitch it is hard to know how they’ll fare.

Marcel Gecov was an emerging star at the European Under 21 championships in 2011 yet he failed to last a year in England. At the other end of the spectrum, Mousa Dembele was signed as a young, lively and somewhat raw winger, yet has gone on to become one of the league’s best and most dynamic central midfielders, and the one we’re still trying to replace.

So here below are a few of the midfielders who could potentially help solve our problems in the middle of the park:

Vive La France

Whether it’s the 3 Michelin starred gastronomic temples of Paris or the wine aisles of Carrefour in Calais, our Gallic neighbours seem to produce something for everyone and its no different when it comes to midfielders.

Étienne Capoue

A move for Toulouse midfielder Capoue is not out of the question for Fulham this summer. The 24 year old is represented by Martin Jol’s agent Mino Raiola, who has a history of doing business with Fulham over Jol’s tenure. With 6 French caps to his name, Capoue is a lung-busting midfielder who scored 7 goals in Ligue 1 last season; previously linked to Arsenal, he had formed an intimidating partnership with Moussa Sissoko before his move to Newcastle in January. A price-tag of over £10m would likely be required to bring Capoue from France but he’d be the perfect addition to the Whites midfield this off-season. Not the creative tour de force we’re after, but St Etienne’s Joshua Guilavogui is another Ligue 1 player to watch, the 22 year old was an ever present in Les Verts run to a Europa League spot.

Toulouse midfield Capoue is destined for big things

Younes Belhanda

23 year old Morocco international Belhanda is undoubtedly one of the brightest young creative talents in all of Europe. Having helped Montpellier to their maiden domestic crown in 2012, he scored 10 and assisted 5 in a stuttering campaign for the reigning French champions this season. Linked heavily to Turkey, the playmaker has spoken of a desire to move to England, with Aston Villa surprisingly the first team to make their move. A hefty eight-figure fee would probably be required, but Belhanda would be just the player to provide the spark we need. Teammate at Montpellier Remy Cabella would be a cheaper but similarly creative option, at 23, he scored 7 with 7 assists last season, and has racked up an impressive 17 caps for the French Under-21 side. Lille’s highly rated 26 year old Dimitri Payet has been linked, along with Paris St Germain’s Clement Chantome.

Cabella and Belhanda – Premeirship bound?

Adel Taarabt

Like Belhanda, Taarabt is a fellow Moroccan international; unlike Belhanda, Taarabt has swathes of experience in English football, having left Lens as a teenager. Taarabt is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, he has an ego the size of Shepherds Bush (and the bus it takes to get there), but his talent is undeniable. 5 goals and 5 assists, including both goals in the December victory over Fulham, is a good return from QPR’s dismal season, not least because despot former manager Mark Hughes refused to use his best creative asset for most of the season prior to his dismissal. Whether you love him or hate him, Taarabt would be a talented addition to our midfield. Besides, when Berbatov’s around, everybody, even Taarabt, might keep his ego in check. Teammate Alejandro Faurlin suffered the ignominy of being relegated with 2 teams last season (having spent the latter half on loan at Palermo) despite himself being a classy link player and the key to QPR’s promotion and subsequent survival in their first season up.

Morgan Amalfitano

Heavily linked with a loan switch to Craven Cottage in the first weeks of the transfer window, Marseille’s Morgan Amalfitano could well be on his was to South West 6. At 28 he’s no spring chicken, but his ability to play both centrally and on the right flank could provide some much needed depth and versatility. Undoubtedly talented (he’s better than his brother Romain at Newcastle), whether he’s the star we’re after or a potential squad player would remain to be seen. Lyon’s Clement Grenier would be such a star, but at 22 he’s likely destined for higher pastures.

The Netherlands

Oranje arrival?

Adam Maher

At 19, AZ prodigy Maher is currently being seen starring for the Netherlands in the European Under-21 championships. A centre mid who likes to attack, he our fits the job description almost to the word. 7 goals and 6 assists in the Eredivisie last season is some return for a youngster playing his first full season. Fulham Under-21 midfielder Chris David was signed in the Maher mold back in January, but having a pair of up and coming Dutch talents would be to nobody’s angst, although calling Maher up and coming is selling his vast talent short. Seeing as Mousa Dembele came from AZ, another raid on Alkmaar would be just fine. Norwegian playmaker Markus Henriksen is another AZ player who could prove a possible Premier League target over the coming seasons.

Leroy Fer

Twente’s combative midfielder Fer was a failed medical away from signing for David Moyes’ Everton in January. 23 league appearances for the Enschede club with a last injury lay off back in November suggest such troubles are behind him. Despite the spell on the sidelines, he netted 5 times with 4 further assists last season, and scored the winner for Holland off the bench in their Euro Under 21 opener v Germany, as well as a follow up in the next game. Feyenoord duo Jordy Clasie and Tonny Vilhena would also be worthy additions, and two players very much to watch out for.

Kevin Strootman

The break the bank option from the Netherlands, PSV Eindhoven’s Strootman is a future world-class talent. Signed from Utrecht with similarly gifted wideman Dries Mertens (a player destined for superstardom who scored 16 and assisted on 17 from left wing last season) Strootman is a centre mid with that perfect blend of defensive steel and attacking instinct. 6 goals and 10 assists for the 23 year old quantifies his undoubted talent. Ajax captain Siem De Jong would be another welcome addition from the Eredivisie as erstwhile wunderkind and now superstar Christian Eriksen is surely well above our reach and off to one of Europe’s elite clubs from the Dutch capital.

Big money man Strootman

Junior Malanda

Not exactly Dutch, but short of dedicating a whole segment to the Belgian Pro League, Junior Malanda had to fit in somewhere. The young powerhouse was heavily linked with Fulham in January when he and his team, Zulte Waregem were both largely unheralded. Having now played 39 times in a season where Zulte achieved their highest ever finish, coming second to Anderlecht on the last day of the season, Malanda will now be a tad more expensive. A box-to-box athlete of some prowess, Malanda would be a welcome addition. William Vainquer of Standard Liege has also been linked.

Southern Europe

Antonio Candreva

Candreva is a bona fide talent who’s star lit up Lazio’s run to the Coppa Italia. His cross in the final provided the assist for Senad Lulic’s winner. At 26, Candreva is in his prime and could star for Fulham on the right wing or as a central midfielder. He scored 7 and assisted on 13 last season. A complicated co-ownership situation with Udinese mean a transfer would be virtually impossible, though he’s a player to watch nonetheless. Cagliari’s Belgian international Radja Nainggolan is another to be linked with a move to Fulham, as is 22 year old Romanian Adrian Stoian, who is currently co-owned by Roma and Chievo.

A bit of Roman style?

Beñat Exterberria

Real Betis’ 26 year old Basque maestro Beñat had a breakout season in Spain last year. Teammate Jose Canas, Sevilla’s Jesus Navas and Celta’s Iago Aspas have already sealed moves to England, so there is no reason Beñat could not follow suit. He’s a deadball wizard who scored 4 and with 7 assists for Seville’s second club last season. Sevilla’s Ivan Rakitic and Gary Medel could also be available following their parent club’s financial woes.

Raul Garcia

26 year old Atletico Madrid midfielder Raul Garcia has been linked to Fulham several times in recent transfer windows. The Spaniard, who has one year left on his contract at the Vicente Calderon, would likely cost somewhere between £5m – £10m should he fancy the move to West London. He would also become the latest opponent from our 2010 run to the Europa League Final to join Fulham, having played all 120 minutes in the final (not that we’d hold that against him!).

Europa League winner 🙁

Selçuk Inan

28 year old Galatasaray vice captain Selçuk was linked to Fulham in the early days of this window around the time Gala showed interest in Kerim Frei. There is little chance of Fulham securing the popular set piece specialist from the Turkish capital, but at 28 he’d provide an experience edge to Fulham’s creative core.

Northern and Eastern Europe

Keisuke Honda

Japanese midfield magician Keisuke Honda currently plies his trade with CSKA Moscow, however the gifted 26 year old is a free agent at the conclusion of this Russian season in December. Linked heavily with Liverpool, Honda would be open for a switch to the Premier League and his contract situation will make him more financially available. A true star should he follow in Junichi Inamoto’s footsteps and move to Craven Cottage. Another non European option could be St Gallen’s 27 year old Argentine Ezequiel Scarione, who scored a hefty 21 goals from midfield to lead the Swiss league last season.

Honda – The Impossible Dream

Magnus Wolf Eikrem

Yes, its true, part of the reason anyone wants to sign Molde midfielder Eikrem is the fact he’s named Wolf. However, the former Manchester United youngster is one of the brightest talents to emerge from the Norwegian Tippeligaen in recent years. Out of contract in December, the midfielder, who can operate centrally or on the right, has a cultured nature about his play, and could follow former teammate Vegard Forren (now of Southampton) in moving to England. Several of Germany’s top clubs are already sniffing around this talented 22 year old.

Håvard Nordtveit

Like Magnus Eikrem, Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder Nordtveit is one of several emerging Norwegian talents lighting up the European Under-21 championships in Israel this summer. Nordtveit is a deep lying central midfielder with a rocket shot who has English experience having spent some of his formative years in Arsenal’s academy. Unfortunately Nordtveit signed a contract extension at Gladbach in December, so any transfer would be costly, but expect to see him return to these shores someday. Teammate at Gladbach, Granit Xhaka, would likely be more available having failed to make an impact since his big money move from Basel last summer, the Swiss midfielder making just 15 Bundesliga starts last summer. Perhaps a central midfield pairing with Pajtim Kasami would push both Swiss talents to where they should be.

Stefan Johansen

Stromsgodset’s 22 year old central midfielder Johansen has shone to the fore for Norway’s exceptional Under-21 side in recent weeks. Along with international teammate and skipper Stefan Strandberg, (the Rosenborg centre back I’d fly to Motspur Park myself) Johansen is one of the premier Norwegian players still playing in his domestic league. With a contract expiring in Decemebr, I’d expect that to change once Norway’s spell in Israel comes to an end. Valarenga’s Mohammed Fellah could also be ready for the move to England. Rennes Anders Konradsen is another to watch but having only moved to France in January (as a replacement for reported near Fulham signing Yann M’Vila) he’s unlikely to move again just yet.

Yevhen Konoplyanka

Dnipro midfielder Konoplyanka is not exactly what Fulham need this summer, however, that won’t stop me singing the praises of the 23 year old. Having lit up his home tournament for Ukraine at last summer’s Euros along with Dynamo Kyiv’s Andriy Yarmolenko, it is hopefully a matter of time before we see Konoplyanka in Western Europe. He’d cost a fortune, and after the Derek Boateng saga I’d be surprised if Dnipro were too keen to speak to Alistair Mackintosh and Martin Jol again in a hurry. [N.B. latest reports suggest Konoplyanka is on the verge of an hideously over inflated petrodollar funded move to Shakhtar Donetsk] Shakhtar’s Armenian Henrikh Mkhitaryan is another reported Premier League target.

England

James McCarthy

Irish international midfielder McCarthy was a consistent shining light in Wigan’s turbulent season that saw them lift the cup before suffering relegation later the same week. Roberto Martinez may well look to take McCarthy with him to Everton, however should he decide to look elsewhere, there will be a not so orderly queue of Premiership teams looking to steal him away from the DW Stadium. Another relegated midfielder, Jem Karacan, deserves a second shot at the top flight following Reading’s relegation to the Championship.

Cup winner McCarthy

Tom Huddlestone

It seemed impossible to leave Spurs midfielder Huddlestone off this list. Perhaps the least glamorous of all the names, “Thud” is somehow still only 26. Persistent queries about his fitness have blighted the Nottingham born player’s career, but his most productive spell was as a youngster under Martin Jol. He’s a scorer of spectacular goals and of forty yard passes, so provided the fee wasn’t too steep, a move for Huddlestone would not seem a terrible move. Personally I’d prefer we moved for Gylfi Sigurdsson, the spectacularly talented Icelander failing to hold down a regular spot in Andre Villas-Boas’ side last season. Fulham could and should offer him a cemented starting spot and wait for the creative genius that would follow for years to come. Youngster Tom Carroll is another option with Spurs potentially willing to loan out the promising 21 year old.

The perfect signings??

Liam Bridcutt

The final profile is that of 24 year old Brighton midfielder Bridcutt. A former Chelsea trainee, Bridcutt is out of contract following Brighton’s run to the playoff semi finals. A combative all action centre midfielder, Bridcutt should be given his top flight opportunity having narrowly missed out on promotion with the south coast club. Current Chelsea academy graduate Nathanial Chalobah, who spent the season with Watford, will have potentially impressed any Fulham scouts sent to watch Matthew Briggs during his loan spell at Vicarage Road. Leicester’s Anthony Knockaert is another destined for better things, though the striker come attacking midfielder would probably benefit from another year in the Championship following his move from France last summer.

Whoever we sign, its another exciting summer in store.

COYW

Berbatov: Fulham felt ‘comfortable’

Dimitar Berbatov believed Fulham were always likely to hold onto their advantage in a topsy-turvy West London derby despite what he described as ‘childish’ second-half defending.

The Bulgarian striker had helped established the home side’s strong position in the contest with a quickfire double courtesy of two mistakes from Chris Samba. The QPR defender first felled Ashkan Dejagah to give away a penalty and then dallied on the ball in front of Damien Duff – and Berbatov freely admitted that he quickly targeted the error-prone centre back.

Yeah, you can see [players are nervous] sometimes. In the first couple of minutes you can see which players look nervous or [who] is having a bad game. So you try to push and press on them, which was the case with their player when we scored the second goal. You need to be clever in a situation like this because if you take advantage of them like you should, we score.

A second half slump almost saw Fulham squander their three-goal lead with the Whites indebted to goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer for two fine second half saves: the first from a Loic Remy penalty and a late stop from former Fulham forward Bobby Zamora. Berbatov, however, always felt his team were in control.

We weren’t nervous but we almost threw the game away. We had a comfortable lead in the first half – three goals is a lot – and the something in the second half, a bit childish maybe.

They scored the second goal and started to believe. But in the end we held onto the three goals we scored. We could have scored more but in the end three points was good for us.

The only time they can score is when we make a mistake, so the goal for them lifted their spirits. If you look back, you see mistakes and try to correct them next time, but now we’re going to celebrate the three points.

Berbatov also insisted that Sky Sports should have given the man-of-the-match award to Schwarzer after his goalkeeper’s fine display.

I think you should give [the man of the match award] to [Schwarzer], or I will be giving it to him in the dressing room, because it’s not the first time he’s saved a penalty. He’s a great goalkeeper and without him I don’t think we were going to win this game.

The 32 year-old was also quick to reaffirm that he’s happy at Craven Cottage and downplayed suggestions that Fulham were ever in any danger of going down themselves.

It’s great, I’m enjoying my football here. You can see it on the pitch, by the goals I score and the way I’m playing. It’s going great for me, and for the team, so I hope it continues this way.

We’ve always been safe. I don’t see why anyone should worry. We play good football and sometimes we make childish mistakes which is why we suffer, but if we correct this we will be even better.

Jol relieved after dramatic derby win

Martin Jol admitted he was mightily relieved after Fulham hung on to clinch a dramatic derby win over QPR at Craven Cottage tonight – as the Whites almost surrendered a three-goal lead.

The points looked safe after a Dimitar Berbatov brace and an own goal from Clint Hill put the home side three goals to the good after 41 minutes, but Adel Taraabt’s sensational solo goal just before the interval provided Rangers with a real shot in the arm. Loic Remy added a second after missing a penalty and things got even tenser after Steve Sidwell was sent off, with Fulham hanging on to gain revenge for December’s defeat at Loftus Road.

Speaking afterwards, Jol felt this west London derby was the archetypal game of two halves:

It was a great game for the spectators but it was two different halves. In the first half we played much better than them and we played some great football. But in the second half we probably made the mistakes they made in the first half.

At 3-1 you always know they will smell blood and their spirit was better in the second half. You shouldn’t concede a second goal but we did and we needed the keeper again to save the penalty. He’s a fantastic goalkeeper. So overall, we are a bit disappointed that we were 3-0 up and then made it a bit difficult for ourselves.

The Fulham manager felt Sidwell’s straight red for a challenge on Armand Traore was harsh and left his side hanging on towards the end.

The sending off was a bit harsh. He went for the ball and tried to pull his leg out of the tackle but he was red carded and that was difficult for us.

Much of the post-match praise went to Berbatov for another brilliant performance and Jol highlighted his striker’s all-round display rather than just his deadly finishes.

He worked ever so hard; that is what we like. You saw the penalty kick, he’s a specialist, and for the second, Damien Duff intercepted the ball and Dimitar scored again. He’s got 13 goals and he’s a special player for us.

The Fulham manager isn’t yet completely convinced that his side are safe, but has begun to consider the possibility of moving even further up the Premier League table.

We had three unexpected points against Tottenham Hotspur but we always felt this game against QPR would be vital. Hopefully 39 will be enough but it’s the only competition in the world where you can be 10th and still go down. There are a few clubs above us but we have a game in hand and hopefully we can go a bit higher in the league.