There’s a wonderful scene in The West Wing, when an angry ex-wife is telling her husband, the prickly Communications Director, why she won’t marry him again.
She says: ‘And you think the glass is half-full.’
He says: ‘And you think it’s half empty. At least we can agree that it’s not full yet’.
It rather sums up my feelings about Fulham at the moment. Whilst I wasn’t happy with the manner in which we conceded another late goal that cost us valuable points this afternoon (I was half expecting it, much like everyone else), I simply can’t get my head around the negativity that fills the websites this evening. The knives seem to be out for the usual suspects – Baird and Davies – even though the pair of them didn’t do too badly for my money. Davis was certainly much effective than at Anfield.
As I indicated in the preview yesterday, we were playing Blackburn. Not the kick ‘n’ rush, hurt them Rovers managed by the hated Graeme Souness, but a far superior outfit rebuild by Mark Hughes. Sanchez has previously highlighted Blackburn and Reading as the sort of sides he is looking to emulate – indeed, chief executive David McNally has set the long-term target is to establish themselves in the top ten of the Premier League. At times, today, Rovers played some superb football and they have – despite the injuries that have afflicted their starting line-up – real depth in their squad.
To my mind, this is the sort of game that we would have lost in previous seasons. Blackburn combine flair (see Morten Gamst Pedersen, even allowing for his disappointing recent form) with muscle in midfield (Turkish international Tugay, for example) and in times past we just haven’t been up for the fight. Rather than seeing the first half as the kind of sophoric fare that the commentators (and some Fulham fans) have been lamenting, I thought it signified a job well done by Lawrie Sanchez. We were closing Blackburn down, denying them time and space and looked solid defensively.
We looked a little more expansive after the break and, as often, this season looked dangerous going forward. Danny Murphy converted his penalty with a coolness that suggests we’d be well served to nominate him as the permanent penalty taker and we showed good heart to respond to Blackburn’s equaliser with our best move of the match. The interchange between Dempsey and Davies was spellbinding and the final ball of such quality that Kamara simply had to be there to put the ball into the back of the net. He wasn’t offside, according to the current interpretation of the law, and – for once – our luck evened itself out in the course of 90 minutes.
Looking at the games to come, especially the trips to Manchester United and Everton, it is possible to be downcast by the fact that we only picked up a point at home. But Blackburn played the better football and could have nicked it if it wasn’t for the splendid goalkeeping of Antti Niemi. Yet, they didn’t overrun us and had Shffi Kuqi stuck away that chance that was gift-wrapped for him by Tugay – who might have been persuaded by his local Tesco that it was Christmas already – then we would have gone on to win comfortably.
Whilst I’m dwelling on the positives, we’ve got to have a word about that marvellous bit of skill from Clint Dempsey in the first half. I have to say I didn’t realise that our boy Clint was capable of that kind of ‘showboat’. It was remarkable and had the likes of Ronaldo, Giggs or Joe Cole done it – commentators would have still been drooling over it, now. Aside from that and his part in Kamara’s goal, Dempsey was a little quiet for me today. It’s not neccesarily his fault as we (and Sanchez, it seems) are still struggling to work out what his best position is. It might well be that he’s such a creative player that he can’t really be properly utilised in the rigid 4-4-2 that we play – I have a hunch that he’d prefer to play ‘in the hole’ behind a striker or two – but with our midfield lightweight at the best of times, deploying him there is a luxury we can’t afford at the moment.
To answer Nick’s question from the post below, a friend of spot spotted Alexei Smertin walking away from the ground as he was buying his programme. As he noted at the time, it wasn’t a good sign. I can’t tell you whether he was looking dejected or not, but I’ll wager that he wasn’t full of the joys of spring. If he doesn’t play at United and Everton, serious questions will need to be asked.
I’ve compiled a set of ratings for the team today based on my own view of their peformance:
Niemi: Outstanding in goal again today. Made a couple of terrific saves, including a double save from Roberts and Emerton when we were 1-0 up in the second half. As usual, he looked reluctant to claim crosses, but heaven knows where we’d be without him. 7
Baird: Thought he played well today. Warnock had a good game, but didn’t get in behind Baird too often and the full-back showed his anticipation by making a couple of magnificent tackles and blocks. 7
Stefanovic: Aside from some sloppy clearances with his weaker foot, Stefanovic was very good this afternoon. Marshalled the defence well, was often to be found in the right position and made a couple of quality tackles. 7
Hughes: Not as dependable as I’ve seen him on previous ocassions. Roberts looked to have his number, so we must be pretty glad that McCarthy was forced off so early. He has impressed me in general, though, so we’ll chalk this one up to an off day. 6
Konchesky: Not his most commanding performance, either. Perhaps it was because he was up against Bentley, but he seemed reluctant to get tight to the winger, and also had a distinct lack of joy going forward. 6
Davis: A lot better than some correspondents would have you believe. Whilst he still misplaces a few passes, he played some terrific balls up to the front men and linked well with Davies outside him. Have to say that was his best game for the Whites so far. 7
Murphy: Looked a lot better and fitter than when I’ve seen him previously. Would be a mistake to suggest that he ran the game, but he looked more intelligent on the ball and kept a cool head for the penalty. 7
Bouazza: Really disappointing. Bought to replace Luis Boa Morte, but looks like he’s become the new Boa Morte. Frustrating because he can be exceptional at times, but today everything was off. His passing was poor, the final ball dreadful and I’m surprised he lasted as long as he did in the game. 5
Davies: He wasn’t as good as he has been in previous weeks, but given that he’s been our best performer for a while, I suppose we can forgive him that. He was fairly anonymous early on (weren’t they all?) but did supply that sumptuous ball for the goal. 6
Kamara: Keep wondering when we’ll see the best out of him. Scored a poacher’s goal but once again offered very little else. Seems to have an aversion to passing to a team-mate, even when they might be in a better position. Wonder whether his best position is on the left of midfield, or failing that the bench. 6
Dempsey: Worked hard, as ever, but didn’t deliver as we know he can. For me, he looks far more comfortable in the midfield making those late runs. 6
Kuqi: Got a loud cheer when he came on and did what we expect of him. Perhaps he should have scored when he found himself clean through, but credit to Friedel for the save. 6
Healy: Get the feeling he has to start games as we seldom see anything approaching match-changing from the little fella when he’s on the bench. For someone of his ability, it is immensely frustrating that he pops up on the flanks when we need him in the box. 6
Seol: A top-flight winger really should put himself about a bit more. If he doesn’t, the Korean will find himself consigned to a regular place on the bench. 6