About a decade ago the idea that we would be playing Celtic in a pre-season friendly would have been laughable. Nowadays, the temptation to give it a miss is considerable as we meet so regularly. But being a football junkie, I had to get my Fulham fix – especially after the exhilarating end to last season.
Last season. Writing that now seems so final. The last whistle at Portsmouth sounded barely two and a half months ago. With a welcome sense of timing, Fulham played all their football in the final two months of the season as well. Perhaps it was the memory of those crazy afternoons at Reading and Manchester City that inspired the optimist in me as I walked along Stevenage Road for the first home friendly of the summer.
Or maybe it was Roy Hodgson. The man whose appointment met with many a raised eyebrow or a nonplussed shrug as the Whites looked marooned in the relegation zone last Christmas. The very same man whose quiet assurance, astute signings and laudable dignity were responsible for pulling us by our bootstraps. Even after Danny Murphy’s crucial header at Fratton Park, he seemed unflappable – the perfect balance of joy and concentration.
Roy’s been active already in the transfer market without making too many headlines. Perhaps the cheapest buys have looked the most impressive. Zoltan Gera, who had caught the eye at West Brom for many years, took less than two minutes to measure a perfect cross for Erik (The Great) Nevland to open the scoring. The Hungarian was full of neat touches without being too fancy and looks to have fitted perfectly on the right, the very place where Simon Davies was so outstanding last season.
Just as striking for me was the home debut of Adranik Teymourian, an Iranian who arrived from Bolton. Describing him as a holding midfielder doesn’t quite do him justice for he’s got the attributes of a tough defensive midfielder but can play a pass as well. Pencil him in to be the replacement for Sean Davis that we never signed. We didn’t see our other Bosman signing, Mark Schwarzer, but there was a glimpse of his understudy. David Stockdale, who featured in Darlington’s promotion push last term, might have been disappointed to have let a free-kick from Barry Robson beat him but he showed enough to suggest he might be a step up from the likes of Lastuvka, Batista and Drobny. Mind you, that’s not saying a lot, is it?
Perhaps the most intriguing part of this game was to see how Bobby Zamora would do. Nobody’s quite sure how much we paid West Ham for him, as he came as part of a package deal with John Pantsil, and he certainly won’t be the first Fulham forward who has to prove he’s worth his transfer fee. Barry Hayles had his fair share of detractors – who were very vocal at the start of his Fulham career – and he answered every question asked, even finishing as top scorer in our first season back in the top flight. Zamora’s thunderous volley was the perfect first impression, but there was more to marvel at that his poacher’s instinct, with his strength and skill on the ball suggesting that the likes of Collins John and Eddie Johnson, who again made little impact as a substitute, might be best served preparing for a long season on the bench.
Leon Andreasen’s rasping drive capped a lovely afternoon by the Thames (there was even a neat little cameo for Lee Cook – remember him?), but pre-season games are hardly the litmus test for a successful season. It was a pleasant surprise to play some silky football and beat the Scottish champions, who should be further along the road in their preparation, but there’s no indication how we’ll go on the opening day at Hull. The early signs are encouraging, though.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Stockdale; Pantsil (Volz 71), Konchesky (Kallio 71), Hughes, Hangeland; Andranik (Andreasen 45), Bullard (Dempsey 45), Gera (Cook 65), Davies (Murphy 45); Zamora (Johnson 45), Nevland (Healy 65). Subs (not used): Etheridge, Seol Ki-Hyeon.
GOALS: Nevland (2), Zamora (30), Andreasen (86).
GLASGOW CELTIC (4-4-2): M. Brown; Hinkel (Wilson 46), Caldwell, McManus, Naylor (O’Dea 59); Robson (Caddis 67), S. Brown, Donati (Hartley 46), McGeady (Mizuno 76); Killen (Samaras 46), McDonald (Sheridan 67). Subs (not used): Fox, Balde, Nakamura, McGowan.
GOAL: Robson (41).
REFEREE: Steve Bennett (Orpington).