Apologies for not being back here sooner but I’ve been kept busy by my final university deadline, which is now swiftly approaching.
Watching us struggle to beat Leicester on Wednesday was an interesting experience. Firstly, because, in the manner of a pre-season friendly, I had the choice of sitting anywhere. I ended up choosing a particular part of the Hammersmith End on instructions from a long-lost friend who then failed to turn up. The result was that (in this uninhabitated corner of the stand) there was virtually nobody sitting around me and I felt slightly divorced from the action.
The most pleasing thing about the night was the way Hodgson approached this game. Too often we’ve treated the League Cup as an afterthought, merely an opportunity for our squad players to get a run out, and been punished as a result. Roy had already indicated he was open to taking it seriously and signalled his intent by making only one change (new signing Stoor in for the already ‘legendary’ Pantsil). It was a shame the players didn’t seem to reflect his desire to the win the game.
It seemed easy enough in the first half. Loads of crisp passing, a gentle pace, gave the impression that this was going to a formality, perhaps as it should be against a side now playing in English football’s third tier. We scored a slightly fortunate goal, a long ball pumped forward by Stoor was brought down well by Zamora (who played well without ever looking terribly threatening in front goal) and Gera’s first time shot was deflected past a helpless goalkeeper.
Leicester should have had a penalty just before half time and perhaps their angered fired a fiesty second half performance. Our success against Arsenal was based on a deep defensive line making them play all their football in front us, but we seemed unable to defend balls into the box against the Foxes. Lloyd Dyer and substitute Max Gradel looked very impressive for them and their wingers gave Stoor (who looked good on the ball) and Kallio a really tough time.
We fell behind very quickly to elementary errors. Kallio got done for pace down the wing and Stoor charitably presented possession back to the irritating Paul Dickov instead of clearing and Dickov thumped it home gleefully. Leicester’s second was reminiscent of James Wesolowski’s goal that put them 3-1 up here a couple of years ago. Hangeland, who was otherwise the only member of our defence to emerge with any great credit, lost the ball on the edge of the box and after a bit of scramble the ball came to Andy King who fired past Schwarzer.
It looked for a long while as if we were heading for an ignominious exit again. Leicester’s more physical approach had unsettled us and the rhythm of our midfield had been destroyed. Bullard was particularly wasteful, giving the ball away time and time again, and the fans were getting frustrated right until he pinged a wonderful strike into the corner from 25 yards. It was unstoppable and product of a lovely one-two with Gera. Extra time was averted when Murphy’s deflected shot trickled in – but the victory was far from deserved.
The only positives we could cling to were the fact that our heads didn’t drop when we were behind and that we were in the hat for the next round after a thoroughly poor performance. Much for Hodgson to ponder.
FULHAM (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Stoor, Kallio, Hangeland, Hughes; Bullard, Murphy, Davies, Gera; Seol (Nevland 59); Zamora. Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Pantsil, Andranik, Dempsey, Andreasen, Baird.
GOALS: Gera (31), Bullard (83), Murphy (90).
LEICESTER CITY (4-4-2): Martin; Gilbert, Morrison, Tunchev, Powell; Wesolowski, A King, Dyer, Dickov (Campbell 87); Fryatt (Gradel 46), Howard. Subs (not used): Henderson, Kishishev, Adams, Hobbs, C King.
GOALS: Dickov (46), A King 48.
REFEREE: Paul Taylor (Hertfordshire).