Well, I’ve waited for the best part of a day and a half before posting my thoughts on Saturday’s debacle and the disappointment hasn’t yet ebbed out of my system.
As I said to someone I was drinking with on Saturday night, I can take the losing (after all, I’ve been a Fulham fan for more than a decade so I should be used to it). It’s the fact that – once again – we’ve lost a game we really shouldn’t have. In my review of the Bolton game, I mentioned that at times we played football that reminded me of the Tigana years. Well, as his many detractors would point out, those years weren’t without their pain. Just as often as we’d spank a team out of sight (if not more), we’d come away from a game wondering how we’d lost to a side we had outplayed for the best part of ninety minutes.
It’s not fair to say that we outplayed West Ham. For all the possession we had for the first forty-odd minutes (we seem to still have a problem sustaining a high level of football), we didn’t create enough chances to trouble Robert Green. Two shots on a target in the whole game – and one of those was Murphy’s penalty. Frustrating doesn’t begin to cover it.
But West Ham weren’t the splendid footballing side managed by the lovely little Italian some have pointed them out to be. Indeed, the two goals that decided the contest came from shocking defensive mistakes. I’m a big fan of Brede Hangeland but he had his most abysmal game in a Fulham shirt since Sunderland on Saturday. He lost a header to Carlton Cole that he shouldn’t have in the build up to the first goal and wasn’t his usual commanding self. Even loveable John Pantsil lost his man as we were caught horribly square and high up the pitch (I thought those tactics had disappeared with Sanchez?) for the critical second.
Most people would also agree that Mark Schwarzer was a high quality replacement for Antti Niemi. Never having been an international goalkeeper, I’m a little wary of criticising our current stopper but it has to be said he could have done better with both the goals we conceded. He should have held an unthreatening cross from Etherington and that should have been that. If was going to palm out anywhere, it might have been an idea to try and propel it back towards the crosser rather than across an unguarded yet. Then there was the ill-advised dash out of his goal to try and reach a through ball he hadn’t a hope of intercepting. After that, it was always going to be an uphill battle.
I wouldn’t want to vilify Andy Johnson though. He did an interview with the Guardian last weekend which underlined just how happy he is to be here and how desperately he wants to do well. He’s missed a couple of really good chances at Blackburn and now sees his team two goals down against a side that could have been beating (how different could the tale have been had that Davies volley dropped the other side of the post?). His anger wasn’t channelled in the most constructive manner and he could have been sent off for the first challenge alone. He made a mistake – and he’ll learn from it. Sadly, we’ll have to learn from our mistakes without him at first.
Whilst I wouldn’t go over the line in vilifying him, defending him by charging that the referee got it wrong doesn’t wash with me either. Having already booked an offender for a dangerous tackle, the intent in the second challenge was enough to merit a second yellow card. And who are these people who – having seen their new £11m striker get himself needlessly sent off just before half-time when his team are two goals down – see fit to applaud him off the field?
Whilst we’re on the subject of our strikers, I feel that a few people have been a little too harsh to Bobby Zamora in the aftermath of our defeat. Yes, he did miss two presentable chances with his head, that might have been snaffled up by Brian McBride (who, sadly, is no longer wearing the black and white). But Bobby’s shown more than enough potential to justify spending the money we did on him this summer. It’s unfair to compare him to players that have gone before – just as it was to imply McBride should have filled the boots of Louis Saha. And it’s unsurprising that West Ham were able to keep him quiet given that they were his former unemployers. When you’ve starved of service, it’s a little more difficult to take the first chance that comes your way.
The other major topic of conversation was Roy’s lack of substitutions (again). In many ways, this was more troubling this weekend than last. We weren’t losing the game when Paul Ince shuffled his back up at Ewood, whilst we were still behind as time ticked away. It’s not my place to second guess a Premier League manager but surely when Plan A has been severely compromised by seeing your major goal threat sent off before half time, it’s wise to have an alternative up your sleeve. Anyone could see that Danny Murphy (despite slotting him that penalty) was running on empty in the last twenty minutes and a fresh pair of legs – as well as a different perspective – might have helped us gain a foothold in the game again.
The tone of my preview on Friday suggested that this was to have been the game that decided our season. Whilst it’s a little ridiculous to suggest that a team’s season is shaped by the end of September, we are now on a three-match losing run and a result (preferably a win) at West Brom is essential. Hopefully, he’ll give Erik Nevland a run out at the Hawthorns. Well, we can dream, can’t we?
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Konchesky, Hangeland, Hughes; Bullard, Murphy, Davies, Gera; Johnson, Zamora. Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Seol, Nevland, Dempsey, Andreasen, Kallio, Baird.
BOOKED: Johnson, Konchesky, Murphy, Hangeland.
SENT OFF: Johnson.
GOAL: Murphy (pen 59).
WEST HAM UNITED (4-4-2): Green; Faubert, Neill, Upson, Ilunga; Behrami, Parker (Boa Morte 90), Noble, Etherington (Mullins 80); Cole, Di Michele (Bellamy 74). Subs (not used): Lastuvka, Lopez, Davenport, Sears.
GOALS: Cole (43), Etherington (45).
REFEREE: Andre Marriner (West Midlands).