There’s a real feelgood factor around Craven Cottage now.
Beating Arsenal was one thing, but it was a workmanlike performance, with more guts than guile. Our problem has always been stringing a run of good results together – more often than not the outstanding performance has simply been a false down. This afternoon, though, we played the sort of sublime football that suggested that our win over the Gunners might not have been just a fluke or a product of Arsene Wenger’s midfield woes.
Perhaps it helped to have such a long break between our fixtures. It certainly looked like Andy Johnson and Bobby Zamora had enough time to strike up a rapport because they looked superb up front this afternoon. Bobby got his goal – a thing of real quality – which his performances this season have deserved and Johnson showed this why we paid big money for him with a lively performance (he, too, seems to be enjoying being paired with a fellow striker up front). For all Seol Ki-Hyeon’s game efforts as a second striker, it was nice to have an authentic partnership up front and we posed much more of a threat in front of goal too.
We’ve won all our home league meetings with Bolton since our return to the top flight, but it’s never been easy. Regardless of whether it is Allardyce or Megson in charge you know what you’re going to get. Route one, physical, battling football that isn’t pretty. Too often in the past we’ve been bullied out of games like this. On the way to the ground, I wondered whether Roy might play some of our ‘grafters’ to counter Bolton’s physicality, and half expected to see Andreasen or even Etuhu on the teamsheet. But he stuck his guns – and our usual gameplan – and it paid dividends.
For the majority of the game, Bolton had an extra man in midfield but you wouldn’t have known it. With Bullard, Murphy, Gera and Davies strung across the middle of park, you could make a case for our midfield being one of the more underrated quartets in the league. Fabio’s obviously been watching Bullard recently, but I thought Gera today showed just why we were so keen to bring him to the Premier League. He looked lively, didn’t allow his deployment on the left to isolate him from the play (as it has at times this season) and took his goal well.
The midfield linked well as a unit but perhaps the most pleasing thing about our performance was the injection of pace up front. We all saw on Wednesday what speed can do at the highest level, but with the likes of McBride, Healy and Helguson leading the line in recent years we’ve not seen much of that commodity. Johnson’s searing runs had the Bolton defence flummoxed even during the scrappy early stages and Zamora showed similar sharpness to latch onto the ball from Gera that eventually led to the opening goal. Zamora’s deep cross was headed out to Gera who finished with aplomb. The perfect start.
Bobby and Andy linked up together nicely, too. A clever little move saw the former find the latter with a cross that flashed across the face of goal – and Zamora’s header was just about kicked away by Jussi Jaaskelainen’s feet. The second goal seemed like a formality – but we’ve often failed to capitalise on our superiority. That we did here was largely thanks to a moment of genius from Zamora. When he received the ball on the edge of the Bolton box, he didn’t have a lot of room with Steinsson and Shittu in close attendance. One touch took him past the aptly-named centre back, who had a torrid afternoon, and he flashed a peach of a shot into the corner.
If anyone harboured any doubts about Zamora’s value, he banished them with this performance. We had already seen how unselfish he was in his previous outings (especially against Arsenal, when he must have been desperate to score himself but was still laying on chances for others), but he showed the full range of his attributes today. He was strong – and, for someone not built like a natural target man, he can certainly hold the ball up – and, as I mentioned earlier, provided eye-catching movement off the ball.
The only downside was that we didn’t kill the game off early. Part of that was down to the brilliance of Jaaskelainen – still a top ‘keeper even now he’s reached the veteran stage of his career (even though custodians seem to get better with age). He did brilliantly to get anywhere near a stunning strike from Simon Davies, who deserved a goal for his hard work and invention, although last season firmly established himself as a star in his own right. We were a little wasteful in front of goal – and true to form – were made to pay for it in the final ten minutes.
Bolton’s minimal threat had come from set pieces all afternoon. Their gameplan seemed just to consist of whacking high balls towards Kevin Davies, who was also the target of their long throws. The tactic eventually paid off with eight minutes left when Jaaskelainen’s hopeful punt found Davies causing chaos in the six-yard box and the ball rolled into the net. I still haven’t worked out whether it was him or Helguson who got the final touch.
Cue a nervy end to the game – needlessly so, given the dominance we had already shown. But Fulham showed enough steel to get through it and that should put us in good heart for a tricky trip to Blackburn next week. It still might be early days, but we’re certainly looking good.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Hangeland, Hughes, Konchesky; Bullard, D Murphy, S Davies, Gera; Johnson (Seol Ki-Hyeon 75), Zamora (Nevland 84). Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Andranik, Stoor, Dempsey, Kallio.
BOOKED: Seol Ki-Hyeon.
GOALS: Gera 15, Zamora 41.
BOLTON WANDERERS (4-5-1): Jaaskelainen; Steinsson (Helguson 64), Samuel, Shittu, O’Brien; Muamba, O’Brien, McCann (Riga 51), Nolan, Gardner; K Davies. Subs (not used): Al-Habsi, Hunt, Vaz Te, Cohen, Fojut.
GOAL: K Davies 82.
REFEREE: Steve Tanner