This is a guest post by Jack Turner
Like the guy who commented on Dan’s piece last night, I’d never been to Stoke before. To be honest, after a hell of a journey, sweeping rain and encountering some particularly unpleasant locals (that was before we got to the ground and swapped songs and venom with the baying home fans) I wouldn’t be in a hurry to go back. Fortunately, we didn’t go to sample the delights of the city but to watch a game of football.
Fulham are, to my mind anyway, progressing very nicely indeed. We didn’t need to do terribly much to blunt Stoke’s attacking instincts. They lost a striker to a nasty injury early on and their vaunted weapon, Rory Delap’s long throw, broke down as soon as he tried to hurl the ball in. I didn’t see it because I was watching what we’d decided to do to curb the threat of the extraordinary throw but apparently Delap ran up and managed to throw the ball only a couple of yards in front of him, aggravating his existing shoulder injury. Cue a huge cheer from the away fans. Sadly, Sonko threw it just as far but lacked the velocity that made Delap’s throws such a danger.
On the way home, I discussed with my travelling companions whether we were being too negative on the road. Not in my driving, but our away performances. Carry on like this and we’ll soon become the Premier League’s draw specialists, said one of my friends. That’s fine, I think. A lot better than being easy cannon fodder for whichever home sides do their homework. I didn’t think we were particularly unambitious yesterday – we were far more adventurous that what were effectively rearguard actions in our previous away draws against Liverpool and Aston Villa.
We did miss Bobby Zamora up front, thus proving the point that the much-maligned striker does a good job alongside Andy Johnson. Zamora’s strike rate might not be up to much at the moment but as Dan and others have already pointed out, he does the nasty things well. Holding up the ball is a precious commodity to build attacks away from home and his competitiveness in the air gives our defence an easy ‘out ball’ too. Johnson worked hard up front on his own but we lacked someone to hit up front and I felt AJ was a little wasted as an isolated figure in attack.
Picking Dempsey to play in behind the main striker was a good choice. I happen to think that is the best position for the American, although as we normally play with two strikers it makes it difficult to pick him there as we’d be a little lightweight in midfield. He did well in this position at West Brom and was lively yesterday and despite the commitment of Bullard and Murphy we created little in the way of clear cut chances. John Pantsil, his disgraceful diving antics outside, probably had our best chance – a header from a Bullard free-kick. It’s amazing how often Pantsil, as the smallest player on the pitch, wins headers both in our penalty area and the opposition’s. Sadly, his effort was straight at Thomas Sorenson.
Both Gera, on his return to the side and on his favoured right flank and Davies, whose form has been a worry of late, worked hard but offered little in terms of real attacking quality. We lacked the penetration to carve Stoke open but looked threatening on the break. By the same token, we could really say the same about Stoke. I could probably count on my right hand the number of genuine chances the home side created, largely thanks to the superb combination of Hangeland and Hughes. Given the speculation around our giant Norweigan, who I see was given the man of the match award by two newspaper correspondents, I guess we can hope if I say no more his performance will slip under the radar!
All things considered, I’m very happy with our performance and progression. Hopefully, we can take maximum points from our next home game – against Middlesbrough on Saturday. Just a final thought, though, whoever thought up that horrible excuse for a yellow third kit should be fired.