It’s been a while since we were reminded of why some wags christened our unheralded new Norweigan striker Erik the Great last January. I know it has exorcised a few of you that he hasn’t been getting too much playing time of late and it might be stretching it a little to insist, as one gentleman did to me outside the Bricklayer’s Arms on Saturday night, that Zamora might have played his last game for Fulham, but boy didn’t Nevland show he’s got plenty left in the locker against a tiring Portsmouth defence?
Whilst Bobby Zamora’s lethargic performance makes it very difficult for me to defend the practice of continually putting him in your starting eleven, Nevland’s impact as a late substitute suggests that Roy is right to use him predominantly in late bursts towards the end of games. His finish for the game-clinching second goal was impressive, guiding the ball almost effortlessly into the far corner as James came out to meet him after Portsmouth’s defence committed the kind of footballing suicide my primary school side specialised in.
But it was Nevland’s second goal that was a thing of real beauty. He showed strength to hold off his man and then no little coordination to turn and drill the ball in a instant into the only place where a diving James would be beaten. It was this kind of predatory finishing that proved the difference between two relatively evenly-matched sides: we took our chances with aplomb whereas Portsmouth didn’t.
For a while – even after Johnson smartly tucked away Clint Dempsey’s clever through ball to settle the nerves – it looked as though we might be for a very testing afternoon. There may be question marks over the way Tony Adams has got his side defending (and I’m very surprised that I have got to write that sentence considering his distinguished career as a centre back) but they certainly created plenty of chances.
Younes Kaboul might have done better than hit the crossbar considering the alarming amount of time and space we afforded him at a corner and the manner with which the impressive Jermaine Pennant and the ever-willing Glen Johnson sliced us open down the Pompey right suggested they might able to get in at will. When they did produce a telling final ball, Kanu’s creaking limbs couldn’t react in time and Brede Hangeland produced one brilliant tackle to deny Hayden Mullins an equaliser.
It seemed we hadn’t mentally emerged from the dressing room after the half-time interval given the way we tepidly ceded territory at the start of the second half. We couldn’t have had any complaints had Portsmouth equalised then – especially after two loud penalty appeals against John Pantsil were waved away and Peter Crouch contrived to miss after being played into a glorious position by Kaboul’s dangerous run and cross.
The fact that we were able to ultimately control the contest against a side who swatted us away like an irritable fly in the reverse fixture last season says a lot about the improvement we’ve made in such a short time under Hodgson. I thought Dickson Etuhu, unfairly criticised by many so soon into his Fulham career, had a good game in the hart of the midfield, hardly putting a single pass astray, and allowing Danny Murphy to pose problems from a more attacking position.
A word two for our wide players. Simon Davies had his most impressive game for a long time down the left and his two assists had a decisive effect on the outcome. Not to be outdone, Dempsey played a brilliant defence-splitting pass to release Johnson for the opening goal.
The only sour moment came when Aaron Hughes lost David Nugent at a late Pennant free-kick and the one-time England striker nodded in to ruin our hopes of a first clean sheet since Middlesbrough. Whilst it was disappointing, I certainly would have taken a 3-1 win given how worried I was about the prospect of playing Pompey at the start of the day.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Etuhu, Murphy, Davies, Dempsey (Gera 90); A. Johnson, Zamora (Nevland 63). Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Andranik, Gray, Stoor, Kallio.
GOALS: A. Johnson (14), Nevland (71, 80).
PORTSMOUTH (4-4-2): James; G Johnson, Hreidarsson, Kaboul (Paramot 77), Distin; Mullins, Davis, Traore (Utaka 63), Pennant; Crouch, Kanu (Nugent 45). Subs (not used): Begovic, Lauren, Mvuemba, Little.
GOAL: Nugent (84).
REFEREE: Alan Wiley (Staffordshire).