This was a massive result for Hull City but, like many others I’m sure, I was left scratching my head all the way back to Hammersmith trying to work out just how it happened. It was one of those old fashioned muggings as we dominated from the first whistle, failed to take a multitude of decent chances and, as we tired, the visitors came into the game. The fact that the winner came so late and owed much to defensive vulnerabilities we haven’t seen too much of this season just hurt even more.
Mark Schwarzer’s poor kick put as in trouble in the first place and John Pantsil – perhaps distracted by his set-to with Craig Fagan only moments earlier – failed to close down the forward. Our marking was all at sea; Paul Konchesky didn’t get close enough to mark Manucho and the substitute rolled it past a despairing Schwarzer from close range. The travelling support went barmy, Phil Brown sprinted onto the pitch followed by moments of Hull’s backroom staff and substitutes and, as much as I tried to phlegmatically chalk up as one of those nights, I was felt frustrated by Fulham’s Arsenal-esque desire for one last touch as we tried to walk the ball in the net.
For much of the evening, our performance wasn’t too bad. We are in the middle of spell of four games in eleven days, with the rearranged match against Blackburn now taking on even more importance next week, but we were quick enough out of the blocks. I’m sure Bobby Zamora will be getting more than his fair share of critics for an under-par display last night, but I’m more concerned about Andy Johnson’s finishing. He missed three pretty good chances at the Emirates on Saturday (and it says something about our recent resurgence that I felt disappointed leaving Arsenal with a point) and a couple of really good opportunities went begging again tonight.
One just before half-time sticks in the mind. Zamora had done well to persevere with little support down the right but his miscontrol seemed to end our forward move. The momentum was unexpectedly injected by a comical piece of defending and Johnson latched onto a short backpass to race into the penalty area. The angle might have been acute but this was a chance that you’d have backed our big money striker to put away. Instead he rolled it right across the face of goal.
Clint Dempsey tried his best again last night. It was a great performance from the American, who – talking to a few people in the Old Suffolk Punch beforehand – seems to have won a few doubters over this season. You certainly can’t fault his effort, especially when you remember all the games and travelling he’s had in the past few weeks. He’s certainly due a long-range stunner soon; Matt Duke made two top-notch saves from shots that moved in the air. Konchesky wasn’t far away from a repeat of his West Ham wondergoal and Dempsey struck a point as we got the feeling it just wasn’t going to be our night. In the scramble for the goal that never came, Dickson Etuhu had one cleared off the line.
I’m loathe to criticise Roy Hodgson, who was worked miracles beside the Thames as far as I’m concerned, but the old doubts about tactics and substitutions materialised again last night. The first seeds of doubt were sown early in the season when we couldn’t buy a goal for love nor money and Roy seemed to have inexplicable faith in the players on the pitch. Our performance tailed off from about the 70 minute mark, both Davies and Dempsey were tired and Zamora and Johnson had long since passed getting any joy out of two tall centre backs. Kamara and Nevland would have both been candidates to be introduced on the half mark but we had to wait until the 88th minute until Dio got on.
Hull had clearly done their homework and their centre half playing in midfield, Zayette, was given the task of following Danny Murphy around the pitch. He did this brilliantly and blunted any dynamism that might have come from our captain and, lacking an alternative attacking option in central midfield, we struggled to get any penetration from the middle of the park. It looked like we were denied a cast-iron penalty but to discuss that here would give more space to the criminally incompetent Mike Jones and I don’t feel like doing that.
Looking back now, I’m feeling a bit better about it all in the morning. Hull played as West Brom and Middlesbrough did at the Cottage but got a few more breaks then those opponents. This could well be the win that keeps them above water, while we can still look on at the relegation battle from the comparatively lofty heights of tenth place. I’m not convinced that this defeat was price we had to pay for a win on Saturday, as one of my mates tried bravely to persuade me afterwards. It would be perfectly Fulhamish for our good run to come to a shuddering halt and leave us drifting in mid-table mediocrity. Plenty for Hodgson and co to thinking about on the training ground this morning.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Etuhu, Murphy, Davies, Dempsey; Zamora (Kamara 88), A. Johnson. Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Stoor, Kallio, Gera, Gray, Nevland.
BOOKED: Hangeland, Etuhu, Davies.
HULL CITY (4-4-2): Duke, Zayatte, Turner, Gardner, Kilbane, Mendy (Garcia 89), Ashbee, Ricketts, Geovanni (Barmby 90), Fagan, Cousin (Manucho 76). Subs (not used): Myhill, Hughes, France, Halmosi.
GOAL: Manucho (90).
REFEREE: Mike Jones (Cheshire).