For much of last season Bobby Zamora cut a frustrated figure. His approach play and work ethic couldn’t be faulted, but his finishing could (and often was). You got the sense that all he needed was a slice of luck in front of goal and he’d be off and running. It didn’t come and he very nearly left Fulham for Hull this summer. He wasn’t the only striker to turn down Phil Brown in the off season and he got that slice of fortune early on the opening day of the new campaign.
The fateful moment for a Portsmouth side, who huffed and puffed without looking particularly threatening, arrived after just thirteen minutes. Clint Dempsey drove a shot towards goal from long range, the ball struck Zamora on the back and flew into the opposite corner from where it was originally heading. Poor David James was hopelessly wrongfooted and Pompey, already dogged by close-season departures and boardroom uncertainty, were behind.
It might have been worse but James saved smartly from a Zamora header just after the goal. Roy Hodgson’s side were spraying the ball around with the confidence befitting a side who had finished the previous season on a real high and also had the advantage of a couple of European fixtures to boost their early season fitness. By contrast, Portsmouth were huffing and puffing but lacked real quality to prise open a resolute Fulham defence.
Apart from the dangerous Niko Krancjar, Pompey were workmanlike rather than creative in midfield. They were also depleted by injuries and misfortune. Paul Hart had to do without new signing Steve Finnan and experienced defender Hermann Hreidarsson – the pair had succumbed to hamstring injuries – whilst new arrival Anthony Vanden Borre had to watch from the stands after the key official at the Italian FA had gone on holiday and so the club were unable to get the necessary international clearance in time for the versatile Belgian to make his debut.
Hart, widely acknowledged to be facing a huge task in keeping Pompey afloat this season, opted to give Frederic Piquionne, who impressed in last week’s friendly against Rangers, a debut up front. The French forward was lively and willing but lacked any real support – the home faithful’s frustration with the ineffective John Utaka was highlighted when his withdrawal in favour of David Nugent was greeted with ironic cheers.
That’s not to say that Pompey didn’t have chances. Nadir Belhadj perhaps should have scored after a promising move but missed his header altogether and Brede Hangeland, who lined up for Fulham this weekend after all (take note, BBC), threw himself in front of a Piquionne shot. They continued to press after the break and enjoyed more of the goal.
A flowing move down the right looked to have engineered the necessary room but the rampaging Younes Kaboul showed why he’s a defender rather than a forward in lifting a shot disappointingly over Mark Schwarzer’s crossbar. Conjuring up memories of his first goal Premier League goal at Craven Cottage a few years ago, Kranjcar curled an effort over the bar from distance as Pompey pushed forward.
Fulham were still breaking purposefully and should have settled the contest midway through the second half. Zamora delivered a lovely floated ball to the back post and when Marc Wilson missed a defensive diving header, it looked for all the world as though Andy Johnson was going to find the far corner. Somehow, Johnson contrived to screw his shot disappointingly wide.
Portsmouth went in search of the late equaliser and Kaboul missed two decent headers from set pieces, while the less said about Aaron Mokoena’s hopeful strike from long range the better. Substitute Nugent probably had the best chance but drove over and Fulham held on for a good win. For all their success last season, the Whites only managed three wins on the road. This was a terrific start. Neat and tidy, their resolution would also have pleased Roy Hodgson, who will now turn his attentions to the first leg of their Europa League tie against mysterious Russian side Amkar Perm on Thursday night.
PORTSMOUTH (4-5-1): James; Wilson, Belhadj, Distin, Kaboul; Diop (Kanu 76), Mullins, Mokoena, Utaka (Nugent 87), Kranjcar; Piquionne. Subs (not used): Begovic, Ward, Basinas, Hughes, Ritchie.
BOOKED: Mullins, Diop, Mokoena.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Etuhu, Murphy, Gera (Seol 88), Dempsey; Zamora (Nevland 79), A. Johnson. Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Kelly, Baird, Kamara, Riise.
BOOKED: Murphy, Hughes.
GOAL: Zamora (13).
REFEREE: Martin Atkinson (West Yorkshire).