Looking back to the close of the transfer window, I was worried that Fulham hadn’t done enough in the transfer market to withstand the challenges of the domestic campaign and our European exertions. We seemed to have only strengthened our midfield, which was arguably the strongest part of our team anyway.
I’m willing to revise my opinion now. Had we suffered the sort of injuries last season that we had this, it is probably fair to say Fulham would have been scrapping around at the wrong end of the table. If Roy had been forced to play a reserve midfield and Roma had come to the Cottage at the end of last season, we’d have been torn to shreds. In fact, a feared the worst when I saw that we were without Duff, Dempsey, Etuhu and Murphy – but the back-up boys did us proud.
It was entirely sensible to play Riise against his brother out on the right. More than any other (apart from the trip to the Stadio Olimpico of course), this is the one game he would be really up for. The younger Riise was absolutely superb in the first half. Buzzing around everywhere, he was a livewire and much more dangerous that he had been previously in a Fulham shirt. He tired towards the end and was much less adventurous in the second half, but that seemed to mirror the team’s philosophy.
On the opposite side, Zoltan Gera continued his fine resurgence. He seems a lot less lightweight than last season, fully committed to challenges instead of shirking them and putting his body in where it hurts. The Hungarian looks a lot more comfortable on the ball as well, picking out forward passes rather than turning the ball sideways or rolling it backwards. It appears as though those two goals against Manchester City – maybe we should put him in on Sunday for a repeat at Eastlands – and West Ham have restored the confidence he was so desperately lacking last year.
It was in central midfield where I was really impressed. Chris Baird continues to be a revelation in the hpolding role. He’s played there for Northern Ireland but he seems to have come of age of late for Fulham. Such has been the quality of his players in the last three games, Baird must be close to nicking the shirt off Dickson Etuhu on merit. He was quietly effective, breaking up opposition attacks and using his aerial ability to great effect. It was understandable that he was very tired towards the end – centre halves don’t expend half as much energy as those immediately in front of them – but this was still another exceptional performance.
Talking to my friends beforehand, we’d agreed that it was Jonathan Greening who really needed to step up. He hadn’t quite been on his game in the early stages of his Fulham career and seemed a little too passive for my liking. But we shouldn’t have worried. Greening was like a man possessed, especially in the first half. He was unfortunate not to score with two rasping drives from the edge of the box and continually popped up in advanced positions, sadly lifting a shot over from similar range in the second half. His passing was crisp and he seemed eager to make tackles – it was comfortably his best display in a Fulham shirt.
Once we get over that horrid feeling of conceding that late goal, there’s plenty to be pleased about from last night. Zamora and Hangeland were immense, but it was the midfield who really surpassed themselves. The fact that we have understudies of this quality should fill all Fulham fans with real confidence.