The morning after the night before. I don’t know quite how to rationalise that performance at Stoke. It’s all too easy to blame the weather or the snow, but it seemed horribly predictable that Tony Pulis and his team would end their barren run against us. What was so disconcerting was to see a Fulham side so shaky at the back, defenders making poor decisions and the marking almost non-existent at times. Whether it was just a bad day at the office or the start of an untimely slide, remains to be seen.
The goals were well-crafted on the Stoke training ground but there was some abject defending in there. Huth never should have been allowed the room to flick that header towards goal and it travelled far too far, allowing Tuncay an easy header. Why we aren’t more dominant in the air when we’ve got some tall players – and good headerers of the ball – is baffling.
The second goal would have been funny had we not been the ones who conceded it. Hodgson might have disputed the award of the free-kick afterwards but there wasn’t really a need for Konchesky to make such a silly challenge anyway. It immediately doubled the danger. Etherington had already whipped a couple of dangerous balls and this time the marking was all at sea. As Andy pointed out in the comments last night, Baird lost his man and the fact that nobody tracked two players at the back post is unacceptable.
By this time Stoke’s confidence was flowing. They produced a nice move for the third goal – let’s leave aside the marginal offside decision (because the replays I saw suggested you couldn’t criticise the assistant too heavily) – and Hangeland, who looked woefully out of sorts at the back, allowed Sidibie far too much time to size up his options as the ball came across. The alarming gap between the centre backs allowed Sidibie collect the ball, turn and shoot past Schwarzer with ease.
None of that will have pleased Roy, who himself has come in for criticism for his team selection, particularly for picking Hangeland, who then had to come off injured, and Johnson. Much of this is guesswork as we don’t know just how fit Hangeland was and in hindsight it looks like a poor decision. However, if he passed a fitness test then you can’t blame Hodgson for wanting Hangeland in the starting line-up, even if he didn’t exactly neutralise Stoke’s attacking threat.
The big blow is what’s so far only been described as a ‘bad’ injury to Bobby Zamora. Both he and Johnson were horribly starved of service last night, so it’s unfair to judge their partnership on that performance. Losing Bobby creates a problem as I’m not sure AJ, who still seems a little short of sharpness, would as effective as a lone striker, even if you’d like to switch Gera back into the hole. Plenty to ponder before Portsmouth on Saturday.