Fulham were superb tonight, all the way through the team. The BBC match report seems rather skewed to me, suggesting that Burnley were at least as good as we were tonight, and only lost because of some poor refereeing. Sat from where I was in the Putney End tonight, I must say that the first two goals didn’t seem blatantly offside to me or those sat around me, although obviously I must be wrong about that. In fact, I could have sworn that there were a couple of handballs in the Burnley penalty area that were missed by the referee too, so I suppose it’s swings and roundabouts.
Schwarzer was solid if rarely tested, collecting every cross that came his way with consummate ease. Even Mears’ free-kick that clipped the post appeared to be covered by the Australian. Hughes was as good as ever – it hardly seems worth commenting on his performances any more. What a snip he was at £1m – thank you Martin O’Neill (and Lawrie Sanchez)! Hangeland was more dominant than he has been in recent months, even if his positioning isn’t as good as it perhaps was last season.
Shorey continues to look absolute quality at left-back. At this rate, Konchesky is not going to get back into the side, unless he plays in front or behind Shorey on the flank. Baird too seems a lot more composed and adept in the RB slot than he did under Sanchez. Not sure whether that has anything to do with a) Roy’s coaching and defensive set-up; b) confidence and an improved skill set from playing in midfield; or c) having better players alongside him. Either way, he was excellent tonight. Baird and Shorey too offer the attacking threat from full back that is so crucial to our play, providing valuable width whilst our wingers cut inside and feed off front men’s work.
I was saying last week how it was time to give up the Baird-Murphy partnership, and play a more physical enforcer to add some presence next to Murphy. Etuhu and Dikgacoi really do seem to provide Murphy with a lot more space and time on the ball, and crucially we seem to be much more adept at regaining possession with one of them in the side. Etuhu was superb tonight, breaking up play well, and allowing Murphy to influence play and spray passes all over the park, safe in the knowledge that Etuhu was offering protection behind him.
Duff was dangerous every time he got the ball, and seemed to get behind the Burnley defence time after time (maybe due to some poor work from the officials. And how good was it to see Simon Davies back playing again? He has played on the left hand side and fair bit under Hodgson, so that doesn’t worry me too much. Considering it was his first game back in a while, I thought he played well, despite being slightly rusty at times. Riise demonstrated the bundles of energy that we have come to expect from him; Greening came on with the sole intention of preventing the dangerous Eagles from inspiring any Burnley attacks, and did so pretty effectively.
Zamora showed yet again just how crucial a player he is to our attacking play, bullying the Burnley defence, linking up beautifully with Duff, Murphy and Elm, putting pay to the concept that two target men can’t play well together. Zamora scored an excellent free-kick – another string to his bow – and could have had a couple more, were it not for the keeping of Jensen. Fortunately, one fell nicely at the feet of the impressive Elm who tucked it away nicely. He looks a decent player to me, leading the line well, with some nice flicks and link-play.
Despite having no real pace up front, these two played well together – either getting the better of the defence and running at goal; or passing it out wide and getting into decent positions in the box. They’re our best bet up front at the moment. Okaka caused Burnley some problems, but that first goal still eludes him. I think he’s better off at the moment coming on from the bench whilst he learns the nature of our game, and using his strength and pace to attack tiring defences.
For the first time in weeks, we looked a good, balanced side out there. We really cannot afford any more injuries though. Not because (as some might suggest) we will get sucked into a relegation battle – we have 34 points with 12 games remaining. But there is a very real danger that our season can peter out into nothingness.
All in all, an excellent three points. Lucky? Maybe. But nobody could suggest that it wasn’t deserved.