Prompted by West Ham’s laughable protest, I decided to examine just how weak the Fulham side beaten at Hull on Saturday really was. Judge for yourselves.
MARK SCHWARZER: Fulham’s regular goalkeeper, who has started all but one league game this season. Prior to an excellent start to his Craven Cottage career, Schwarzer amassed more than 400 appearances for Middlesbrough. For good measure, he’ll also be in goal for Australia at the World Cup.
NICKY SHOREY: The only possible weakness you could level at on our on-loan defender, excellent since joining from Aston Villa, is that he was playing on the wrong side of defence. A fairly recent England international, Shorey’s only been kept out of the Villa side by the good form of Stephen Warnock.
PAUL KONCHESKY: West Ham should now just how good Konch is having had the former England full-back on their books for two years. A regular Premier League performer since his Charlton days, Konchesky’s only recently come back from a serious knee complaint.
BREDE HANGELAND: It doesn’t seem that long ago that everyone was raving about the Norwegian and talking in excited tones about his impending transfer to Arsenal. One of Roy Hodgson’s first signings, the Norway captain has been integral to Fulham’s recent renaissance.
CHRIS SMALLING: Plucked from non-league obscurity by Hodgson, the England under-21 international will be heading for Manchester United in the summer. Try telling Sir Alex Ferguson he’s a weak link. Smalling might only have made 15 appearances for Fulham (and gave away a silly penalty on Saturday) but that’s pretty impressive when you consider he was planning to go to Loughborough University the other summer.
KAGISHO DIKCAGOI: South African international who’s slowly featuring more and more in Roy’s first team plans. Signed in the summer from Golden Arrows, Dikgacoi’s introduction to the Premier League has been disrupted by a combination of injuries and Scott Parker. Probably would have played a lot more, especially given Fulham’s midfield injuries, had he not been sent off at Upton Park on his league debut.
CHRIS BAIRD: The Northern Ireland international wouldn’t have made it into Hodgson’s first choice side at the start of the season but he’s very nearly made himself indispensable by taking to the central midfield role like a duck to water. Baird’s played in 42 of Fulham’s 51 games this season – almost enough to be deemed a regular.
BJORN-HELGE RIISE: Emerging young Norwegian, younger brother of John-Arne (once of Liverpool and now at Roma). Riise’s been a bit hit and miss in the league but has been excellent in Europe – providing crucial goals as Fulham got through the group stages. Didn’t have his best game at the KC but is certainly one for the future.
SIMON DAVIES: Probably would have been a more regular starter had his recovery from a stress fracture in the foot not stalled this season. The Welsh international, something of Premier League veteran counting Spurs and Everton amongst his former clubs, has still managed 24 appearances this term.
ZOLTAN GERA: The Hungarian has to be a contender for player of the season. A regular in the side last term, Zolly didn’t enjoy the best of debut campaigns, but has revelled in the ‘hole’ behind Bobby Zamora this season. He’s scored plenty of crucial goals – five in Europe and even one at West Ham – and has appeared in 42 games for Fulham this season.
CLINT DEMPSEY: Played as the lone frontman at Hull, Dempsey marked his return to full fitness with the stunning chip that took Fulham past Juventus in the Europa League a couple of weeks ago. The American has played 35 games despite an injury-ravaged campaign and will also be in South Africa this summer.
Fulham’s bench also included Aaron Hughes, Dickson Etuhu and Erik Nevland who have all featured regularly this season. With Bobby Zamora still struggling with a stomach bug, the only players who could really have been rested were Stephen Kelly (who’s been a bit patchy at right back), Danny Murphy (still troubled by a groin problem) and Damien Duff.
It wasn’t that ‘weak’ a line-up and, given how many games Fulham have played, it’s difficult to see how Hodgson could have managed his slender squad any better. Perhaps Sullivan and Gold should concentrate on getting their own house in order rather than deploying a classic distraction technique.