Last season, Fulham were fortunate with injuries. Roy was able to let the same side settle into a system that gradually became successful. With the amount of key players we’ve lost this year, it’s a wonder the Whites are still competitive on three fronts at this stage of the season.
Looking at a couple of the Tottenham blogs last night I was surprised to read descriptions Hodgson’s negative tactics and complaints about ten men behind the ball. That struck me as strange given that Fulham had more of the ball and tested Gomes more often than Tottenham troubled Schwarzer. The 4-4-1-1 has worked wonders since it was largely forced on the wily old coach because of an absence of strikers and Zamora especially has revelled in being the leader of the line. He was at it again yesterday, giving a masterclass in the art of playing with your back to goal, and when Zoltan Gera’s come alive in that advanced role you’d be foolish to tinker with it.
What Hodgson demands of his players above all else is discipline. Dickson Etuhu summed it up last month:
The Manager has made sure we all know what we have do to. I have never played in a team like this before – where everything is just so simple. It certainly works for us and is one of the main reasons we do well.
That work ethic and organisation is one of the main reasons only three teams have beaten us at home this season. Hodgson knew that, even without a lot of options in midfield, he had to clamp down on Tottenham’s creativity. Modric looked threatening but never really found the space to wreak havoc and Kranjcar drifted in and out of the game. Perhaps Spurs’ biggest threat was the brilliant Gareth Bale, who was buzzing up and down the left flank like a Duracell bunny, but the persistence of Chris Baird and Damien Duff’s tracking back meant he couldn’t have had the kind of impact on this game as he’s had on other games against Fulham.
Furthermore, Hodgson would have badly rued the absence of his own two injured midfielders. Danny Murphy’s failed fitness test was a particular blow. Not only would he have been keen to prove a point against Tottenham, but Murphy has the ability to both spot and execute the killer pass. In his absence, we were a little lost in central midfield. Etuhu’s a decent enough stopper but his distribution was woeful yesterday. Twice he surged forward with the ball into space having won it back: in the first half, he chose the wrong pass, and – after the break – he gave the ball to Jonathan Greening and stopped running bringing a promising move to a standstill. Greening kept things steady in the engine room but wasn’t inclined to try a few forward passes.
What Clint Dempsey might have done drifting infield dangerously is anyone’s guess. As the game progressed, Duff became more influential and came close to breaking the deadlock on two ocassions. Dempsey offers you that X-factor that a workmanlike Fulham side sometimes lacks: the ability to beat a few players or deliver a telling cross. Whisper it quietly, but he just might be back for the replay.