Well how about that eh, the first game at Blackpool’s ‘new’ ground and it was a pretty entertaining one too. Injuries, four disallowed goals and two sides that wanted to attack meant a good watch. Sort of. For us Fulham fans it would have been uncomfortable viewing because we played poorly today. Passing went astray, Pantsil had his worst game for us and whilst the Blackpool players and crowd would have been buzzing it was the sort of game I’d expect to get a better result at despite the performance. Blackpool certainly have more spirit about them and a better manager than Derby a couple of seasons back but like them anything above 20th will be an achievement. I hope they stay up, as a club I really like them and they do have a couple of decent players but the general lack of quality really sticks out. Best of luck to them anyway.
As for us, well I thought a few things backed up what I said in my last article. I don’t think Hughes trusts Briggs at left back just yet seeing as he only started on the bench today and Kelly certainly showed today that he’s not comfortable with the ball on his left foot at all although his defending was decent and there wasn’t much threat down our left hand side. The left footed crosses weren’t great, every time he did use the ball well he had to cut back on to his right foot which slows the play down as well as meaning he can’t whip in decent first time crosses and for the icing on the cake the first goal came from a break after Kelly gave the ball away. Salcido will be good enough first choice, he’ll be a match for Konchesky and although like Kelly he’s predominantly right footed his left isn’t bad either. But we need a good back up, unless Hughes reckons Briggs can do a job, though as I say I have my doubts.
Another point I made was that we needed a back up to Zamora, someone who can play a similar target man role to him. We weren’t great before he went off, at least not playing as well Blackpool although we were reasonably comfortable, but as soon as he did thanks to an injury that makes him a big doubt for England and possibly Wolves too we lost almost all attacking force and found it much more difficult to maintain possession, infact Hughes himself said that we lost the focal point of our team. Not only this but the get out clause of the long ball to Zamora was no longer on because as much as I love Clint, Zamora’s replacement, he can’t play that role. The only one we have at the club that can is Elm and in the four games we’ve had this season he’s appeared on the bench once (against Bolton) and hasn’t played a second so you’d have to think that Hughes doesn’t have confidence in him. Let’s hope in the next 2 or 3 days he can get something done.
Someone who did make me eat my words however was Etuhu, when I said I don’t think he has the ‘necessary technique to score alot of goals’. Well he went some way to changing my opinion of that, with a great burst of pace forward which has become his signature move this season matched by a first touch and a delicate clip over Gilks. A very, very good goal, made even sweeter that it was in the 87th minute of a game that we barely deserved a point from. They’re always the best aren’t they? Other than that I thought his general play was good. He made some good tackles and decent passes, as his emergence as a good all round box to box midfielder is becoming more obvious, let’s hope he keeps it up.
Murphy alongside him was poor however, only making 20 passes all game of which 4 went astray, being caught in possession a few times, missing tackles and in general not being able to cope with the lack of time he was getting in the ball. I’m still not really sure what his role is in Hughes’ team, he’s not spreading the play, he’s not making tackles and he’s not bombing forward. He’s just there, which is fine if you’re making alot of intelligent little passes to keep the ball moving into space and clever movements, but Murphy didn’t do that either. I won’t say he’s past it based off one game though considering he’s done well in the other three, although I will be interested to see what would happen if we sign another box to box midfielder to play alongside Etuhu. A partnership like that could work, with one player staying back as the other runs forward. Tuttomercato who if I recall correctly were pretty on the ball with the Okaka deal say that we’re lining up a deal for Antonio Nocerino, a Palermo midfielder, although it won’t be cheap considering he cost them 7 and a half million euroes just a couple of years ago.
I mentioned the pressure on Murphy and pressing us was something Blackpool did really well in. We found it tough in possession, Holloway’s 4-3-3/4-5-1 full of energetic players giving us very little time on the ball. It resulted with a poor passing display from us, we gave the ball away in dangerous areas so many times that a better team would have punished us much more ruthlessly than Blackpool. Fulham on the other hand did this poorly which was suprising. Something Hughes wants us to do, especially away from home, is play higher and apply pressure further up the pitch, so for us to give Blackpool so much time on the ball came as a real suprised and it resulted in them being able to play some really attractive stuff, their second goal would grace any Premier League team, although they were lacking a cutting edge in the most part. Maybe it’s just a case of adapting to a different system.
I’ve talked about Murphy and Kelly’s relatively poor performances but they didn’t come close to Pantsil who probably had the worst game of his Fulham career. The amount of times he made clearances straight to a Blackpool player 10 yards away, or the amount of times he made poor passes was almost unbelievable and compeltely unrecognisable to the consistent, if not eccentric, talented player of last season. Both the goals were his fault; with the own goal his first mistake was to give the ball away with a shocking pass I think to Etuhu which Blackpool pounced on, found Varney free with Kelly still upfield who made a short which was well saved by Stockdale only for Pantsil to commit his second mistake and miskick it into the net when all it needed was a left footed clearance into the stand; with the Varney goal he let his runner go completely unmarked to score although Hughes was playing him onside as well as Pantsil. When he came to Fulham Hodgson said that he had to work with his composure to bring the best out of him and he’s a very good defender, good in the tackle, quick, strong, does well in the air, but based on his first few performances this year you have to ask whether Hodgson’s system covered up his deficiences. However like with Murphy I’m hesitant to make too many conclusions this early on.
Dembele was one Fulham player that really shined today and at 5.5 points replaces Rooney in my fantasy team. Looks like a very talented dribbler, strong, quick, quick feet, good balance, the type of player we haven’t seen at Fulham for ages and today he built on a good half an hour against United and an impressive performance against Port Vale to put in a superb display. His passing was good and precise and the work for our two goals shouldnt go unmissed, an excellent cross with his weaker foot for Zamora followed by some good work on the ball and a defence splitting pass for Etuhu. He also had one dazzling run into the box, only a last ditch tackle stopped what would have surely been a goal. A very impressive performance from him today who looks like a bargain at 4 million quid and raises questions about Gera’s and Dempsey’s roles in the team, I didn’t expect him to slot in and become a first team player this early, I assumed Gera would play instead. One of those so called ‘nice’ problems managers have.
A quick word on the two potential England lads too. Zamora did what Zamora does, he was strong, held the ball up well and was a nuisance all game, capped it off with a nice goal too. He’s so far showing that he’s not just a one season wonder and we can only hope he keeps this up. At 29 I think his time for a move to a ‘big club’ has passed, I think he’s found his perfect club and perfect level with us so I’d say he’s ours until we decide we don’t want him. Let’s hope we can sort him out with a contract extension. Stockdale again was faultless apart from one dodgy moment when Blackpool scored as he failed to claim a cross. The ref ruled it out for a foul but I think it was a fair challenge for the ball, it seems as if there’s an unwritten rule that if a goalie’s touched then there’s a foul which I don’t agree with at all. We profited from the decision this time, and other than that he dealt with everything well, with a few good goalkeeping moments including saves from Adam when he tipped it over despite shifting his weight to a different direction, Varney which wasn’t a good save in terms of reflex but to put such a strong hand to it that it went out for a through in on the opposite side of the pitch was fairly impressive, and I think Ormerod whose shot Stockdale did well to claim after it rebounded off him.
Capello watched the game today and there’s exciting reports about Zamora and Stockdale getting England call ups for the games this week. They deserve it too, Zamora carrying on with the form that got him into the squad for the game earlier this month and Stockdale, when you take into account who’s available, is an obvious choice behind Hart and Foster. Unfortunately Zamora’s got a thigh injury which could be quite worrying if it’s a recurrence of the same injury that kept him out of the world cup, training in the last month of last season and eventually half of the final, and if that wasn’t bad enough Stockdale picked up an ankle knock which could rule both out, although what a confidence boost it’d be for him if he got a call anyway. From being too fat for York to international football in 4 years! Incredible stuff. Like Smalling he’s improving so quickly that I’d be suprised if he’s near his potential yet. As for their chances of being available, well according to Hughes Zamora is ‘very doubtful’ but on Stockdale he’s hopeful. Who knows, there’s still a chance of two Fulham players in the same squad for 50 years.
I also wanted to add a note of caution. We shouldn’t draw too many conclusions from just 3 games in. Mark Hughes’ more attacking approach is refreshing but who can say if it’s better than Hodgson’s until the end of the season when we can judge it on results. In the same way drawing with United doesn’t mean we’re going to go every home game undefeated, just because we couldn’t beat Blackpool doesn’t mean we’re going to go a whole season without an away win or few. Pantsil’s started off the season poorly and yesterday he was shocking but it doesn’t mean he needs to be sold or replaced (infact with the superb performances he has put in for us since he joined I think he deserves a bit more respect that some Fulham fans are showing him), Stockdale’s started the season well but it doesn’t mean that he’s the next David Seaman. The only conclusion that we can make is that it’s going to be an exciting season for Fulham and a pivotal one in our history, but I could have told you that 10 minutes after Forlan scored in Hamburg!
You can watch the goals here if you want, thanks again to Bilet off Friends Of Fulham