I bailed out of the Football Supporters Federation Parliament early yesterday (thanks alot to Dan for inviting me, it was really interesting) to go see the stiffs down at Kingsmeadow because I knew I wouldnt get much chance to see them and it’s a new ground and team to tick off. You got to take anything you see at a reserve game with a pinch of salt but even still it was quite interesting to see some reserves and youth players making the step up.
I’ll start off with the game itself. I really dont know how we lost this, Stockdale didn’t have a save to make and the two goals were down to appauling defending and rank bad luck as we first failed to clear a corner somehow letting Brett Johnson smash home from close range before Stockdale was entirely wrong footed by a wicked deflection from Charles Ademeno’s shot. We were clearly the superior team (although AFC Wimbledon weren’t too bad and they might be ok next season) and rarely troubled other than a couple of break aways and dangerous crosses into the box. We played some nice stuff and were much better technically but as per in pre-season games it was not as sharp as one would expect. At the end of the day the result was largely down to some poor finishing as we managed to carve out a fair few chances and got into promising positions numerous times but couldn’t score. The result was poor but the performance promising. I’ll take the optimistic view that the trend of not finishing chances in our games so far is down to lack of sharpness and we should focus more on the overall performance, for now.
As for the individual players, starting off with the players we’re familiar with. Baird and Hughes were their usual selves, assured. Murphy I thought was uncharacteristically quiet in the first half but picked up in the second. Stockdale really had very little to do, when he did it he did it compitently apart from one incident where the AFC Wimbledon left winger beat the Fulham defender (Baird I think it was and by accident too, he tried to do a stepover and stumbled over the ball) and cut the ball back from the byline, Stockdale could only palm it out and after a goalmouth scramble they had a tame shot cleared off the line but that was about all the trouble he was caused and his distribution was again very impressive. Riise was disappointing, I was expecting him to make an impression but he did very little before being subbed early in the second half. Rarely beat his man or put in a good cross. Halliche was even worse; in the air he dealt with everything well but gave the ball away poorly a few times and was caught hopelessly out of position twice, leaving loads of space for the runner to go into, not to mention being beaten once very very easily one on one. I’m really unsure about him to be honest, I’ve never been impressed.
Now for the youngsters. At left back we had Alex Smith, an academy graduate who I think went out to the Faroes on thursday. He didn’t seem out of place at all, making alot of forward runs and linking with Frei well. Seemed defensively competent but there will be bigger tests to come. Upfront we started with Trotta, who only played the first half, and Dalla Valle, who played the whole 90 minutes. Trotta played on the entirely other side of the pitch so I can’t really judge him too much, only that he looks strong and imposing without knowing how to use it best yet I think, and showed some good technical ability when he danced around a couple of AFC wimbledon players into the box when he really should have scored. He also missed another sitter when Frei’s (who looks very very good, more on him later) shot bounced off the post and he fluffed the rebound. Again like with Trotta my view of Dalla Valle wasn’t great in the first half but I saw him better in the second and he looks pretty good, sprightly with some technical competance but in a couple of key moments when he had the opportunity to make goal scoring chances his first touch let him down really badly. Sometimes it was impressive so maybe it shows a lack of composure, although when he had a chance to score one on one he executed it fine with a nice lob over the advancing keeper, only to have a defender clear off the line. His passing was fairly good too. Replacing Trotta upfront was Danny Hoesen who was on the bench for our last home game of last season. He seemed to add more attacking impetus to our game and we caused notably more of a threat in the second half because of it I thought. Not as strong but quick and seemed to get involved with the midfield much more with his back to goal. Technically he looks pretty good and fired a couple of shots at goal including a free kick that bent round the wall that the keeper had to dive quickly to get to. Probably the most impressive of our three young forwards.
In midfield we saw Donegan start alongisde Murphy in midfield. In the first half Donegan impressed me, with his willingness to take posession, often coming deep to take the ball off the defence, and making short incisive passes, keeping the ball and attacking momentum. He also showed a bit of flair and good close control when he skipped past two or three AFC Wimbledon defenders. Second half he didn’t seem to make the same impact and I didn’t really notice him and was replaced with eight minutes to go. Karim Frei started on the left hand side of midfield and was probably the star of the show and it is hard to believe that he is only 17. He looks quick and even more skillfull, capable of beating a defender with a trick at will. In the first half he ran at the defence numerous times and it is the first time for a while that I was thinking ‘get the ball out to him he can make something happen’ about a Fulham player. Clearly favours his right foot and so doesn’t go outside when it seems like the better option and his left foot could do with some work itself, but looks very talented. In the second half he faded for the first twenty minutes or so, seemingly trying too hard or too much and it not coming off, he was visably getting frustrated, but when he cut inside and beat two defenders to win a free kick just outside of the box he seemed to get his confidence back and become involved in the game again. Really exciting prospect, I look forward to seeing Frei more for the first team and I won’t be suprised to see him be a regular on the bench in the cups and perhaps even the league towards spring.
The last two players to mention are Keanu Marsh Brown and Courtney Harris (ex school mate, didn’t know him personally mind he was in the year below. Next player out of Chiswick after Carlton Cole perhaps?). Marsh-Brown came on for Riise on the right side of midfield (after making his name as a right back it seems like this is now his position) and made in general a much more positive impact in the game I thought. Like Frei he looks quick, perhaps a little stronger too but not as tricky, and offers something different since his foot matches his favourite side. He managed to outpace the AFC Wimbledon left back easily enough but his crossing wasn’t always top notch so while he stretched the defence he didn’t offer much end product himself. He seems like he has a powerful shot though, having a few drives from distance, and also drifts inside with the ball somtimes which is positive to see (not much with his left foot though but it keeps the defender on his toes). With two players on both flanks that could beat players easily and were willing to run at the defence it was very fresh to see! Harris only played eight minutes so I can’t really judge him although he did seem to make more forward runs to pick up possession than Donegan which probably comes from originating as a winger, and often popped up near Marsh Brown.
All in all it was worth watching, and we do have some exciting prospect for sure. Don’t look too much into the result because it’s incredibly deceiving.