As some of you know, I ran the Hammy End twitter during transfer deadline day back in January. When news filtered through that Pogrebnyak was pretty much set to join, Zamora was locked in talks with QPR and we were struggling with the Barrios deal (turns out we were a wage agreement away from signing him which could have been and might still be a great shame) I was a bit concerned, but the situation was still favourable so long as we signed a front man who we knew we could depend on to play well, until summer at least. Knock Zamora all you like but he was good for us while he was here. So when Zamora left, the Barrios deal was dead in the water and we signed a player on a deal until the end of the season for 410k Euros who once sparkled for Russia and Zenit but was now struggling, with a single goal in 18 appearances for the season, I was concerned. I knew that if we could shape him up to something like the form which attracted the attention of several top European clubs we’d have a good player on our hands, and if we couldn’t then we had only commited to a six month contract. Win win in that sense, but a gamble because our season could have becoming tediously dull if it wasn’t a success. And I think it’s fair to say he has exceeded even the loftiest of expecatations.
One of the most obvious issues under Martin Jol’s Fulham is a lack of ‘killer instinct’ in the final third, which is so terribly cliche but I think it is fair enough. We have a plethora of cultured, twinkle toed midfielders who could create a pass from half a yard of space, and of course Dempsey although it’s worth noting alot of his work starts from deep with wonderfully precise and instinctive runs, and besides he is no forward. Infront of them we had: Zamora who’s style of play has been parodied to some extent by a fair amount of fans, ever since he joined; AJ who has scored in just a single league game this season; Sa, who unfortunately doesn’t look like he will make the grade (although there’s still a chance, he’s in the same boat as Pogrebnyak before he joined in many ways); and Trotta who is definately not good enough yet and the hysteria about his abscence in the team at times was a bit rediculous. Anyway these forwards offer relatively little goal threat, when they play their priorities on the pitch, or style of play or ability, isn’t conducive to it.
Pogrebnyak has changed all that. It’s important to bare in mind that the ratio of 5 in 3 will not last forever, it will be a relative anomaly in his Fulham career I think. However it does demonstrate that he absolutely knows where the goal is. He has scored almost every type of goal you can already:
1) A lovely bit of control to get a fierce drive out from under his feet and slams it into the top corner.
2) Through on goal after anticipating a Dembele chopped backheel that I don’t think anyone else in the ground did and despite finding himself 8 yards out has the poise and composure to manage to round the keeper still with the most delicate of feints
3) Strong, brave header through a crowd, picking out the space between the player on the line and the keeper
4) Slammed past the keeper from just inside the box despite being on the run and having the ball delivered slightly behind him
5) Chasing in after the keeper spills a shot
An assortment of goals which indicate he knows how to score. A combination of finesse, strength, power, anticipation and technique. So he knows how to finish.
Comparing his style of play to Zamora is interesting too. As I said in this week’s player ratings Zamora will very often pull out to the wing, to offer an option, a ball over the top perhaps, or draw out a defender, when we are building attacks. Pogrebnyak however will find himself very central and only tends to run out to the channels when we are countering. That isn’t to say that he shies away from getting involved in possession though, as he made several good first time flicks to initiate or continue good attacking play. He plays the game much faster than Zamora, and offers a bit more mobility. He stays pressed up against the centre halves, so they are constantly under pressure, and it’s something he remarked in the press this week when comparing his time here with the time at Stuttgart (he laments how relatively deep he was played in Germany). Despite being a fairly cumbersome he is actually quite quick and sharp to anticipate passes. Like I say, he’s a natural goalscorer. Add to that his work rate and endearing celebrations and he’s the whole package.
So in this system that Jol plays, with a central striker either in a 4-5-1/4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 (he doesn’t play 4-4-2, even with AJ who is doing a sterling job being the fella who buzzes around the attacking third of the pitch), he needs both someone who can actively engage in quick, possession football but also offer both a fluidity of movement and has a focus on scoring. It’s why I was so excited about Barrios, a wonderful scorer of goals who was so highly rated that Real Madrid had an 18 million euro bid rejected for him just 18 odd months ago but he also has the pace and intelligence about him to help engage with our play. But from what we’ve seen from Pogrebnyak, he offers the whole package too. For just a fraction of the price. This is only early days but Pogrebnyak could be to us what Ba was to Newcastle, a forward also signed on shaky ground (dodgy knees) for a nominal fee but has 16 to his name so far this season, I believe. Infact do you remember, Ba signed for West Ham January before last and scored relatively prolifically.
Now we’re in the sticky situation of wanting him to score as much as he can but hoping he doesn’t, because if he continues as is then bigger fish than Fulham will be interested in him. But it looks like he’s taken to life at the club, just as much as we’ve taken to him. Here’s hoping the Pog gets a 3 year contract to go with his next hattrick eh?