Fulham started the post Dempsey-Dembele era with an emphatic loss at Upton Park this afternoon, losing 3-0 after goals from Nolan, Ried and Taylor in the first half. It was, however, Andy Carroll who shone brightest on the pitch, his aerial prowess proving too difficult to handle and having a hand in each of West Ham’s goals.
The match was billed as elegance vs graft, following the marquee signings of Berbatov and Carroll to Fulham and West Ham respectively. Berbatov wasn’t to see the pitch until after half-time but Carroll made an impact immediately, flicking on a clearance to Vaz Te who found himself behind the Fulham defense, before intelligently laying off the ball to Nolan who smashed a volley into the back of the net.
This was to set the tone, with West Ham’s long balls and tenacity constantly pressing Fulham back, pushing them high up the pitch and making it impossible to break out from deep; although you have to ask how much they missed the guile of Ruiz and Dembele, who both missed the game for different reasons, with Sidwell and Fulham’s static 4-4-2 struggling to create anything. Richardson made a suprise starting debut, but he struggled to make much of an impact.
As such, when West Ham went two goals up you couldn’t begrudge them that margin. After Schwarzer had made a couple of good saves and Diame, who was superb in the Claret shirt, smashed a volley against the bar, the pressure told when Reid connected powerfully to a Matty Taylor corner, although Fulham will be disappointed with the defending.
The West Londoners would also be disappointed in the manner they conceded the third, three white shirts challenging the single entity of Andy Carroll, which meant that when the ball fell to Taylor following a botched clearance, he had all the time in the world to measure a fierce volley low into Schwarzer’s net. At the other end, just a couple of tame long range efforts represented Fulham’s offensive pressure.
After the half-time interval Petric – who wasn’t fully fit – was replaced by ex-Manchester United striker Berbatov. Fulham fans and staff have expressed their delight at the deadline-day signing, and it was easy to see why; Berbatov’s silky touch was on display in many instances during the second half, and perhaps remains the only bright spot to Saturday’s game.
However even that introduction wasn’t enough to inspire Fulham in to life, and despite a couple of good efforts on goal and an overall improvement in Fulham’s play not much was created with any conviction; West Ham, content with their three goal advantage, were similarly sedate, prepared to sit on their lead and wait for counter attacking opportunities.
Rodellega will feel like he should have opened his Fulham account in the last minute after a sublime Berbatov chipped pass found him alone 6 yards out, but his volley was smashed straight at West Ham keeper Jussi Jaskelainen.
That, though, was Fulham’s sole goal-scoring chance of the game, and Jol will be hoping for more energetic, determined and dynamic performances in future, and while you can’t make any conclusions solely from a game where they played the antithesis of what Fulham’s philosophy represents, one has to wonder if they will rue not bringing in a capable replacement for Dembele before 11PM struck on Friday the 31st of August.