I felt that among both fans and Jol there was a touch of pessimism before the match yesterday, but I felt it would have been relieved as soon as ‘Fulham number 9… Dimitar Berbatov’ was heard over the tannoy. And so it was, as he gave not so much a fantastic performance but a workshop on guiding players to perform as arrogantly, casually and sublimely as he does. As the scoreline suggested – although it left me quite annoyed, I was about to go with a gut feeling on Cottage Talk of 3-0 before thinking it’d make me sound crazy which is fairly irritating – it was a successful one, as Fulham coasted to victory against a good West Brom side, albeit one with a player deficit for an hour or so.
Schwarzer – 7, made the necessary stops but won’t have felt overly worked. Barely saw any ball at his feet, which is interesting.
Hangeland – 7, marked first Long then the very physical Lukaku out of the game, while making all necessary interceptions. The way he took the ball and strolled out of defence before playing an incisive pass was lovely to watch, although I can’t understand why West Brom gave him so much time.
Hughes – 6, like Hangeland covered defensively adequately enough, including a couple of quite important tackles when West Brom had a couple of sniffs in our box in the second half.
Riether – 7, although was quite quiet in the first half exploded in to life in the second, after West Brom gave him the freedom of the side of the pitch. Was always an option and spent most of his time alongside Duff, although his final ball was not quite as accurate as it should have been.
Riise – 6, a quiet game quite, surprisingly so since it is the kind that he relishes, but still demonstrated urgency when required and fed Kacaniklic with some tasty passes. Was rarely troubled at the back.
Baird – 8, with Diarra out there was justifiably a lot of concern about where our midfield impetus would come from. However, Baird came in and proved that he was a more-than capable deputy. Baird, like a lot of players out there yesterday, was afforded a lot of space and so he could use his sumptuous range of passing to pull the West Brom shape apart. The accuracy, and more importantly the effectiveness and choice of his long range passes was a joy to behold, and meant that he could run the show. Let’s not forget that he has great defensive prowess too, and although that wasn’t particularly tested yesterday it will come in use in the future no doubt. Jol seems to see him as a central midfielder he can rely on.
Sidwell – 8, in a similar way there were a lot of doubts about Sidwell. I don’t think that is quite that fair, owing to his pedigree, but nonetheless he, like Baird, had a stormer yesterday. Not afraid to knock it wide with lofted balls to switch the play, his energy meant that we kept impressive ball movement all throughout the match, and that paid off when he raced forward to smash in the third – and his second of the season.
Duff – 7, the evergreen Irishman turned in yet another performance. The guy is so remarkably consistent that I shouldn’t really be surprised, yet I always am. Nonetheless, he tore the West Brom left back apart – especially in the second half – with a display of skill, quick thinking and great tenacity. Unfortunately denied a goal when a deflected effort was somehow saved by Foster.
Kacaniklic – 8, out with the old and in with the new, so to speak. While Duff has limited seasons left him in, Kacaniklic right now is enjoying a wonderful run of form. Like Duff he displays a knack of attacking a full back and bamboozling them with agility and slight of foot. While his final ball was lacking for most of the game by my reckoning, he created both of Berbatov’s goals: firstly with a jinking run which bypassed three defenders before sliding the ball to the unmarked Berbatov before next bursting past Jones and teasing him in to a clumsy lunge – a definite penalty. He quietened in the second half – the baton of wing wizardry had passed over to Duff – but regardless, it was another imposing performance from the youngster.
Berbatov – 9, while we saw a buzzing midfield display from all participants, Berbatov will take the headlines and rightly so. A gorgeous finish set up by a very quick thought in order to get the ball out enough from under his feet was followed up by a cool penalty, and perhaps he will be disappointed not to take home the match ball after fluffing two good chances. His goals apart, Berbatov orchestrated Fulham’s performance. Visibly showing frustration at times and applauding very gracefully at others, he seemed to adapt to a lower calibre of team – not a slight on Fulham – with a great enthusiasm, coming deep to pass the ball, tackling fervently, even looking to get young sub Alex Smith on the ball during a last minute counter-attack. If Berbatov continues to enjoy playing for Fulham as much as he did yesterday then we are going to have a lot of fun with him in the team.
Rodallega – 6, a fruitless afternoon for Rodallega, who is still looking for his first Fulham goal despite seeing fellow strikers Berbatov and Petric both score twice on their debuts. He will be disappointed with a couple of poor layoffs and slack touches, and he seems desperate to get a goal – just look at his reaction after he hit the bar from two hards and let Sidwell score -, sometimes to the detriment of the team as there were a few occasions yesterday when he shot when he probably should have passed. In spite of that though, he worked hard (perhaps too hard), was involved, and was the main player left to foray on his own upfront while everyone else passed it for fun around West Brom’s players. At the end of the game I liked how he went hugged every Fulham player (sometimes more than once) and applauded the Fulham faithful with vigor before sealing it with a kiss of the badge. I think we’ll like him at Fulham, so long as we are patient enough to let him find his feet and finally explore that ability that we know he has, because the signs are that he is a very willing player, enjoying, I imagine, the step up in class from Wigan.
Kasami – N/A, I was annoyed Jol waited so long to put on a sub and I would have loved to see Kasami on for a half hour or so, seeing as we were in total control of the game. Even still, despite being only afford a little over 6 minutes Kasami made an impression during his cameo, showing strength and skill, although like Rodallega perhaps tried a little too much. I hope to see a lot more of him.
Smith – N/A, now, this was a surprise. Smith is an academy gruduate that seems to have gone under the radar. I’ve seen him a few times and he appears to be a slighter, more nimble Briggs, a left back who can also play left midfield and has great energy, with a penchant for a final ball. His cameo was even shorter than Kasami’s, but just as exciting, as with his first touch, under pressure from West Brom players in the Fulham box, he tricked his way out before initiating a counter attack. I wonder if he is a dark horse for the next player to break through.