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Tor’s travels – Bolton

I like Bolton. There. I said it. Call me a big softie but I like the fact that we were promoted along with Bolton and Blackburn and we’ve all stayed up since. I hope that continues, despite a slightly rocky season for them both (and us earlier on). Also, Sean Davis is at Bolton now and I don’t think my love for him will ever fade so wherever he makes his home will have a little place in my heart… *sighs*

I also really like visiting the Reebok. I like driving up the motorway and seeing the floodlights on your right as you approach. It’s quite a unique structure compared to other grounds, it’s certainly easily identifiable even without the branding. The away fans area is enormous, especially when the last away trip was Villa which… ermmm… isn’t, there are good facilities (I’m talking toilets, it’s important) and the people are friendly. I’m starting to get fussy about which grounds I visit now but the Reebok is definitely high on the list for repeat visits.

Obviously yesterday’s trip was boosted by the team’s performance and the convincing manner in which we won. Bolton fans will have to blame one of the stewards for Dempsey’s second because as we were singing “we’re gonna score in a minute” he looked at me and said, smiling, “No you won’t”. Ahem. But I think we deserved to be 2-0 up going into the break.

Half time entertainment time. Zorbing. I’d love to do zorbing, it looks like excellent fun. I didn’t manage it but Billy was picked to represent the travelling fans and did quite well and got a medal for his troubles. Jealous.

More greatness in the second half. I was actually quite relaxed which is quite something when we’re winning away as usually I’m hiding behind my hands. There was too much going on though: Kacaklinic’s first start, in which he did himself proud; Trotta’s league debut; Diarra’s first goal for the Whites (first of many, I hope)…

BUT. There’s always a but when things start off this well and that’s the two things that marred yesterday. The home fans booed Bryan Ruiz as he was being treated and subsequently substituted off, and later there were reports of Bolton fans attacking the Fulham fans’ coach with a brick. Frustration and anger can manifest themselves in unpleasant ways but the actions of a small number of Bolton fans then reflect badly on the rest and that’s a shame because, by and large, they’re a good bunch.

I still hope I get the chance to go back next season though, and for many more after that. Next time I may even be able to find the McDonald’s nearby…

Tor’s Travels – Aston Villa

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I wasn’t going to go. I had made other plans. About 9am yesterday morning I had a wave of optimism, cancelled my plans and decided to go. Hmmmmm. In fairness, we were on the verge of seeing history in the making – Fulham haven’t won four Premier League matches on the bounce (largely, I’d imagine because our away form is so poor) but we were seemingly flying and Villa…. er…. less so.

Thing is, I’m not keen on the Midlands clubs. The fans are…. odd. And in the case of some, more than a little abusive. So I’d kinda said to myself that I wouldn’t bother going to any of those grounds again. But as I drove along the M6 and caught a glimpse of Villa Park I did start getting excited. And not just because QPR had just had a perfectly legitimate goal disallowed. Villa Park is an impressive ground. Not necessarily in size or snazziness but how beautiful is the Holte End? If you’ve never seen it, go. The picture above simply doesn’t do it justice.

Anyway, architecture aside, it’s not the most away-fan-friendly ground. There are loads of stairs up to a narrow rabbit run barely large enough to take the 1,000+ fans that made the trip. But they do have tellies which everyone was glued to, willing Bolton to score again. At times I thought people were more interested in the result of that game than of ours. Bolton scored, cue lots of singing about Mark Hughes and then the rush to the seats.

The atmosphere wasn’t great but pockets of the travelling fans were in fine voice, baiting the home fans and making me chuckle. Something needed to.

You know what happened next. I don’t need to dwell on it. Lork will probably do his player ratings later and, for once, I won’t be begging him to give Stephen Kelly 1,000,000 out of 10 because, frankly, he doesn’t deserve it. Unfortunately, neither do any of the other players. It seemed as though none of them were at their best. A team can normally cover one player having an off-day but what happens when they all are? We were lucky to only lose 1-0 to be perfectly honest, it just feels so much worse because it was conceded in the dying seconds. I’d have walked away happy with a point. That late goal was a kick in the stomach.

*sighs* Onwards and upwards. It wasn’t a must-win game. We’re still in the top half of the table. There will be lessons that we can learn and we’ll come back from this. It’s the Fulham way, innit.

Tor’s Travels – QPR

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I have a confession. Well, a few. Before yesterday I had never set foot inside Loftus Road. I’ve hated the build-up over the past week or so. I refused to think about it as a derby match and until about 2.30pm yesterday, this was just another away match from which we’d probably not get anything.

First of all, I would like to congratulate various authorities and bodies for making arrangements for a sporting day that most of South West London and Surrey could enjoy. With the trains full of Chelsea fans, rugby fans as well as QPR and Fulham, public transport was certainly atmospheric. This is not a good thing. Don’t do it again.

Big thank you to the Walkabout for being the designated away pub for the day, even if some QPR fans did sneak in. I was still in denial at this point but I did manage to join in with some of the singing at around 2pm. It’s not often rivals are united in their hatred of other clubs, but does anyone really like Chelsea? Honestly?

And then it was time to walk to the ground. And then I started getting nervous, trying to decide if the nausea was caused by hunger or anxiety. The latter, mostly. Nerves turned to excitement on walking up the stairs to be greeted by some inspired fans dishing out the 6 nil leaflets (I kept mine as a souvenir). Although were we in danger of tempting fate? We’re not the greatest travellers the Premier League has ever seen….

As luck would have it, I was in the front row of the upper tier, 2 seats from my mate Billy. Billy should now be hailed as an FFC hero for his banner which we unfurled and secured until the nasty jobsworth steward confiscated it. No sense of humour. Sparky is obviously making his mark on the club already.

Whilst Bannergate was going on, I nearly missed the ball hit the back of the QPR net. What?! How?! We’re in the lead – cue me going slightly mental before Billy pointed out the linesman’s flag was up. Not that it mattered, a few minutes later Dembélé flicked the ball up and back to the Pog who tricked Paddy Kenny into diving a bit too soon and cooly slotted past him. God, I love that man.

The only problem with taking the lead is the possibility you might then lose it. I’m not good when we have a fragile lead. Even when QPR were reduced to 10 men after debutant Diakité was shown a second yellow, we sat back allowing them possession. Not ideal. More of the same in the second half with a few near-ish misses which made the heart-rate quicken. There were two interesting stats during the week – Fulham are one of the only teams in the league to have not lost after going into the lead, and that we’ve lost the most points in the last 15 minutes of matches. Who else couldn’t watch the final fifteen plus four? I certainly couldn’t. The nerves and knotted stomach were back. Saying that, I did manage to catch Dickson’s storming run towards goal. Where did that come from?! Such a shame it didn’t result in a goal but at least we were still trying and not sitting back.

I hate whistling. It makes me stabby. But words cannot describe how much I wanted Phil Dowd to blow up for the end of the match. And finally, he did. And we celebrated and we sang and I have no voice today. You?

Worth it though, eh?

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Thank you to @FulhamHarv for the scoreboard picture.

Tor’s Travels: Sunderland

Apologies for the delay in posting but I have only just woken from the snore-fest that was Saturday’s match against Sunderland. Don’t get me wrong, excitement is not always the best thing, and I’m happy that we came away with a point but it would’ve been nice if *something* had happened. In the match, I mean. I was with two other people on Saturday and between us we managed to get distracted by the police; the seagulls; the glimmer of the sun on the roof of another stand; chocolate brownies; Twitter; pondering where those chaps in the leotards kept their wallets….

*sighs*

Annoyingly, the one really exciting thing – Mark Schwarzer’s superhuman save right near the end – was up the other end of the pitch and I couldn’t see it properly. That’s no reflection on the Stadium of Light by the way, I like it there and it’s probably one of my favourite away trips but even my 20/20 vision can’t see through the crowd of players in the opposite box at that distance.

*shrugs*

Not sure what else to say really. There was nothing. No banter between the fans, no terrible decisions to berate the referee for, no beach balls… We have been playing better (prettier, more attacking) football recently but even that was seemingly left down in London. One newspaper review I read yesterday suggested that the Europa League run is already taking its toll on our squad, together with the recent spate of injuries and the international week in which a number of key squad members played their little socks off, maybe we can just put this down to a bad day. I hope so, because I’m not travelling to Swansea, Twente and Norwich in December to stare at bloody seagulls.

 

NB Tor’s Travels will be absent next week as I’m not going to Arsenal. It smelt funny last time.

Fulham 1 Blackburn Rovers 1 – player ratings

I think most people would agree that it was a much better display from the team today. We still lack the finishing power and a bit of pace I think though. Andy Johnson has pace but clearly isn’t impressing Jol enough to be called upon to start, possibly because he doesn’t find the net as much as he perhaps should considering his work rate. Stephen Kelly showed he can be quick when needed although I still worry when he gets too far forward that he might not make it back in time. Pace isn’t something that can be learnt or that’ll come with time either so either we’ll be very busy in the January transfer window or we need to find a way to play that works with the current squad. All in all though, I felt it was a positive performance. We started brightly, went a bit slow and allowed the goal but we got back into it. The second half was mostly all Fulham attacking which left my hear beating fast for hours after but was sadly fruitless. It’s almost as though opposition goals have some kind of forcefield around them.

So how did they do individually? I won’t rate Hughes as he wasn’t really on the pitch long enough for me to form an opinion.

Schwarzer – 7, did reasonably well I think although I don’t remember him having an awful lot to do, especially in the second half.

John-Arne Riise – 8, I like him a lot. He always seems to find acres of space and is sometimes horribly underused by others but knows his game & plays it well.

Senderos – 6, I’m not convinced and today did little to change that. Although I do like the fact that he’s not afraid to go in for challenges.

Hangeland – 7, another good performance from Big Brede. I hope Wenger wasn’t watching.

Kelly – 8, those who follow me on Twitter will know my feelings for Kelly and I hope you won’t think I’m being biased but I thought he did bloomin’ well today. Some good, well-timed tackles & some great crosses.

Duff – 9, brilliant just brilliant. He got himself about and showed some wonderful moves today. Added points for the flexibility of moving to left back to bring on another striker.

Murphy – 8, a good game from Captain Dan I thought. I know some aren’t keen but we’re lucky to have someone of his experience and intelligence.

Sidwell – 8, I love this man and I’m so happy to see him starting. He’s lively, intelligent and a great team player. Today looked as though he’d been part of our midfield for years.

Dempsey – 10, our American readers won’t be happy when I say I’m not Clint’s biggest fan but my God did he play well today and I’m proud to say he’s a Fulham player. He’s got some phenomenal skill which he put to great use today. Absolutely my man of the match.

Dembélé – 8, he’s great and probably one of our most talented players but today (as with most days) he seemed to only be able to move sideways and too scared to shoot which is beyond frustrating. Just take a punt Moose, one’ll go in eventually and it’ll do your confidence a world of good.

Bryan Ruiz – 6, hmmmm. A 45 minute debut in which he didn’t really impress. I’ll reserve judgment until we’ve seen a bit more from him.

Zamora – 9, great work rate, great finish for the goal. It’s a shame we rely on him so much but he always steps up to the responsibility placed on him.

Johnson – 7, I always think it’s tricky rating late-ish subs as they tend to have a tough job but he did alright. No more no less I’m afraid.

Thoughts?