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Tor’s Travels – Newcastle

5.15am is not a civilised time to be awake by anyone’s standards, least of all on a Sunday morning slap bang in the middle of a bank holiday weekend, so pity the few of us who were stood outside Craven Cottage at that time waiting for the coach to whisk us up to Tyneside. The coach(es) laid on by the club get a bad rap on many of the internet message-boards but it’s substantially cheaper than forking out for train fares and you don’t have to mingle with fans of rival teams. (I had a particularly bad experience on the way up to Bolton last season and I’m not keen to repeat it). Plus the club provided sustenance for the journey up. I bet you lot on the train didn’t get a free croissant, did you?

It felt more like an away trip on the coach though, and I was immensely excited despite the long journey. It took 6.5 hours including a stop at the services and there was a small detour around the back streets of Newcastle to find suitable coach parking but by golly was it worth it. St James’ Park was one of the few remaining Premier League grounds left on my unvisited list but I wish I’d gone sooner. It gets a bad rap because of how far up the seats are but Gatesy and I concluded that this is only highlighted by the fact that two stands are half the height of the others. Fortunately I’m not afraid of heights so I revelled in the views across the city which threatened to distract my attention from the game played below. Plus the pie was quite nice too.

The match was so-so. The first half was pretty dull with neither ‘keeper tested much, the second half was more interesting and as usual Fulham played much better. We don’t half make things difficult for ourselves though. It’s a 90 minute game and yet we seem to use the first 45 as a warm-up. We’re going to continue to struggle if we carry on like that. Please don’t read that as me calling for Jol’s head – I’m really not. We need a bit more time for the newcomers and young blood to gel with the oldies (love you really Murphy), not to mention time to get everyone working to the new manager’s plan. We can’t expect miracles. Not since we lost Roy anyway.

The only thing that marred a good day, bar the result obviously, was that kit. I’m not keen on the idea of blue (BLUE!) shorts although they do look more black so I suppose that’s almost okay. That shirt’s confusing though. There were quite a few occasions on Sunday when I could’ve sworn our players were topless. Still, apparently all will become clear when the retail version is available later in the year. Now there’s something to look forward to.

Tor’s Travels – Wolves

There are some good reasons to drive to away matches; listening to commentary on an earlier kick-off, and being able to tune in to the dulcet tones of Johnny Doom on Kerrang Radio as you speed down the M6 being just two of them. When my radio decided it wasn’t going to tune into either, I should perhaps have realised that the day wasn’t going to end well and turned back.

As first away games of the season go I can think of better places to go than Molineux. Especially a half-built Molineux. In the sunshine it had all the feel of visiting a lower league team for a pre-season friendly. I know Craven Cottage isn’t the most high-tech ground in the Premier League but we have at least got one scoreboard. It’s got a clock on it too. Woo! Molineux? Nothing. Two massive screens but they were turned off. Helpful.

Next up, the announcement that kick-off would be delayed by 5 minutes due to congestion. Sigh. I’ve never understood this. If congestion is so bad as to delay the start of a match, is 5 minutes going to make much difference? Come to think of it, I didn’t notice a Wolves mascot dancing around the pitch at any time…. Not they needed it. It seems I wasn’t the only one for whom it seemed like pre-season. Jol is still in his “experimental” (read: playing players out of position) stage. It’s early days admittedly and there may yet be hope for his grand plan but the fixtures computer has been kind and given us a chance to build a good foundation for the rest of the season. We should at least be playing our best players in their best positions. I’m quite sure my manager wouldn’t suddenly say to me tomorrow “Tell you what Tor, we’ve enough people in this department, why don’t you go and be an equities trader today? It’ll be fine, what could possibly go wrong?” Cue another stock market crash and collapse of the world economy….. But I digress. Sort it out Jol.

Wolves looked good though, didn’t they? Whether that’s because they are good or because we made them look good, or a combination of the two, I’m unsure. Matt Jarvis, with the exception of his dodgy corners, showed why Capello plucked him out of mid-table club obscurity to represent his country. And there clearly is some talent and pace in the squad. If it weren’t for their fans I’d wish them luck.

Ah yes. I went there. The fans. Note to supporters of football teams: when one of your players has taken out an opposition player and he’s laying on the ground receiving treatment, it is not acceptable for you to sing “you’re just a team full of fairies”, even disregarding the broken leg the same team sustained against your team in a previous season. Got that? Good.

So all in all it was a pretty rubbish day. Plus I was ill which never helps. But between the traffic, the temperamental radio signal, the dreadful performance by the boys in white, the score, the home fans etc etc it still won’t put me off and I’ll still trek halfway around the country (and Europe – yay!) to support my beloved Flumps. Although I do draw the line at the Ukraine. Sorry.

The old boys

I’m bored of the ongoing, and seemingly annual, goalkeeper saga at Motspur Park. If it’s not tales of Schwarzer possibly departing for north London it’s the “Will he, won’t he” confusion surrounding David Stockdale going out on loan. So instead I’m going to concentrate on what ex-Fulham players are up to. That’s much less depressing.

Chris Smalling who left last summer in a big money move to Manchester United has obviously impressed Sir Alex Ferguson as he’s just signed a new five year contract. Crikey. If you were Chris Smalling, you’d be pinching yourself wouldn’t you? In just a few years he’s gone from non-league football to playing in the best league in the world, receiving a call up to the senior England squad and receiving runners-up medals in two European competitions. Not bad going for a young lad.

Previous captain Michael Brown has been snapped up by Leeds United (let’s hope that’s it for their transfer activity). I had a quick look on Wikipedia for an interesting titbit about him. I found one which jogged my memory a little. Remember the tackles on Ryan Giggs and Ashley Cole? Perhaps Michael knew something back then that the News of the World (RIP) hadn’t quite latched on to…. Anyway, good luck to him as he moves up north from Portsmouth.

It seems Jimmy Bullard might be looking at a return to the Premier League as Hull have confirmed interest from our lovable neighbours QPR. Many may see that as a good fit. I’m keeping my opinions on the matter to myself. For once.

In a slight reversal of fortunes, Paul Konchesky looks to be slipping down the football league pyramid, with Leicester City reportedly interested in recruiting him for their next Championship campaign. Given that Ol’ Blue Eyes was on the fringes of Liverpool’s squad following Dalgleish’s appointment last season and sent out on loan, it’s probably a reasonably safe bet that he’ll be leaving Merseyside if an agreement can be reached. If you believe some reports it’s already a done deal.

Good luck to them all and here’s to success in their future careers. Yes, even Jimmy.

2011/12 Fixtures released

A home draw first then. That’s not bad. It’s not a thrilling draw though, is it? No offence to Aston Villa but it’s hardly a glamour tie. Nope, that’s not until October 1st when we host those upstarts from the other side of the borough.

All in all, I’m pretty disappointed. December looks to be a very expensive month with three away matches – two of them being against promoted clubs. The third being a short walk up the road on Boxing Day. Likewise April, with two trips to Merseyside and a trip to Bolton.

My favourite month (on the basis that it’s the least worst) is probably October. A lovely home derby and a visit from the lovely Everton (who have a special place in my heart as my boyfriend is an Evertonian). I’ve promised myself never to set foot in the Britannia Stadium again so that’s a weekend off, and I quite like Wigan with it’s cosy stadium and good-humoured fans.

Don’t get me started on ending the season at White Hart Lane though. The Barclays Premier League fixtures computer is getting a strongly worded letter from me about that.

What do you think about them? Do you have a best and worst month?

The fixtures in full;

August 2011

Sat 13 Aston Villa H
Sat 20 Wolverhampton Wanderers A
Sat 27 Newcastle United A

September 2011

Sat 10 Blackburn Rovers H
Sat 17 Manchester City H
Wed 21 Carling Cup 3
Sat 24 West Bromwich Albion A

October 2011

Sat 1 Queens Park Rangers H
Sat 15 Stoke City A
Sat 22 Everton H
Sat 29 Wigan Athletic A

November 2011

Sat 5 Tottenham Hotspur H
Sat 19 Sunderland A
Sat 26 Arsenal A

December 2011

Sat 3 Liverpool H
Sat 10 Swansea City A
Sat 17 Bolton Wanderers H
Wed 21 Manchester United H
Mon 26 Chelsea A
Sat 31 Norwich City A

January 2012

Mon 2 Arsenal H
Sat 7 F.A. Cup 3
Sat 14 Blackburn Rovers A
Sat 21 Newcastle United H

February 2012

Wed 1 West Bromwich Albion H
Sat 4 Manchester City A
Sat 11 Stoke City H
Sat 25 Queens Park Rangers A

March 2012

Sat 3 Wolverhampton Wanderers H
Sat 10 Aston Villa A 
Sat 17 Swansea City H
Sat 24 Manchester United A
Sat 31 Norwich City H

April 2012

Sat 7 Bolton Wanderers A
Mon 9 Chelsea H
Sat 14 Liverpool A
Sat 21 Wigan Athletic H
Sat 28 Everton A

May 2012

Sat 5 Sunderland H
Sun 13 Tottenham Hotspur A

Next up: Birmingham (away)

What a difference a game makes. Before last week there was a storm up into the top half of the table, the possibility of sneaking into Europe via the Fair Play spot, some great performances from all of the players and a huge burst of optimism surrounding the end of the season. Then came those manager-and-left-back-stealing reds.

So where are we now? Well, we dropped three points and suffered a humiliating defeat. To add injury to insult, Simon Davies suffered an injury and Bobby Zamora has another small niggle, this time in his groin, so they might not feature. I do wonder if Zamora might have been rushed back too soon. I hope not, but at least we’re coming up to the summer when he can have a proper rest. Because that’s the other thing, with five yellow cards and a pending charge for Baird over obscene gestures to the referee, we may not be needing our passports next season. In some respects this is a good thing – if we qualify for the Europa League through the Fair Play route, we’d have to play in June around three weeks after the end of the Barclays Premier League season. It also allows for a full summer and pre-season ready for our onslaught on the league and domestic cups next season. Ahem.

But the season isn’t over yet. We’ve got two more matches. Birmingham away and then we host Arsenal at Craven Cottage on the last day. Be honest, how many points do you think we’ll take from the possible six? Three weeks ago, I’d have said zero, but now we’ve another away win under our belt and the players need to make up for a pretty shoddy performance last Monday so, together with Birmingham’s form this season, I’m reasonably optimistic about taking something from St Andrew’s tomorrow. What will be interesting is what team Mark Hughes puts out. We’ve issues at full back with Baird’s suspension and Salcido’s inconsistency, and I’ve heard a few people question whether Schwarzer should feature after his impression of Heurelho Gomes last week. Harsh maybe, and I can’t see him being dropped, but I do like Stockdale and would like to see him get more playing time.

The injury to Simon Davies means we may get another chance to see Gael Kakuta who seems to have impressed since joining us on loan from them up the road and after opening his Fulham account (even if it was slightly fortunate) at the Stadium of Light, it would perhaps be harsh for him to be overlooked. Or we may have a rare sighting of Zoltan Gera. Rumoured to be going just about everywhere else except staying in SW6 this summer, Gera is fit and could feature. Hughes has been reported as saying he’d like to keep the Hungarian captain at Craven Cottage next season but Zolly doesn’t seem to figure too highly in Hughes’ plans. Perhaps tomorrow will be a opportunity for him to change that. Sidwell continues to look good in midfield and although Etuhu has improved this season, I think we need Sidwell’s intelligence and speed in the centre of the park. Plus he’s not afraid to have a shot occasionally. Upfront we’ve a few options and I like that Hughes has been rotating the strikers. It’ll keep them all on their toes. Moussa Dembele seems to work well with whoever he’s playing with and I think that’s a strength we should definitely use to our advantage. I have my doubts about Gudjohnsen and I think I need to accept that my bet with Gatesy that AJ will score 8 goals this season simply isn’t going to happen, but we are still getting some goals in and that’s what matters. I couldn’t care less who scores them.

So, my XI for tomorrow assuming Davies and Zamora are unavailable; Stockdale, Briggs, Hangeland, Hughes, Kelly, Gera, Sidwell, Murphy, Dempsey, Dembele, Kakuta.

Do you agree? Who would you play?