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Old Trafford: A sign of things to come

After a 5-0 mauling of Norwich last week, Fulham were always going to face a sterner test today than they did last week. This game was perhaps the best indicator of the season that we are to have, telling us whether Fulham would ever improve that dismal away record and how we would match up to the bigger sides. If only one thing jumped out of the performance today, it was promise. Promise that we will end that away record and promise that this will be a good season.

Fulham opened the match with a crisp passing 1-2 between Petri? and Ka?anikli?, who was a delight to watch for the whole match. We went onto the front foot from the start- now how many times did you see that away last season? Ka?anikli? and Petri? then continued their winding run, which ending up with Petri? being fouled on the edge of the box. Clever ball in from the much bemoaned Ruiz, Duff loses his marker (with a bit force) and pow, its 1-0. A brilliant start, but not one that would not be carried on.

Fulham dramatically tailed off after that, sleeping at times and being forced back by a combination of a relentless United attack and poor possession play and passing by Fulham. Briggs, Ruiz, Petri? and Diarra were perhaps the worst offenders in this- they just tailed off. Then again, so did most of the Fulham team, the notable exception being the sumptuous Dembélé. Of course, Robin van Persie’s goal was something special, but the goalkeeping for United’s second was poor, as was the marking for Rafael’s header and United’s third. Things were not looking good at half time- this was the Fulham of a few seasons ago, the Fulham that looks timid and shy and wary of attacking in away matches. This is shown through the excellent player influence chalkboard that the Four Four Two “Stats Zone” app provides.

A Timid First Half

Then Fulham woke up. We came out after the break and we looked very good. We stopped playing United’s football and started to play our football.Our attacking play became more linked, our defensive play came more solid and we looked a threat, a threat that was only kept out by the excellent (well, apart from the Cross) David De Gea. Moussa Dembélé took a stranglehold on the game and tore that United defence to shreds with an excellent display that consisted of nine dribbles, three key passes, a 98% passing success rate and eighty touches. That is an excellent all round performance and one that very nearly got us that equalizer. The full backs came into their own, and a special mention for Matthew Briggs who transformed his shambles of a first half into an excellent all round full back performance, making the most tackles (5) out of any of the Fulham defence and winning the most duels over possession in defence(9). Steve Sidwell and Hugo Rodallega came on and both looked lively and got stuck in. We prevented United creating chances had they had done so freely in the first half, and closed down the wingers much better, which was just part of the change. The switch to a more narrow formation was also a key point, challenging a weak United centre back pairing and that certainly helped us to perform much better. The change in the second half performance is best shown by the second player influence chalkboard – a noticeable difference compared to a shy first half.

A Much More Dominating Second Half

One person who does deserve mention is Bryan Ruiz. Despite concerns that he was being pushed off the ball, he was very good in the second half. He made 4 key passes, got fouled twice and got disposed the same amount of times as Dembele (4). His best moment was his little dribble in front of the defence before flicking it through to Rodallega who got his shot blocked. Lots of our play came through him, and his passing options were good and it was not coincidence that with Dembélé moving further forward as the game wore on he became much better- he was simply too isolated in the first half. I felt that there was an air of him being scapegoated today, his lack of strength being the most obvious reason why people do- but that was not the case. It was a good performance in what is perhaps the trickiest role to play against a strong team.

For the last 15 minutes of the game we bullied United on their home soil. Bullied. Overall we took 16 shots, with 6 on target- superb stats for an away team at United! We put ourselves forward and weren’t scared of attacking, whilst remaining defensively strong. Our second 45 would have quite happily got a win, certainly a draw, if we had played like that in the first half. I believe that Jol can sort out this team to play like that for 90 minutes- we know they can do it.

The transfer window closes this week and Jol has already outline his want for a striker and a cm and this was illustrated today. We lacked a powerful striker that could bully a makeshift central defence. Those two additions will give us something to mix up in away games and to keep the squad on its toes- something that will lead to better away results.

The game might have been lost, but it was full of promise- promise of a dynamic attacking Fulham away side, an away side that might just change our usual poor away displays. With reinforcements coming in during this week, I am extremely hopeful of an excellent season for Fulham: perhaps their best yet.

I’d like to finish by saying well done to Fulham’s Under-18s, who hammered Wolves 7-1 today. Promising sixteen year-old Emerson Hyndmanscored a hat-trick from midfield, whilst the new Teddy Sheringham, Cauley Woodrow, scored a brace including a 30 yard screamer. Keep an eye out on those two- two excellent talents in an under 18 side filled with much promise.

Behind Enemy Lines: Manchester United (A)

Answering the questions for our regular Behind Enemy Lines feature ahead of Fulham’s trip to Old Trafford this week,  is ‘The Boss’ from Trulyreds.com.

Hello and thanks for answering the questions. Firstly, how long have you supported Manchester United for?

I’ve been supporting Manchester United for twenty years. I was 7 years old at that time!

It has been another big transfer window for Manchester United, buying the likes of Shinji Kagawa and Nick Powell. How have they fitted in during pre-season?

 Kagawa impressed me with his skills and vision during in pre-season, while Powell showed some signs that he will have a bright future with us.

United recently completed the major transfer of Robin Van Persie from Arsenal. Are you pleased to see him sign and do you think he will form a deadly partnership with Wayne Rooney?

All United fans were pleased to see last season top goal scorer wearing the red shirt! I think so, but this partnership will need some time to be as deadly as Fergie wants.

United’s season got off to a very disappointing start with Monday’s night defeat to Everton. Where did it go wrong, and do you think you will bounce back against Fulham?

It was a disappointing performance, but, let me admit it, Everton was the better team and they deserved the three points. We were enabled to break their tight defence and Fellaini did everything in football to secure an important home win for his team!

I think we can bounce back and win against Fulham. Although Fulham had a good first game against Norwich, their record against United at Old Trafford isn’t good at all as they have lost five times without scoring a single goal.

You lost out to Manchester City in the most dramatic of circumstances last season- do you think you can grab the title back this time around?

I believe we can win our title back, as long as we avoid last season mistakes (wasting easy points at home – conceding easy goals). We are unlucky to start the season with four injured defenders (Ferdinand, Jones, Evans and Smalling), but I think we can live with it once we find the net more often.

Are there any youngsters in the United squad who you expect to make a real impact on the Premier League this year?

Both Robbie Brady and Ryan Tunnicliffe did well with Hull City and Peterborough United last season. Sir Alex Ferguson will give them their chance with other young lads in the League Cup…So if they show their abilities, Sir Alex won’t hesitate to give them their Premier League debut!

Who is the United dangerman that Fulham should be watching out for during the match?

Shinji Kagawa is tipped as the key man for United and will be keen to impress after a disappointing start at Everton on Monday night

Shinji Kagawa, Everton gave him enough space but United didn’t use it particularly well on Monday night. I think you will need one man to mark him all the throughout the game. There’s also Antonio Valencia, especially if Sir Alex plays him in his natural position on the right flank.

If you could take put one Fulham player in the United squad, who would it be and why?

Not Moussa Dembélé! I know we have been linked with him during the summer. But in my view, I would take Clint Dempsey, I’ve been watching for him a lot. He is versatile attacking player give 100 per cent in every game and If Fulham can keep him at Craven Cottage for another season, you will be lucky!

How do you see Fulham’s season panning out?

The first game gave me a good impression about Fulham. Adding players like Rodallega and Petric to your squad would make any coach happy and I am sure Martin Jol won’t disappoint the fans at the end of the season. A place in next season Europa League will be a great achievement. My prediction you will stay within top 10.

And finally, of course, your predication for the match?

 It will be difficult game for you at Old Trafford. I’m going for a final score of 2-0 to United.

Behind Enemy Lines: Norwich City (H)

In what will be a regular post before every game, Hammyend will be interviewing opposition fans to preview the next opposition to play Fulham.

Our first set of questions was answered by Michael Dilley, who used to be the editor of the Norwich City Vital Football blog until the end of last season. Here is his take on the upcoming encounter between the two sides:

Will:Hi Michael and thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions. Firstly, How long have you supported Norwich for?

Michael A:Well first up unlike a lot of people I’m not a lifelong City fan, and have only really followed them since about 2000. There’s a fairly long and convoluted story as to why that is, which I wrote about on for Vital several years ago – http://www.norwich.vitalfootball.co.uk/sitepage.asp?a=96998

Q:You lost Paul Lambert to Aston Villa this summer- do you think this is a significant loss in Norwich and will affect your season a lot?

A:There’s no doubt that Lambert leaving is a huge loss for us, he was our most successful manager for years – something he never tired of reminding us – but how if will impact us this year remains to be seen.

 Q:Chris Hughton has come in- do you think he is the right man for the job?

A:Absolutely, yes. He was the man most supporters wanted when Lambert walked, and the board moved quickly to get him. He’s likely to be given time too which could prove critical if things go south.

The Right Man For The Job

Q:How has your pre-season gone, both fixture and transfer-wise?

A:We’ve bought in what look like a good mix of experience (Whittaker) and prospects (Butterfield, Snodgrass) and more importantly haven’t lost anyone key from last season to bigger clubs. The friendly matches have largely gone the way you’d expect, although some are concerned that we haven’t exactly been hitting the back of the net on a regular basis.

Q:Many clubs suffer from “second-season syndrome”, where they perform much more poorly than they did in the first season. As a club that performed quite well last season, do you think you will suffer from this?

A:We had an incredible season last season, and it’s going to be extremely difficult to replicate that points tally and finish this year, so if that constitutes “second season syndrome” then I think it’s inevitable. I genuinely don’t think we’ll go down though, and we’re still very much in that “anything above 18th would be a good season” space – although a lot of people would rather not think like that, which could prove interesting down the line.

 Q:Do you have any players in the Norwich squad who you think will make a real impression on the Premier League this season?

A:We’ve got an excellent young squad (if memory serves ours was the youngest squad in the Premier League last season) and several stand out, but I think this could be an excellent year for Jonny Howson. He arrived from Leeds in January and immediately looked the part, and after a solid pre-season should be a big, big player for us.

Johnny Howson- Tipped For A Big Impact

Q:Who is the Norwich danger man that Fulham should be watching out for in the match?

A:Other than Howson, Anthony Pilkington is one to keep an eye on – and of course we’re all waiting to see if Grant Holt can reproduce his heroics of last year.

 Q:If you could take one Fulham player for the Norwich Squad, who would it be?

A:Clint Dempsey is a quality player, but I’d go for Hugo Rodallega. Any striker with the sort of pace he has would be lethal in our side with the way we pass the ball around.

Michael Would Take Dave At Carrow Road

Q:How do you see Fulham’s season going?

A:To be honest I think it’ll be a fairly uneventful year for you guys. I can’t see you realistically challenging for Europe, but I’d be very surprised if you were in the relegation shake-up. I’d expect a solid mid-table finish.

 Q: And finally, of course, your prediction for the match? 

A:We don’t exactly have a great recent record at the Cottage, but with a new manager at the helm and new players eager to impress on the opening day I’m going to be very boring and go for a 1-1 draw.

 

Thanks for answering the questions and may the best team win. Good luck with the new season!

Fulham play Norwich City on Saturday at Craven Cottage in a 3pm kick off. You can follow me on Twitter (@willfulham) for more Fulham related news, opinions and rambles.

 

Trust In Jol

Before I start my article, I would like to dedicate this to Finn Christensen. Finn was a regular poster on the Friends of Fulham forum, and he died last Saturday from a heart attack. His passion for Fulham was remarkable, and his views were always interesting and engaging to read.  I did not agree with him on some topics, but I always found him a fantastic man to argue with- he would never see it on a personal level, he would never be patronising. Above all, he was a man I respected, and a man who’s views where ones that were full of reason and sense. A man taken too soon- this article is for you Finn. RIP.

In the recent days Fulham’s entire strike force has simply disappeared. Andrew Johnson has previously gone against his comments on loyalty, money and stating that he was impressed that Fulham stood by him by signing for QPR (and to make this clear, I don’t blame him. If I was crooked and a club that would give me some game time offered me 40k a week, I would take it). Pavel Pogrebnyak has reportedly rejected Fulham’s contract offer and signed for Reading, again on a large, in this case 65k large, contract. Again, another player who I don’t blame. Let’s be honest, footballers are mercenaries. True loyalty, shown by the likes of Johnny Haynes and Paul Scholes, is rarely shown today. Think of Samir Nasri, Eden Hazard- they go where the money is best. So, firstly, I would like to thank both players for their contribution- AJ for his tireless running and goals during the season that started the evolution of Fulham into a stable, top 10 club and Pogrebnyak for his electric six months, during which he not only completed the double over QPR (and for which I will forever hold him in high esteem) but for gaining us a number of points during that time, and giving us a sense of belief when the first half of the season hadn’t go so well. Thanks.

What this article is actually addressing is the belief in Jol. As soon as both the AJ (less so) and the Pogrebnyak news was announced I saw a number of people asking to know why not only Jol had not tried harder, but what he was planning to do about it.

What I want to ask you is, would you pay AJ 40k or the Pog 65k? Ask yourself that honestly. Would you pay it? Because I know I certainly wouldn’t. What both Jol and Fulham have shown in these transfers is a reassuring sense of sensibility- a sense that we will not overpay for our player. We will go for the player that the manager wants, but we won’t overpay for him.  We know that they were both offered contracts, AJ with presumably reduced terms and mostly based on appearances and Pogrebnyak on not as much money as Reading, with Russian owners keen for a Russian marquee signing, could offer.  We were not stupid and we wouldn’t be pushed by agent or player demands. We also knew when we were beaten and we wouldn’t offer stupid money. That, for me, is fantastic news. We know our boundaries and Jol does too. A stable foundation is built through sensibility in player contracts and the transfer market, and these transfers have demonstrated that. So on these transfers, trust Jol that he let them go.

 

A Man With A Plan

We have known for a long time now, since perhaps Saha left, that we need a young, goal scoring striker. Johnson provided glimpses that perhaps he was the one in his goal scoring season, but even then 8 goals is not what we need. Zamora provided a season of being a complete forward;,the one that we needed, until a Karl Henry slice ended any chance of him being a long term forward.  Let’s be honest- Zamora never regained any of the class or guile that he had before the injury and he was rightfully sold in January after a season of lacklustre performances and manager complaining. Pogrebnyak offered goals, but not the all round play that we needed. One comment I read compared his first touch to “playing a one-two off a wonky brick wall”.  So, we’ve needed a forward for a season and a bit now, perhaps two, relying on the brilliance of Dempsey to see us through. That is another reason why I trust Jol-he made the right call on selling Zamora, and the right call on bringing Pogrebnyak in. Nobody thought that he would make the impact that he did. We have the money to spend (110k of wages have been freed up by the departures of Zamora, AJ and the Pog) and I trust Jol to spend it on the right players.

So please, let the club and the manager do what they’re paid to do. We know Jol’s track record, and it is extremely good. This man took Tottenham to within one lasagne of Champions League football, and produced some very good players within his time. He sold a few too, some that at the time were slated as bad moves but turned out to be good ones. The transfer window has not even opened yet. He will bring in those players that we need, and he will bring in the right players, without overpaying for them.

I trust in Martin Jol.

 

I’m Will and if you want to hear more Fulham facts, stories and the latest transfer rumours you can follow me on twitter ( @willpaul25). 

Royal Investment?

We’ve all seen it happen in the Premier League- rich (sometimes royal, sometimes not even noble) men come along and see the chance to buy a football club that can be used to bring a certain respect to himself that cars and houses cannot bring. After all, Football is the world’s most popular sport. Utter the words “Manchester United” in any country, and they will almost certainly be recognized by any person you speak to. The World Cup Final in 2010 had an estimated viewing audience of 715.1 Million people or 1 out of every 10 people in the world. Saying that you own the team that, let’s imagine, won the Premier League will acquire you a certain respect that cars can’t provide.

Does he really care for his club?

Now, excuse me for being a tad cynical in my opening statements, but the financial reports of our Blue neighbours and more recently the blue half of Manchester will almost certainly come back to haunt both clubs when the money sloshing round in football eventually comes crashing down (whenever that may be- 10 years, 50 years, or 100 years). You may wonder exactly what I’m talking about, why I’m discussing the idea of rich owners. Yes, you think, we have Al-Fayed. He’s rich, but he’s sensible-an example of the kind of owner every club dreams for. But then, Cottagers Confidential, posted something today that might just change that balance.

“Qatari Royal family set to grab stake in Fulham?”

This piece of news popped onto my twitter feed tonight. Intrigued, I quickly clicked on the link. The article states that the Qatari Royal family are “Willing to buy out a 49% share in Fulham” that would see “Al Fayed still have control over the club”.

Now, going back to my opening statements of this article, I immediately rejected the notion in my head. On first sight, we would become just another rich man’s plaything. Endless money would be poured in, the managerial door would swing about faster than you can say “Bazinga”, a stadium move to a soulless bowl would soon follow and Fulham would lose the identity that made the club Fulham. The word “Fulhamish” would become just a past legend, a notion to something that used to be. Yes, we might win something, we might become successful, but Fulham would have entered into a Faustian Pact that would ensure we lose that something special that makes Fulham Fulham.

But then, I stopped. I thought. I pondered the subject for almost an hour, considering every possible avenue.

And my mind warmed to the idea. Not the idea of a Deal with Devil, not the idea of losing the very essence of Fulham but of welcoming these investors, as long as certain constrictions were made. The idea of controlled investment, sensible investment. Investment that may be done for more than a love of the club, but investment with owners that understood what this club means to so many people.

Fulham, and let’s be honest here, are stuck in a rut. Too good for the lower end of the table, but not good enough at the moment to be playing with the big boys at the top of the league. Somewhere along the line there has to be something that not only takes us to the top 6 or 7 but reinforces our position there. Sure, we may get lucky during one fantastic, history-making season, but without the investment we would surely drop out. It took a lot for us to not only get into the top 10 but to stay there- the first summer transfer window of Hodgson cost almost 25 million pounds. The core of that team remains, and the reason why we are in the position we are. Players have been added for 5 million here (Dembele), 9 million there (Ruiz) and they have firmly secured our position as a top 10 side. But to even get close to the big spenders and their respective positions money must be spent. Qatari Owners, with control of course, would enable this. Fulham could become a regular top six side, with a few ventures into Champions League football perhaps. That is something that is even too tempting for me. But as I scanned the article it seems to be something that would require the exact Faustian Pact that I had so been dreading. That was until I read on…

Cottagers Confidential states that Al-Fayed would still have the majority share- the majority say on the board. He would, in effect, still be the business mind behind the Club. The Qatari owners would therefore be nothing but the extra cash fund that is needed to push the club towards that goal. Al-Fayed, as we are all aware, is a fantastic owner- shrewd, prepared to spend when necessary but overall loyal to the club. Somebody who would not let the club fall into financial ruin. He would sanction the transfers to get us there (and keep us there) but he would be aware of the need to bring in young, re-sellable talent, not old stars. He has learnt first-hand about the proud history that the club retains with Craven Cottage, about the fierce fight that Fulham fans put up when faced with a move away from what is our spiritual and historical home. He would, I hope, resist a move away from the ground- after all, he has just sanctioned the spending of 30 million pounds on a world class stand.

A Display of Loyalty from Al-Fayed

It seems to be the perfect deal- rich investors but a sensible Chairman. The realisation of a project that was started in 1997, the realisation to make the club great again.

Let them invest I say. Let them allow the club to take that extra step up, that step that all Fulham fans would want. But let them invest wisely; let them invest for the future. Make sure that they do not sanction outrageous transfers, make sure they don’t ruin what Fulham has here at the moment. Make sure they don’t take away the very soul of Fulham Football Club.

 

 

I’m Will and you can follow me on Twitter (@willpaul25) for all things Fulham

NB: The Riverside Stand application will not be heard on the 15th June, the next possible date for a hearing is the 8th July. The Agenda for that will be published the week before and of course the Hammy End team will keep you updated with the latest news.