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Bocanegra released by Fulham

United States international Carlos Bocanegra is keen to stay in the Barclays Premier League after being released by Fulham.

The 29-year-old was one of eight players let go by the London club, who secured their top-flight status on the last day of the season with a victory at Portsmouth.

The defender, who was preparing for his nation’s Wembley friendly with England next week, had been a regular pick at Craven Cottage under Chris Coleman and Lawrie Sanchez but had fallen down the pecking order under current boss Roy Hodgson, who arrived in December.

He said: “I got a call about the release earlier today but I had known it had been coming for a while.

“I love England and had a great four-and-a-half years at Fulham. I would like to stay in the Premier League but I’m focused on the US team right now so I will let my agent handle all that. We have some big games coming up and then we have World Cup qualifiers.”

Bocanegra captained Fulham for the first time in a Premier League match in September 2007 against Spurs, and made his 100th Premier League appearance that same month in a match against Wigan Athletic.

Prior to signing for Fulham, Bocanegra played for Major League Soccer team Chicago Fire.

Bocanegra was well liked and the club and fans will wish him well.

American contingent could spark Fulham revival

Fulham’s American contingent could have a vital role to play as the club try to climb out of the Barclays Premier League hole they have dug for themselves.

Second-bottom and six points adrift, they tackle fifth-placed Everton at Craven Cottage on Sunday having collected a mere five points in nine games since Roy Hodgson replaced Lawrie Sanchez just after Christmas.

Kasey Keller, now 38, was preferred in goal to Antti Niemi for the draw at Blackburn last weekend and joined Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson in the starting line-up, while compatriots Brian McBride and Carlos Bocanegra were on the bench.

Hodgson said: “I’ve not named the team yet, but basically it would be a surprising decision if I put Kasey in and then took him out again. Even I don’t make that many bad decisions!

“Kasey was in the team and was doing well, but then he got injured and was out for a long time. He’s been fit and able to play for three to four weeks, but we stuck with Antti at first.

“It was the consensus of opinion in my staff that the time was right to make a change, especially knowing we were going to be in for a physical game against Blackburn. I thought Kasey responded very well.

“They’re both good goalkeepers. It’s very difficult to say that one is intrinsically better than the other.

“They’re quite similar in many ways and I’m not saying Casey is 10 times better or Antti had been playing particularly badly.

“But when the team is conceding the odd goal, you think about whether it’s the right time to look at the other guy.”

McBride has managed to score only once in eight games this season and came on for just the last 26 minutes last Saturday, but Hodgson added: “Maybe Brian will find his goalscoring form and Eddie Johnson will really start to fulfil the potential that we see.”

Fulham certainly need to step things up after managing just three victories all season.

But after facing Everton, their next four games are against fellow strugglers Newcastle, Derby, Sunderland and Reading – Sunderland is the only home game, though – and Hodgson still believes there is the talent and determination in his squad to survive.

“There’s a quarter of the season left basically – 27 points – and we’ve just got to hope we have a good last quarter,” he said.

“Our work ethic and enthusiasm and energy has been very good and I don’t see any sign of defeatism or lack of belief.

“I’m hoping that we will show we are a bona fide Premier League club with the mettle, the character and the quality to stay up.”

Of his own job Hodgson, who said he instigated a visit from chairman Mohamed Al Fayed to speak to the players in training this week, commented: “I’m not aware that my position is under any threat.

“I certainly don’t feel that – I feel the support of the chairman and the chief executive. I think everybody thinks we are doing as good a job as can be expected in the circumstances.

“I’m in a world where your position is put under the spotlight when a couple of results don’t go your way.

“The chairman feels very strongly for the club and has been upset by refereeing decisions – he thinks we should be given the points back, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

Bocanegra earns Fulham draw

Carlos Bocanegra cancelled out John Carew’s controversial opener to earn Fulham a with Aston Villa at Craven Cottage.

Carew, who came close to a move to Fulham under Jean Tigana before failing a medical, broke the deadlock when he slid the ball past Antti Niemi, but Fulham midfielder Alexey Smertin appeared to be impeded by referee Lee Mason in the build-up.

Bocanegra provided an immediate riposte, however, heading in at the far post to seal the fifth successive draw in this fixture. Villa still having mustered a league win since November but they are now inching nearer to safety. Similarly, Coleman has been worriedly looking over his shoulder after a run of three games without a victory and Bocanegra’s equaliser offered relief after that miserable run.

A scrappy first win was only illuminated when Michael Brown’s volley looped off Gareth Barry and came back off the crossbar. Referee Mason took centre stage midway through the first half when he waved play on despite Barry’s manhandling of Smertin on the halfway line and then got in the way of the Russian midfielder as he tried to clear the danger, letting Barry burst forward and release Carew to finish clinically against the side he nearly side for five years back. The Norwegian striker was delighted to demonstrate there was nothing wrong with his jumper’s knee and was cautioned for celebrating his second Villa goal with the travelling fans.

But the visitors’ lead lasted barely two minutes. Quedrue’s driven free-kick reached Bocanegra, who had evaded their defenders to head home his third goal of the season from close range. Fulham dominated the remainder of the first half with Sorensen making a smart double save with his legs to thwart Brown and McBride in quick succession after a fine pass from Tomasz Radzinski had unlocked the Villa rearguard.

Fulham’s forward momentum continued after the break and Brown drilled against the woodwork from an acute angle after Sorensen had let go of a cross and held a Smertin strike moments later. McBride volley wide from the edge of the area before Coleman sent on Heidar Helguson in search of a winner, but it was Villa who created the clearer chances towards the end. Stilian Petrov shot wide from distance and Niemi was called into action to deny Carew after the Norwegian’s shot and turn threatened a dramatic winner in added time.

FULHAM (4-5-1): Niemi; Rosenior, Quedrue, Pearce, Bocanegra; Diop, Brown, Smertin; Davies, Radzinski (Helguson 71), McBride (John 80). Subs (not used): Lastuvka, Dempsey.

GOAL: Bocanegra (23).

ASTON VILLA (4-4-2): Sorensen; Bardsley, Mellberg, Laursen (Cahill 56), Bouma; Maloney (Agbonlahor 67), Petrov, McCann, Barry; Carew, Young. Subs (not used): Taylor, Hughes, Davis.

BOOKED: Carew, McCann.

GOAL: Carew (21).

REFEREE: Lee Mason (Lancashire).

ATTENDANCE: 24,552.

Bocanegra rocks Chelsea

Carlos Bocanegra stunned Stamford Bridge by firing home a late equaliser to grab Fulham a point in the west London derby and leave Chelsea six points behind Manchester United at the top of the table.

Didier Drogba appeared to have captured all three points for Chelsea with a typically predatory second half strike, but Bocanegra’s close range equaliser six minutes from time earned a draw for Chris Coleman’s men. Jose Mourinho cut a disappointed figure down on the touchline as the concession of another soft goal – the second of the afternoon – emphasised the gaping hole at the heart of the champions’ defence in the absence of John Terry. Had the England defender not been sidelined by a back injury, you wouldn’t have imagined Moritz Volz slaloming onto a throw-in to strike the Premiership’s 15,000th goal from distance and Chelsea have now conceded eight goals in his absence.

Michael Essien twice went close to grabbing an early goal before laying on a chance for Solomon Kalou but the Chelsea forward fired woefully wide. They paid the penalty when Fulham took the lead from their first serious attack. Volz was an unlikely scorer of the landmark top flight goal and the ease with which he exploited a dummy from Tomasz Radzinski to lash a lovely volley beyond Hilario would have infuriated Mourinho.

The visitors should have doubled their lead after 25 minutes but Wayne Routledge drove over from the edge of the box when unmarked – and Chelsea levelled ten minutes later. Liam Rosenior couldn’t clear Makele’s cross and Frank Lampard’s drive deflected off the unfortunate full-back leaving Antti Niemi no chance. Fulham almost restored their advantage just after half time when Hilario just about clawed away Brian McBride’s header after more hesitant defending.

That was enough for Mourinho to act, sending on Andriy Shevchenko in a bid to perk up Chelsea’s subdued attack. The substitution did the trick as Drogba bulleted home a header from six yards out from Lampard’s cross to score his sixth goal in as many games. The Ivorian had admitted earlier this week that he had briefly considered leaving Stamford Bridge earlier in the season – but where would Chelsea be without their first 20-goal striker in a decade?

Mourinho might need to consider going into the market for a centre back if he wants to keep Chelsea’s hopes of retaining their title alive. Paulo Ferreira had a nightmare at the heart of the home back four and Fulham reaped the rewards of their unstinting belief when they levelled with six minutes left. Michael Essien flailed at a Franck Quedrue cross and, although Hilario denied McBride brilliantly, Bocanegra was on hand to sweep home the equaliser to the delight of the travelling fans.

CHELSEA (4-4-2): Hilario; Geremi (Shevchenko 57), Ferreira, Carvalho, A. Cole; Essien, Ballack, Makelele (Wright-Phillips 86), Lampard; Drogba, Kalou (Bridge 80). Subs (not used): Hedman, Morais.

BOOKED: Ferreira.

GOALS: Rosenior (o.g. 35), Drogba (62).

FULHAM (4-4-2): Niemi; Rosenior, Queudrue, Christanval, Bocanegra; Volz, Brown, Routledge, Radzinski; McBride, John (Boa Morte 68). Subs (not used): Batista, Zakuani, Omozusi, Runstrom.

BOOKED: Queudrue (86).

GOALS: Volz (16), Bocanegra (84).

REFEREE: Howard Webb (South Yorkshire).

ATTENDANCE: 41,926

Bocanegra happy to fill midfield berth

Carlos Bocanegra is happy to fill in for Fulham as a makeshift midfielder – despite never having played there as a professional.

The American defender has been drafted into Chris Coleman’s midfield as six first-team midfielders are missing with injury. The 27 year-old has no qualms with his new role and wants to try and add more goals to the winner he scored at Newcastle in September. Bocanegra told the Daily Mirror:

“I’m here for the team. I’ve played left back, centre back and most recently as a defensive midfielder, and that’s fine with me, so long as I am on the pitch playing. I played in midfield when I was younger but never at a high level like the Premiership. It’s okay though. I am enjoying it. I have Ian Pearce and Zat Knight behind me doing a great job and speaking to me a lot, which helps.”