One of the best things about football is that it leads to discussion, and divides opinion. Just like the finest art, football is at it’s best when not simply serving to entertain, but to provoke and make the observer think.
A few different discussions on man-of-the-match, and player performance levels, over the past few weeks has brought this concept to the forefront of my mind. Why is it that, in the match against Wigan, votes for MoTM can vary almost across One to Eleven? Why is it that opinion on our full backs, centre midfielders and strike force can vary so much?
There are obviously many reasons. Different people look for different qualities in players, have differing levels of benchmark performance or simply have a different outlook on life. However, something that strikes me as fairly significant is your viewing platform for the game. It gives you a different perspective.
By perspective, I’m not talking glass half full or half empty (although that will definitely matter), but how you actually view the match. For most of us, there are three main views from which to watch Fulham on a regular basis; behind the goal (in either the Hammersmith or Putney Ends), side on (in either the Johnny Haynes or Riverside Stands) or on television/online. There is a fourth viewing point, but frankly, I’d be impressed if anyone with access to the corner view from The Cottage balcony reads this.
View from The Cottage Balcony
Each one of the three main views has its own merits as you can see different things. Sitting behind the goal allows you to see the whole field so to speak; formations and tactics and player movement can all be seen building up before they happen. Side on; closer detail, and action at both ends. TV, while making it impossible to watch anything off the ball, you can usually see exactly what happens, and then see it again on replays just to make sure.
As someone who has a season ticket along the side of the pitch, my opinions and musings will come from a different perspective than those of you who watch our games primarily from behind the goal or on a TV. We all get the chance to watch on TV, or (at least if you’re like me), you search out every highlight of the game you’ve just got home from watching live and in person.
The players whom I feel I know more intimately than others (due to my seating position) are the right back and right midfielder when they’re attacking, and the left back and left midfielder when they’re defending. This might explain why I am such a harsh critic of Damian Duff and Stephen Kelly at times. Not due to any bias or ill will against them, but that they fall in my closest gaze more often than anyone else. It also partially explains my fondness for Chris Baird (to the extent that I own a Green and Gold third shirt with ‘Bairdinho 6’ on the back.
Stephen Kelly has been an unfortunate victim of my perspective. Where I sit is perfect position to see the right back overlap and attack. This is not Kelly’s strongest attribute, despite some marked improvements in recent weeks, and has, as such, fallen focus of my attention. Kelly’s, at times, sterling defending is not usually right in front of my eyes, so perhaps it falls, to an extent, out of sight, out of mind.
My perspective on John Pantsil was perhaps the opposite; he often attacked with verve and could sometimes cross the ball quite well. Defensively, he was (at times) a flight of fancy, and sometimes dangerously casual with the ball, especially in front of Mark Schwarzer’s goal. He was the North to Stephen Kelly’s South.
I will discuss who, in my opinion, is our player of the season once the season has actually ended, but perhaps it is perspective that led George Cohen to proclaim Moussa Dembele his choice, ahead of Clint Dempsey in a recent matchday programme column. Like me, Cohen attends every match at the Cottage with a viewpoint from the side of the pitch, and towards the middle of the park. The exact area in which Moussa has excelled since his Boxing Day position switch to central midfield.
The added dimension of a change of angle makes every away trip just that bit more interesting for me. Whether it’s the corner at White Hart Lane, behind the goal in the Shed at Chelsea or the matchbox upper tier at Loftus Road, every new view lets you see something else.
Martin Jol refused to blame Mark Schwarzer for Aston Villa’s sickening stoppage-time winner on Saturday – despite the Australian veteran spilling Gary Gardiner’s shot straight into the path of scorer Andreas Weimann.
The Fulham manager instead insisted that there was a collective failure to defend the situation properly, which resulted in two dropped points:
It is always the same, one or two mistakes can cost you, even in the final minute and that’s exactly what happened. We attacked the ball on the left, we shouldn’t have done that, we should have then had two players in the centre to block the ball but we only had one.
Watching the goal back closely, you can see he’s absolutely right. First, John Arne Riise foolishly dashes from the full-back position to try pinch the ball about 20 yards out. It’s ironic, given how much the Norwegian gets criticised for backing off his winger, that this the wrong decision. It allowed Villa the time and space to work the ball into a central area and the back four doesn’t shift across. Stephen Kelly neither pushed up nor tracked the runner between Hangeland and Senderos, leaving Weimann free to score his first Premier League goal – although he very nearly failed.
None of that is to try and exempt Schwarzer from criticism. He was very quick to hold his hands up via Twitter:
Very dissapointed [sic] about the result. The goal was my fault, I should have saved it. Can only apologise to our supporters!
None of this lessens the pain of Saturday’s late defeat – but it shows the dangers of pub punditry. By my count, Fulham had four opportunities to clear the danger in that move and failed to do so. That sort of defensive lapse is going to be punished.
Martin Jol will face an agonising wait over the fitness of Aaron Hughes over the next 24 hours after revealing in his pre-match press conference that the Fulham defender was ‘a big doubt’ to face his former club Aston Villa at the weekend.
Hughes has been struggling with a calf injury this week and was pressed into service as a right back against Wolves last weekend after injuries and personal problems deprived Jol of Stephen Kelly and Chris Baird. With the pair unlikely to be available at Villa Park on Saturday, Jol is sweating over the fitness of the Northern Ireland international.
Aaron Hughes has got a little problem with his left calf and withdrew from training. Hopefully he can be involved but he is a big doubt.
If the 32 year-old fails to make the starting line-up, it could leave Jol with a headache over who to field at right back. The Fulham manager confirmed that Kelly, who has been on the sidelines since withdrawing from the Republic of Ireland squad last week with a thigh strain, isn’t likely to return to training until Tuesday. Baird, an important utility player for the Whites who has regularly filled in at full-back, is also out due to personal reasons.
Jol did suggest that Mahamadou Diarra, who enjoyed an impressive cameo as a second-half substitute against Wolves on Sunday, might have done enough to earn a first start for the club.
With Diarra, you could see that he needs a couple of games and it’s not easy to say ‘play two or three games and get 90 minutes’. In training he looks good, he’s probably 80 per cent or 90 per cent fit and now it’s a decision to make if he starts or let him come on again.
The Dutch will also welcome Bryan Ruiz back to the squad after the Costa Rican missed the 5-0 win over Wolves through illness.
Bryan Ruiz is back. He was ill last weekend. He had a virus and stayed in bed for a couple of days but he’s back now.
This past weekend was pretty good wasn’t it? Somehow, life is just better when we win. It’s even better when we win away. It is positively euphoric when that away win is at QPR.
When I was on my way to Loftus Road on Saturday, I had a remarkably good feeling about our chances. Logic told me it was because, in my mind, I had compared talent levels and form, and come out with the conclusion that we shouldn’t lose.
For the first time in forever, I decided this week to actually give something up for lent. Maybe I was feeling bad after a decadent pancake day, but Diet Coke and snacking have been the bane of my waistline for far too long so I decided to go cold turkey for a month. Now, I’m not saying karma is on my side, I’m sure plenty of the home fans on Saturday had given something up (winning perhaps?) but maybe there is something in this lent lark after all.
So, I started thinking about, what, various personnel around Motspur Park should give up this Easter-time, so here is my Fulham Lent List:
Mark Schwarzer – Some of his Qantas reward points, preferably to me. This week our superhuman goalkeeper has once again flown all the way from London to Brisbane for a midweek Asian World Cup Qualifying match against Saudi Arabia. Travelling to Australia so frequently, yet still turning in performances and saves (like the one from Shaun Wright-Phillips on Saturday) just goes to show what a terrific goalkeeper Mark is.
Brede Hangeland – Having Bobby Zamora in his back pocket. Dropped from the England squad and heading for the Championship, the last thing Bobby needed on Saturday was to come up against a defender who has presumably marked him in training for the last three years. Bobby won headers when it didn’t matter and Brede won them when they did. It’s good to see the Norwegian back to his best.
Stephen Kelly – Nosebleeds. On Saturday Kelly had the ball in the opposition half more times than I care to think, especially when we were struggling for creative impetus in the second half. Unfortunately he tends to become nervous and generally bereft of confidence when going forward. Defensively, Stephen’s been solid but I’d love to see some more attacking verve from the incumbent right back for the rest of the season.
Moussa Dembele –Extracting the Michael. QPR had a song last season that went “Adel’s too good for you”, I’d have loved it if, on Saturday, we’d have started going “Moussa’s too good for you”. He was. The back-heeled pass for Pogo’s goal was simply mesmeric, but much of Moussa’s game involves dribbling around people because he can. Now when he’s doing it to annoy Joey Barton I am all for it, but Moussa clearly has the talent to win matches singlehandedly. A little less aimless dribbling and some more clinical passes and heck, a shot every now and then, would elevate him to the next level.
Bryan Ruiz – Trips to the barber. Bryan’s had his hair cut. Not one to comment on style (though it’s not his finest look), Bryan had his best game in a while on Saturday. His decision making was at times still a tad haphazard and I know he doesn’t put himself about as often as most would like, but, especially in the first half he was outstanding. He waltzed through a parting defence to create a chance for Dempsey and induced several of the challenges that saw Diakite sent off for cumulative fouling. Hopefully Bryan keeps progressing into the player we want him to become for us, so all the time this haircut is working he’s not to go get it cut again.
Clint Dempsey – Standing Still. Out of sorts on Saturday, Clint looked tired and didn’t run off the ball like he usually does. I’ll put it down to an off game but he was lucky to stay on the pitch for the full 90 when Kerim Frei was sat on the bench. Saying all this, he nearly scored with the shot across Kenny’s goal and caused havoc from one Bryan free kick. No doubt our top scorer will return to net finding ways in the coming weeks.
Kerim Frei – Retweeting thoughts about Bryan Ruiz. Martin Jol is a stickler for discipline. It is no surprise that, in the month since Kerim closed his twitter account after retweeting a fan’s opinion that he should play instead of Bryan, that Jol has barely used our teenage sensation. It’s time for Kerim to get some more game time and upcoming fixtures against the likes of Villa and Swansea could provide the opportunity.
Pogo...Russian for goal
Pavel Pogrebnyak – Hugging fans. This rule is absurd. Players should be able to celebrate however they like. The aim of the game is to score goals and Pogo did just that for the second straight game and quite frankly I loved his passion when he ran over to celebrate with the fans. Notice that Bobby never once did so. However, we don’t need our new Russian powerhouse to get himself any more needless bookings. As Mark Hughes will testify, games are won by teams with eleven on the field. Hopefully Pogo will unveil a new celebration against Wolves next week.
Marin Jol – Not Playing Hughes. It is no coincidence that in the last two games with Hughes and Hangeland reunited at the back, we have six points. With a fully fit Senderos left on the bench on Saturday hopefully Martin has finally got the message. It was good to see the manager use his full compliment of substitutes on Saturday as well. After all it’s what they’re there for. Now if only Pajtim, Kerim and Marcel can get a game. One thing I’d like Martin to keep doing is shaking the opposition manager’s hand. Some bosses have class, eh Mark?
Enjoy your week and it’s back to The Cottage on Sunday.