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Gatesy’s Weekend Roundup

What could be better than a weekend where you complete the double over your neighbours? Perhaps a weekend where Spuds also get a tonking by theirs and Gatesy finds a tenner in a pocket of his jeans he’d forgotten he put there.

Well that’s EXACTLY what occurred the weekend just gone…

It turns out the short trip down thePalace Roadwas well worth it. After periods of time earlier in the season where it looked as if Jol was selecting the team and their positions via a random number generator, the starting XI are beginning to look more of a solid unit, especially with Aaron making a welcome return at the back. Perhaps it was just down to them needing a bit of time to become accustomed to the new formation and tactics, or perhaps it was a troublesome influence on the training pitch that we’ve managed to ship off down the road? Who knows. And the biggest improver of recent times seems to be Dembele. With a nice little back heel to set up the goal, the Belgian also had an impressive 95% pass completion rate too.

The Ruskie continues to look a good bit of business from the Dutchman and I’ll be a much happier bunny as soon as he’s tied down to a deal keeping him with us past the summer. If he keeps scoring goals as he already has done and pops off to play football in the glamorous climes of Ukraine and Poland over the summer break I worry we may not be the only ones after him, after his current record of two games played, two shots on target and two goals scored.

            The boys started to look a little worried and nervous towards the end of the game. It’s understandable really considering our awful away record and the fact that 39 of the gaols we’ve conceded this season have all been done so in the final 15 minutes of matches and this would turn out to be our first clean sheet in nine games. If we could sort this out, a top half finish would be looking pretty solid.

            While it was an exciting debut for Rangers’ Samba Diakte, possibly in the shortlist for the worst Premier League Debut ever? After several quiet words from the ref and a yellow card, he couldn’t help himself but get himself sent off in the 32nd minute. Not bad work really.

            Way back ago when I worked in Sainsbury’s I knew an unusual gentleman who couldn’t get enough of shaking your hand. He’d literally do it all day if you let him. It spears his polar opposite is Sparky, the only man in the world worse at handshakes than Luis Suarez. Now not only is he a ‘strange gentleman’ it appears he seems to have completely forgotten about the lift in form a new manager is supposed to bring to a side. In his sex games in charge he’s lost four of them and only picked up 4 points. Winning one game in their last 13 fixtures – now that’s relegation form right there.

After an awful seven days the week prior, Arsenal’s world is starting to look a little bit rosier now. After announcing record profits for the club, news talks with RVP over a new contract are in their early stages and a nice win over their rivals.           After falling two nil behind, and somebody I used to work with being shown jumping about celebrating a goal like a demented old circus monkey, the comeback was on. Rosicky had a rare brilliant showing in the middle and with Theo deciding to show everybody what he should be doing week in week out, they turned the game around. The five goals notched up here mean that the Gunners have now scored as many in their last three Premier League games as they had in the 11 before that. While Spuds won’t be as cheery as their norfLondonneighbours. Has all the talk of taking over at Engerland got to ‘Arry and he’s bottled it? After drawing away atStevenagein the cup and throwing away a good lead in a derby game won’t be drawing the admiring glances from the FA that he may have hoped for. And now having collected only three points out of the 15 available from matches against teams in the top four, they find themselves looking over their shoulders at theChelseashaped object closing in on them. Next up for them in Man Yoo, who they’ll be facing without the suspended Scotty Parker.

Man Yoo grabbed an undeserved win away against Norwich, where Ryan Giggs scored the winner on his 900th outing for the club. It was ever thus. After scoring against the Champions Canaries forward Holt achieved the impressive feat of having reached double figures for goals in the last four seasons, all in different divisions. After facing Spuds this weekend the Red have a decent run of games for them, facing seven teams in the bottom half before the possible title decider against Man City. For whom, it was a stroll in the park against Blackburn. The visitors didn’t manage to have a shot on goal until the 92nd minute and chalked up just 22% of possession in the match, meaning it’s again looking bleak for them. Tevez is due to turn out for the Blues reserves tonight in a behind closed doors game, and will be looking to try and force himself back into the first team before too long. Vincent Kompany again proved just what an important part of the City line up he is, as the side have now only conceded twice in the last eight games he’s featured in.

Chelsea kept the pressure on the top four with a win over Bolton. Fat Frank scored his 125th goal in a blue shirt as they ran out three nil winners. Meanwhile, the visitors’ goalless afternoon means that no striker has scored for the Trotters in over 9 hours of football now.

Stoke picked up all three points against Swansea, though football was not the big winner. Only a few days after bottling it in Europe and keeping half his team at home because they were already losing against a bigger team, Tony Pulis declared that he couldn’t get his Potters side playing nice football, as opponents Swansea have done this season, because the home fans wouldn’t warm to it.

Of course, why would you want to change a style of football that’s produced a whopping total of 18 shots on target in the last ten games you’ve played, racked up a massive 26 goals from open play all season and where they achieved the lofty heights of 26% possession againstSwansea? I cannot think of a single reason. You keep up the good work, Potters.

Elsewhere West Brom continued their new lust for scoring by beating Sunderland 4-0 at the Hawthorns andWiganand Villa played out a goalless draw. While Newcastle also shared the points with the travelling Wolves.

Next up for us is the Super Sunday fixture against Wolves. And. It’s. Live! On Sky Sports. If we win that fixture we could possibly leap up the table to Eighth place. But until then we occupy 11th spot, handily placed for an assault on the top half of the table. Before we welcome Wolves to the Cottage though some of our lads are off representing their home nations in all manner of low wattage friendly fixtures. Let us hope they all return without any injuries raring to continue our good run of results.

The case for Damien Duff

I often share the same bus journey home from Hammersmith as a couple of Fulham fans who sit elsewhere at Craven Cottage. Our trips back through west London offer an interesting insight into how others might have viewed the game and give an alternative viewpoint on Martin Jol’s reign. Thursday night saw an interesting discussion about the merits of Jol’s selection policy and one name kept coming up: Damien Duff.

The experienced Irish winger, who was like a man reborn under Roy Hodgson and for me remains Fulham’s best crosser of a ball, hasn’t started a league game for Fulham since the middle of September. His domestic appearances have been fleeting since then – the briefest of substitute appearances at Wigan (where he somehow found the time to get booked) and a much longer showing at Stoke after Moussa Dembele limped off injured. Duff did start in Krakow, but after Dembele’s sending off saw little of the ball.

He was particularly pumped up for Thursday night’s return fixture – and not just for the obvious reasons. A regular for Giovanni Trapattoni, Duff will still want frequent football to earn a spot in the Republic of Ireland side that takes on Estonia in their European Championship play-off next week. It also seems as though he is in direct competition with Dembele for a spot in Jol’s side, so he had ample motivation to send a reminder to the manager of his ability.

Not that anybody amongst the Cottage faithful needs such a hint. Duff’s professionalism has never been in doubt and he quickly proved anyone who wondered whether he’d lost the sharpness that characterised both his eye-catching entrance to English football and the vibrancy of his displays for Jose Mourinho at Chelsea with the answer upon his return to SW6. He might not have the pace to glide away from defenders in an instant, but will still show an eagerness to take on a full-back. Duff also others something Jol’s side have noticeably lacked this season, genuine width, plus the versatility to play on either flank.

Then there’s his work ethic. He’ll scurry across every blade of grass and work back to protect a defence that seems to have been left to fend for itself in the early days of Jol’s tenure – as Rich pointed out yesterday. If John Arne Riise is really going to be encouraged to explore his attacking potential from left back, then Duff’s willingness to track back should count in his favour. He could offer similar protection to whoever finally nails down the right full-back spot too.

Including Duff in your side also almost guarantees chances. His hyper-active start against Wisla underline what an attacking asset he can be. Eagerly cutting in from the right, he extended an Estonian goalkeeper who may well face a few more Duff curlers in the coming weeks within three minutes. Then he showed his intelligence in the build-up to his goal, increasing the tempo with a clever flick to Bobby Zamora as space opened up for a Fulham break. When Andy Johnson sped towards the penalty area, Duff was the furthest Fulham player forward and he made no mistake with an assured first-time finish.

It’s far from a one-off either. The second half of last season saw Mark Hughes’ side pull away from the relegation zone and move beyond mid-table mediocrity. It also coincided with a purple patch of Duff goals. He scored the winner against Newcastle – to his quite obvious enjoyment – and followed that up with an equaliser at Manchester City and two crucial goals against Blackburn. Had he not picked up an Achilles injury in April, Duff could have played a far more active part in Fulham’s impressive end to the season.

If Jol is keen to move towards a quicker, more vibrant Fulham then you can understand his preference for Dembele. But it would be a real shame to see Duff relegated to second choice – even at 32, he’s too good a performer for that. What’s more his experience and discipline could help to contain Gareth Bale tomorrow afternoon.

Baird blasts Hughes’ claims

Chris Baird has given Mark Hughes the same treatment he meted out to Jimmy Bullard. Unfortunately not a clip round the ear, but a verbal blast rubbishing his former manager’s assertions that Fulham lacked ambition.

The Northern Ireland defender painted a much rosier picture of Fulham’s prospects than Hughes, who shocked Baird with his abrupt resignation last month.

That’s Mark’s opinion and he’s entitled to it – but it’s not one I share. In fact, we had a good season. We finished eighth and qualified for the Europa League again.

We’ve been to the final of the competition already and been seventh since I’ve been here – the highest yet for the club. That sounds like ambitious to me.

Schwarzer on that Arsenal move

The Sunday Mirror have some quotes from Mark Schwarzer on how he responded to not being allowed to join Arsenal last summer.

The Australian goalkeeper was the subject of transfer interest from Arsene Wenger that was swiftly rebuffed by then-Fulham boss Mark Hughes. Schwarzer is fairly candid about how he had to react to that:

Was it a test for me? Without a doubt. It is always a big test when there is speculation and an ongoing saga.

What you have to do is get your head down and do your job. I showed that I could do that. I am an employee of Fulham and I have always said I love playing for this club.

It looks as though Schwarzer will remain as Fulham’s number one under Martin Jol. The new manager has recently talked about loaning out David Stockdale to give him first-team experience.

What to do with the backroom boys?

Two of the Sunday papers report that Martin Jol has asked Mark Bowen, Eddie ­Niedwiecki and Kevin ­Hitchcock to report for duty at Motspur Park on Monday.

The trio still have a year to run on their Fulham contracts and were placed on gardening leave when Mark Hughes resigned abruptly last month. After Hughes failed to land a new job, Bowen, Niedwiecki and Hitchcock are unsure of their future role at Fulham – and they are to thought to be handed non-first team coaching positions. Jol told his first press conference as the club’s new manager that the backroom staff’s situation was in the hands of chief executive Alistair Mackintosh.

Jol has already moved to bring in his own coaching team. He has been joined at Fulham by his brother Cock and his trusted lieutenant Michael Lindeman, whilst Hans Segers has recently arrived as first-team goalkeeping coach. Ray Lewington, who was demoted to Academy duties after Hughes replaced Roy Hodgson, has been restored to his former role.