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How times change

This tweet from OptaJoe caught my eye:

2 – Fulham and Chelsea have conceded the joint-fewest goals in the last 15 minutes of Premier League matches this season (2). Focused.

Something of a turnaround from the Sanchez era when we almost always conceded a late goal.

How far we’ve come

Last night was a first-class Fulham performance. The Whites could have below par or taken Burnley for granted but they showed character to get through some sticky early moments before establishing an unassailable advantage.

Chris Baird continues to have a magnificent season. At the moment, you expect him to come out with a Superman cape on – because he seems to be able to do anything. Strong in the challenge, aware of what’s around him and his positioning and good in the air, Baird’s been exemplary in central defence and outstanding in midfield. He looked terrific at right back last night and seems so controlled on the ball, gone is the stagefright of that horrible Sanchez season.

Nicky Shorey looks like a really promising attacking outlet on the other flank too. Both of the full backs provided goals last night and that was one of the interesting things about just how Fulham have progressed under Roy Hodgson. Chris Coleman’s last game was a lamentable defeat by Manchester City and the distribution from the full back positions was woeful that day:

by Guardian Chalkboards

Now, I’m not blaming Rosenior or Volz for that. Both were decent players who had regressed badly under Coleman’s coaching and the tactics he employed left defenders too often without an out ball.

Contrast this with Baird and Shorey on Tuesday night:

by Guardian Chalkboards

That’s a striking difference.

Fulham’s away day blues

Jamie’s report on our defeat at Blackburn is well worth a read. I was particularly interested in his concluding paragraph:

A shame. Roy Hodgson is rightly talked of as one of our greatest managers and has presided over a period of unprecedented success. But, like pretty much every side we’ve produced since promotion in 2001, Roy’s Fulham are generally only able to win at one ground. We’ve now failed to beat all of Wolves, West Ham, Wigan, Birmingham, Burnley, Stoke and Blackburn on the road this year. And sadly, it’s spoiling what could have been another marvellous season.

He’s pretty much right. But it set my mind racing. Rich has been busy looking at our away stats, but I’m interested in the breakdown of our away league wins.

Things weren’t much better under Jean Tigana, footballing genius that he was. We won just four out of 35 league games under the Frenchman and all bar one came in our first season back:

West Ham 2-0
Derby 1-0
Leeds 1-0

Sunderland 3-0

4 out of 35 gave Tigana a success rate of just 11%.

Chris Coleman got a single win when he was in temporary charge (thanks to a Louis Saha strike at Charlton – 1-0). Things got a little better the following season when we astonished everyone by finishing ninth:

Tottenham 3-0
Blackburn 2-0
Man Utd 3-1
Leicester 2-0
Bolton 2-0

Newcastle 4-1
Norwich 1-0
Birmingham 2-1
Blackburn 3-1

We had to wait until 2006 for our next victory on the road, secured by Brian McBride and Carlos Bocanegra, a 2-1 win at Newcastle, made bittersweet by Jimmy Bullard’s horrible injury. It was Coleman’s last away success, leaving him with 11 wins from 66 league games – a strike rate of 16%.

Poor old Lawrie Sanchez didn’t muster an away win.

Roy Hodgson’s was a long time in coming, but once Erik Nevland secured success at Reading we didn’t seem to look back:

Reading 2-0
Man City 3-2
Portsmouth 1-0

We had a bit of success the following season too, once we opened up a bit away from home:

Bolton 3-1
Man City 3-1
Newcastle 1-0

That leaves our single success this term on the opening day at Fratton Park (thanks to Bobby Zamora’s backside), to give Roy seven away wins from 41 league games (17%). Chuck in the win in Basel, which I ignored for methodological reasons (Tigana’s team beat a host of lower league opponents on our way to the Cup semi-finals in 2002) and the record’s more impressive. Hodgson’s teams have amassed more away points on average than Tigana’s, Coleman’s, Sanchez’s and – yes, of course – Lewington’s. That last one’s not hard.

It’s all rather predictable. We haven’t won enough away from home. How do you sort it? That’s an entirely different question.

Fulham’s forward line

A poster on TIFF this morning muses over whether Fulham’s participation in the Europa League has made us a more attractive proposition to players from around Europe. I’d say the answer is a definite yes. Bringing in the likes of Damien Duff, who despite his age possesses undoubted quality, and Stefano Okaka (touch wood as it’s still not confirmed) on loan suggests that Roy can now shop a higher level to when he was battling to simply save our top flight status.

Arguably, going further than the group stage in Europe can only help the club further. You might have noticed that a few more links have sprung up on the right hand side of this page. When I first started going to the Cottage as a child, it was difficult to get 4,500 Fulham fans together in the same place. Now, we’ve got supporters following us from far flung places like Poland, Bulgaria, Russia, Sweden, Norway, America and Australia. It’s nowhere close to the international fanbase of the top four but it is pretty impressive given our relatively recent ascent.

The arrival of Okaka, who is apparently flying into London on Tuesday to conclude the loan deal, will give Hodgson a few more options up front. Without Bobby Zamora for a while, Roy will have felt that he needed to bring in a new striker. Okaka’s not a conventional target man, but as Rich and Nick both point out, he’s an upgrade on what was available already, even if that might be a bit harsh on the lesser-spotted David Elm, whose Fulham career seems destined to be a short run.

I fancy he’s got the versatility to be both a threat in the air – he climbed really well to score the winner in Rome that we all cursed at the time – and he’s obviously got the pace to hurt defences that may try and push up against us. He will probably complement our other strikers too. Both Johnson and Kamara are poachers, though Joe’s got the ability to produce something unexpected and AJ’s more of a worker, who sometimes infuriates you by drifting into the channels too often. There’s the possibility that Erik Nevland could get some more playing time too, particularly if Kamara and Zamora remain injured for any length of time, and that would fit in with his new contract talks.

Going back to Okaka, here’s a look at what we might be getting on loan:

Let’s hope he can have a greater long-term impact than our last loan signing from Roma. Vincenzo Montella quickly won a place in the Fulham fans hearts for his clever vision and effortless running, but was sent packing by Sanchez, who felt he didn’t fancy the physical stuff. Perhaps Okaka can do enough to justify a permanent move.

Timlin targets replay

Michael Timlin will return to Craven Cottage with Swindon today and believes the League One side should be looking to earn an FA Cup replay as a ‘minimum’.

We should just go there and play our own game and hopefully that should be enough. I’m sure that Fulham would have been wanting to play against a different team to us seeing as we’ve been doing so well.

As far as money’s concerned it would be great for Swindon to get a replay, but both sides will be going into the game looking for a win. We’re going to go down there looking for a win and if not the minimum is a replay.

As long as we start the game really well then we should have a good day down there. We went to Wolves and played them off the park but had to go to penalties. I think it will be a harder game against Fulham.

I know some of the guys who are still there like Konchesky and Danny Murphy and Aaron Hughes, but there has been a lot of change since I was there. But we’re full of confidence at the club and putting in a good performance in a cup game is going to stand us in good stead for the rest of the league season.

Timlin, who struggled to break into the Fulham first team after graduating from the Academy, made just four first-team appearances in four years at the Cottage. He says he owes a lot to Roy Hodgson, who allowed him to join Swindon on loan, something former manager Lawrie Sanchez rejected.

When I left to come to Swindon on loan the second time, Roy Hodgson had just taken over and he knew my desire to get out after enjoying my first spell. Sanchez wouldn’t let me go out so I owe a good thank you to Roy because it allowed me to get playing again.

He has definitely made them a lot stronger as a team and a lot of the sides in the Premiership are respecting them more than they had been. They look like a top 10 team now, rather than a side always flirting with relegation, so we have to go down there with a positive attitude.

As long as we go down with the right frame of mind, who knows what it might bring us?

In another interview with the Daily Mirror, Timlin says he has no regrets about leaving Fulham.

I’m looking forward to it massively. It’s nice to go back. I want and hope that the team do well and get the result that we need.

I learnt everything I know at Fulham, they’re my parent club. I’m sure there are a lot of Fulham fans that had heard a lot about me but I didn’t fulfil my potential through injury or not being selected. So this is an opportunity to go back and enjoy it and put on a good show.

It was a brave move for the Irish midfielder, who is expected to be among the substitutes this afternoon, to turn down a new contract at the Premier League club and sign for Swindon.

Possibly I would have benefited being under Roy, but by the time he had came in I had my heart set on getting out and playing football.

I think back sometimes that maybe if he had arrived a bit earlier, things would have been different. But things happen for a reason. I was happy to get out and I’m delighted to be part of a squad at a club with an ambition to go places.

Roy knew I had the ambition to get out and play, I was grateful to him for letting me go. He understood.