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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.

Thoughts from the Burnley game

Fulham were superb tonight, all the way through the team. The BBC match report seems rather skewed to me, suggesting that Burnley were at least as good as we were tonight, and only lost because of some poor refereeing. Sat from where I was in the Putney End tonight, I must say that the first two goals didn’t seem blatantly offside to me or those sat around me, although obviously I must be wrong about that. In fact, I could have sworn that there were a couple of handballs in the Burnley penalty area that were missed by the referee too, so I suppose it’s swings and roundabouts.

Schwarzer was solid if rarely tested, collecting every cross that came his way with consummate ease. Even Mears’ free-kick that clipped the post appeared to be covered by the Australian. Hughes was as good as ever – it hardly seems worth commenting on his performances any more. What a snip he was at £1m – thank you Martin O’Neill (and Lawrie Sanchez)! Hangeland was more dominant than he has been in recent months, even if his positioning isn’t as good as it perhaps was last season.

Shorey continues to look absolute quality at left-back. At this rate, Konchesky is not going to get back into the side, unless he plays in front or behind Shorey on the flank. Baird too seems a lot more composed and adept in the RB slot than he did under Sanchez. Not sure whether that has anything to do with a) Roy’s coaching and defensive set-up; b) confidence and an improved skill set from playing in midfield; or c) having better players alongside him. Either way, he was excellent tonight. Baird and Shorey too offer the attacking threat from full back that is so crucial to our play, providing valuable width whilst our wingers cut inside and feed off front men’s work.

I was saying last week how it was time to give up the Baird-Murphy partnership, and play a more physical enforcer to add some presence next to Murphy. Etuhu and Dikgacoi really do seem to provide Murphy with a lot more space and time on the ball, and crucially we seem to be much more adept at regaining possession with one of them in the side. Etuhu was superb tonight, breaking up play well, and allowing Murphy to influence play and spray passes all over the park, safe in the knowledge that Etuhu was offering protection behind him.

Duff was dangerous every time he got the ball, and seemed to get behind the Burnley defence time after time (maybe due to some poor work from the officials. And how good was it to see Simon Davies back playing again? He has played on the left hand side and fair bit under Hodgson, so that doesn’t worry me too much. Considering it was his first game back in a while, I thought he played well, despite being slightly rusty at times. Riise demonstrated the bundles of energy that we have come to expect from him; Greening came on with the sole intention of preventing the dangerous Eagles from inspiring any Burnley attacks, and did so pretty effectively.

Zamora showed yet again just how crucial a player he is to our attacking play, bullying the Burnley defence, linking up beautifully with Duff, Murphy and Elm, putting pay to the concept that two target men can’t play well together. Zamora scored an excellent free-kick – another string to his bow – and could have had a couple more, were it not for the keeping of Jensen. Fortunately, one fell nicely at the feet of the impressive Elm who tucked it away nicely. He looks a decent player to me, leading the line well, with some nice flicks and link-play.

Despite having no real pace up front, these two played well together – either getting the better of the defence and running at goal; or passing it out wide and getting into decent positions in the box. They’re our best bet up front at the moment. Okaka caused Burnley some problems, but that first goal still eludes him. I think he’s better off at the moment coming on from the bench whilst he learns the nature of our game, and using his strength and pace to attack tiring defences.

For the first time in weeks, we looked a good, balanced side out there. We really cannot afford any more injuries though. Not because (as some might suggest) we will get sucked into a relegation battle – we have 34 points with 12 games remaining. But there is a very real danger that our season can peter out into nothingness.

All in all, an excellent three points. Lucky? Maybe. But nobody could suggest that it wasn’t deserved.

Roy on Shorey

Roy Hodgson has confirmed that Fulham have the option to sign Nicky Shorey on a permanent basis at the end of his loan from Aston Villa.

The 28-year-old left back, impressive in his first two appearances for the Cottagers, would be able to join Fulham at the end of the season if the Cottagers paid a pre-agreed fee, according to Hodgson, who made it sound like his new signing was a bad boy from the wild, wild west.

A price has been put on Nicky’s head if, at the end of the loan period, he wants to stay and we certainly want to keep him.

He’s a player we considered many times. When he was at Reading we were interested, but the price and wages he could command took him out of our reach and he went to Aston Villa.

FIFA’s Shorey fury

There might be something in the old three club rule after all:

Nicky Shorey is on a collision course with FIFA because he played for his third club this season when he made his Fulham debut against Portsmouth on Wednesday.

The world body are unhappy that English football continues to provide a loophole to avoid their transfer rules, which state that players can represent a maximum of two clubs in one season.

The former England full back played for Fulham after signing on loan from Aston Villa, following an earlier nine-game spell at Nottingham Forest. But Shorey and Fulham are backed by the FA, the Premier League and the Football League, all of whom classify his time at Forest as an emergency loan.

A FIFA spokesman said: ‘FIFA are concerned about the system of emergency loans in general and have approached the Football Association on various occasions in the past regarding this. FIFA will be contacting them again in order to obtain clarification with regard to this issue.

‘Generally speaking, and with regard to the application of the pertinent rule, ie. Article 5 Paragraph 3 of the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players, the regulation should be applied as stated.’

The FA are standing their ground, though.

Emergency loans don’t count when calculating the number of clubs a player has played for as he remains under contract to his parent club.

After such an impressive debut, Fulham certainly don’t need Shorey sidelined by red tape.

Shorey seeks Fulham stay

The Fulham Chronicle quotes new signing Nicky Shorey as laughing off a potential England recall but keeping an open mind about turning his loan from Aston Villa into a permanent deal.

The left back was very impressive on debut against Portsmouth last night and looks to be the ideal stand-in for the injured Paul Konchesky.

I’m here to the end of the season with a view to a permanent deal – but they’ve got a great left-back in Paul Konchesky, so I’ve just got to play and see how it goes.

The former Reading defender says talk of a World Cup call-up is wide of the mark.

I’m not really looking at that. Just because you play one or two games in the Premiership everyone assumes. And this year everyone is trying to stake their claim – but I just want to get a run of games here and see what happens.