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Did Sunderland ‘reinvent Bobby Zamora?’

Perhaps Steve Bruce was warming to his theme during his pre-match press conference or just being deliberately disingenious, but this comment strikes me as a little odd:

I think we reinvented Bobby Zamora when we played at Fulham. He made a mess of us down there, if I am honest, he was very, very good on the day.

No doubt Zamora was good against Sunderland. But most of the talk after that game was about his celebration rather than any England call-up. And it’s certainly untrue to suggest that Bobby’s only been in form since early-December. Let’s take a closer look:

30 July: Scores a long-ranger in Vetra to get our Europa League campaign off and running.

15 Aug: Gets a little fortunate with the winner against Portsmouth.

20 Aug: Looks awesome against Amkar Perm. Belts in a powerful goal to go with a top-notch display as the leader of the line.

19 Oct: Clincal from close range to end a barren run and set Fulham on their way against Hull.

22 Oct: Bullies Roma at the Cottage. Momentum swings back towards the Italians when he’s taken off early by Hodgson.

25 Oct: Misses a sitter at Man City. Much of the post-match hilarity obscures a selfless performance.

31 Oct: Plays a blinder against Liverpool. Rolls in the first, gives Jamie Carragher the run around and the Liverpool defender is sent off – long after he actually should have been having hauled Zamora down twice.

6 Dec: Scores winner against Sunderland.

Care to think again, Steve?

Give Zamora the credit he deserves

The two guys in front of me who gleefully barrack Bobby Zamora were strangely subdued last night. I’ve spoken before about Zamora perhaps being a modern-day Micky Conroy, the surly Scot who wasn’t well liked at Craven Cottage before Micky Adams turned a hesitant forward into a goal machine and Fulham romped to a glorious promotion, but it does surprise me that Bobby doesn’t get the credit he deserves.

On another messageboard, one of the regulars went to the trouble of listing Zamora’s finest performances in a Fulham shirt. The list ran to Bolton, Kettering, Vetra and Manchester United. It ignored a splendid performance as the spearhead of our attack against Arsenal early last season, a fine display at Anfield and perhaps his best effort for Fulham – when he turned the game as a substitute against Middlesbrough.

Of course, one thing many people gloss over all too quickly is how much Zamora works. He’s constantly running centre backs this way and that and is a meance in the air. His off-the-ball work is one of the main reasons why Fulham create so many chances and I’d go as far as to suggest that he was our man of the match against Hull. Not just for that instinctive reaction that sure him pounce to head a rebound past Boaz Myhill or for the powerful run and cross that laid our second on a plate for Diomansy Kamara, but because of his unflagging physicality.

It was interesting to note that in Hodgson’s post-match comments he said that, although Fulham accepted a bid from Hull for Zamora in the summer, he told the striker that he still felt he could be a key part of Fulham’s plans for the forthcoming season. Hodgson has faith in Zamora despite a difficult first season and when he plays like that you can see why. So, instead of mocking one of our players (‘How sh** must you be?/Zamora just scored etc.) and doing the media’s job for them (see how the Independent reckoned Claudio Ranieri would be pinching himself), let’s give the big man the credit he deserves.

We were probably helped by some baffling tactical decisions from Phil Brown last night. Playing Kevin Kilbane at centre back was very strange indeed. The Irish international might not have the pace of his earlier days, but he’s been a pretty solid makeshift left-back in the past for various clubs (and couldn’t have done any worse than Andy Dawson). Sonko looked all over the place, but of more concern to Hull followers would have been Brown’s negativity.

Hull got a crucial result against Wigan the other week by going at their opposition from the off. They never looked like doing that last night. Content to sit off Fulham and bring everybody back behind the ball, they would have been delighted with a 0-0. Jan Venegoor of Hesslink was so isolated at times that it looked like he was playing on a different pitch to the rest of his team-mates. Why didn’t Altidore – who’s looked very impressive since he swapped Spain for the Premier League – start? And what was the point of bringing on a creative player – in Bullard – only to sacrifice someone likely to sniff out a goal (Ghilas)?

The jockeying-for-position nature of the league at this stage of the season was reflected in the table. Hull could have climbed to 14th win a win, as it was Fulham rose to 12th. It was a decent performance from Hodgson’s start, and although Baird and Duff are definitely worth mentioning in dispatches, the points were won by Bobby Zamora.

Roy sets Riise challenge

The best managers relish selection headaches. Roy Hodgson is no different. He’s challenged Bjorn Helge Riise to make life difficult for him by continuing his strong showing in training and thereby making it impossible for him to leave the young Norwegian out of the team.

Riise, who joined from Lillestrom in the summer, made his debut in the home game against Vetra and Hodgson expects him to develop into a consistent Premier League performer.

Given his position on the pitch he might actually face the toughest competition in the club. It’s not easy to break in to the starting XI, but I think he has had a great start here.His time will come and I am looking forward to see him play many games here. He must continue to do well in training and give me a headache when it comes to selecting the team.

Fulham ready for Russian adventure

Even if you count the Anglo-Italian and Angl0-Scottish Cups and our couple of Intertoto Cup fixtures before uncertainty surrounded the future of Craven Cottage, European football at Fulham’s historic home is still something of a novelty. Having comfortably seen off FK Vetra in the last round, the Whites will aim to move a step closer to the group stages of the Europa League when they welcome Russian side Amkar Perm to the Cottage tonight.

It will something of a step into the unknown for Roy Hodgson and his team as they have been dogged by the same visa issues that have frustrated Fulham fans trying to make the trip out to Perm for the second leg next week. The club were unable to organise visas for their scouts to watch their Russian opponents so they have had to base their preparations for tonight’s game on video footage of Amkar in action. Hodgson says it’s far from ideal.

We’ve seen them on video so we have quite a clear idea of what they’re like and how they play, but it’s a little bit of an unknown.

Fulham will be hoping that they don’t endure the kind of horrid hangover from their successful previous season that Perm seem to be having to cope with. Amkar, who began life as a works team for a chemical factory just 15 years ago and have enjoyed a remarkable rise up the Russian league pyramid, finished fourth in the Russian league last year to qualify for the Europa League but their new Bulgarian coach Dimitar Dimitrov has failed to have the same impact as his predecessor. Halfway through the domestic season, Perm are thirteenth in the sixteen-team Russian Premier League and they let a two-goal slip against Zenit St. Petersburg in their last league match on Sunday. All the same, Fulham will have to be wary of top-scorer Martin Kushev, who scored both the goals against Zenit.

Amkar’s success last term was based, much like Fulham, on a solid defence and it will be up to the Whites to break them down tonight. The onus will be on the home side to secure a comfortable advantage to take back to eastern Russia next week, especially as the away leg will be played on a plastic pitch. I shouldn’t imagine that the need to score goals will persuade Roy to jettison his favoured 4-4-2 system but our more creative players may be given a little more license to get forward in an attempt to try and leave less resting on that second leg.

There’s been some talk in the build-up to this game about the possibility of resting players for Sunday’s local derby against Chelsea. Of course, Chelsea is a massive game – and is the first fixture that we look for when the fixtures are published every summer. But, for me, we need to field the strongest possible side not just to give ourselves the best possible chance of progressing in the competition but to continue the momentum built by those two wins against Vetra and the opening day victory at Portsmouth.

That should mean that our regular back five remains in place. Midfield will be the interesting area, with both Clint Dempsey and Zoltan Gera looking over their shoulders, although for different reasons. Having played almost a year of football without a break, it is inevitable that Dempsey’s international commitments will catch up with him eventually. There’s a credible case for starting him from the bench tonight if only to rest what must be tired legs. Gera simply hasn’t reproduced the kind of form that convinced Roy to bring him in from West Brom on a Bosman and his was a nervous performance at Fratton Park on Saturday. Both could feasibly lose out in the long run after Fulham completed the signing of Damien Duff, but it’s more likely to be the Hungarian.

Duff’s interview with the official site yesterday implies that he could play some part tonight and it might be sensible to give the winger a little bit of a run out, considering that I’d want him to play a role against his former club on Sunday. The best line of build-up to this contest, though, has to go to Jason Gatties, who sums up his confidence ahead of this game thus:

Damien Duff could be ready to go tomorrow. Who cares? We could beat Amkar with Hillary Duff on the pitch as long as we stick to Roy’s game plan.

He’s right, of course. We should be confident of beating Perm and I’m fairly sure that Roy will have quashed any chance of the boys being dangerously over confident tonight. We’ll have to treat them with respect and be wary of a potential banana skin – this is certainly a far tougher test than our previous assignment against Vetra – but Jason’s watched Perm more closely than me of late and isn’t convinced by shaky defence and slow midfield. Let’s hope we can take advantage.

Tasked with doing just that should be our regular front pair of Andy Johnson and Bobby Zamora. AJ scored two second-half goals in our comfortable win over Vetra at the Cottage but looked a little out-of-sorts at Portsmouth, with one glaring miss that you feared might have come back to haunt us. Zamora’s league campaign got off to a fortunate start as he got his body in the way of a Dempsey shot but was soon running away to celebrate and we hope that’s given him the confidence to put last season’s poor goalscoring return behind him.

MY FULHAM XI (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Etuhu, Murphy, Gera, Duff; Zamora, A. Johnson. Subs: Stockdale, Kelly, Baird, Dempsey, Seol, Nevland, Kamara.

Murphy on Fulham’s mental toughness

When Danny Murphy spoke up on television after the Vetra second leg saying we needed a few more additions, I was a little surprised. Would he have been doing it without Roy’s approval? I was pleased that he talked about the need to kept our best players in his round of post-Pompey interviews and it struck of a strong captain reminding journalists that Fulham gave Brede Hangeland his chance in Premier League football (both Newcastle and Everton – and maybe others – turned him down after a trial).

I wasn’t sure Murphy was the right choice as skipper at the start of last season once McBride departed. Like many people, I assumed the armband would go to Hangeland. But his experience and football brain are exactly what we’ve needed. In his latest interview with the official website, he’s full of common sense. Listen to what he says about the mental toughness of our squad:

We have a squad of lads who are mentally tough; I have been at certain clubs before where certain players wouldn’t play unless they were 100 per cent fit.

I’m safe in saying that our players have turned down the chance of nursing knocks or even more than knocks to play on a Saturday, they were desperate to play and desperate to be part of a successful team. I’m not saying there isn’t luck involved but a strong mentality and good work ethic also helps you get through problems.

I’ve thought about this before too. There’s no doubt that Simon Davies, our most consistent performer in the Great Escape season, had been carrying a serious foot injury for quite some time before he eventually had surgery towards the end of last season. I’d imagine that Clint Dempsey’s playing through the pain of a continuous year of football right now. It shows desire and determination – and deserves to be lauded. It also indications that our key players are hungry to be part of a successful side. They know that, should they miss a few games, someone might come in and impress (as Dempsey did earlier last season in fact), and they could find themselves sitting on the bench for a long time.

Without changing tack after that Vetra interview, Murphy also raises an interesting point about squad size.

You can have the best manager in the world but you can’t keep everyone happy. How do the young lads get their chance if you are forever building squads of 25-30 senior players? It’s good if you have a decent small squad of some quality and young lads chomping at the bit to get in as well.

The young lads chomping at the bit, as Murphy puts it, are the ones that really interest me this season. Over on TIFF, I had a discussion last night about some of our promising prospects from the Academy  and we wondered whether the likes of Marsh-Brown, Moscatiello, Hoesen and Trotta would have a shot of breaking into the first team squad in the near future. You’d reckon that Chris Smalling, his talent already recognised by Stuart Pearce, would be in and around it already and Matthew Briggs appears to be devloping nicely. Factor in Robert Milsom, now recovered from that broken leg and ready to go, and Wayne Brown, back from an impressive loan spell in Finland, and you’ve got hungry youngsters fighting for some playing time.

Murphy’s absolutely right that those boys would face no chance if we had another 10-15 professionals on the books. That’s why we had to release so many youngsters in the Coleman and Sanchez eras because they our first-team squad was so vast they never really had a hope of breaking through. While it would be nice to sign a few more quality players, there’s nothing better than seeing a Fulham youth product run out with the first team. The skipper’s spot on.