A resolute performance saw a third away victory and three excellent goals. Throughout the game Bolton lacked the dynamic that Fulham had: the home team’s passing was poor and they often lost possession in midfield, while the men in the dangerous looking black away kit were often tidy in possession and produced some wonderful attacking movements.
At the heart of keeping things tidy was Mahamadou Diarra. He closed down on opponents with precision and for most of the game kept things simple when he had the ball. Behind him, the defence had a comfortable day of collecting his passes. Diarra’s good work in midfield was rewarded when he met JA Riise’s pass across the Bolton box to score Fulham’s third. The once clubless player showed that his fitness isn’t so rusty after making a dashing run to meet Riise’s pass.
The Fulham back line had a sound day, too. Aaron Hughes won nearly every ball in the air and Stephen Kelly continued his solid defensive duties. When Bolton’s best chance came – David N’gog through on goal in the Fulham box – Riise was there to catch up with the striker and got rid of the threat without conceding a penalty.
On the attack was Damien Duff who constantly ran around their right-back Marcos Alonso either by cutting inside to his favoured left foot or running to the line and dinking balls into the box with his right foot. It was one of these right footed crosses that Clint Dempsey met with a fine header to score Fulham’s second goal.
But it was the first goal that will be a goal of the month contender. Dempsey and Riise stood over a free-kick that was a fair distance from goal. Dempsey patted Riise’s arm to indicate ‘hey, you take it, you got that wicked shot sure’. But it was Dempsey who took the free-kick instead. And it bent magnificently into the top right-hand corner. Who knew Dempsey had that in his locker and was that Fulham’s first goal from a direct free-kick this season?
It was also debut day for Marcello Trotta. He came on when the game was sealed after the third goal. The 19-year-old look likes he has buffed up his upper body – although this year’s Kappa kit seems to have that affect on most of the Fulham team. In the short time left of the game, Trotta ran past a few defenders to get a shot on target.
A good away day, then. One negative, though, was losing Bryan Ruiz to injury. He was in pain after landing on his feet without being challenged and had to be strechered off. But during the game he played one of those through balls that effectively took out the whole Bolton team. It just missed Riise for what would have been an excellent goal. Let’s hope Ruiz’s injury isn’t too bad.
Since the turn of the year Stephen Kelly has played ten consecutive 90-minute games at right-back. Chris Baird has played only a solitary 90-minute game since the start of 2012. And that was covering left-back while Kelly was playing right-back. This surely means Baird, who was establishing himself as a regular first-teamer after the Mark Hughes reign, is no more the first-choice at right-back.
Nor indeed any position. For while Baird is the perfect utility player who can be used in defense or midfield to good effect, he did not even feature on the bench in last Saturday’s 2-1 over Norwich. Is he injured? Not according to physioroom.com. His Northern Irish teammate Aaron Hughes has also filled in at right-back occasionally. With hardly any full-backs in the Fulham team, it does seems strange not to even include Baird on the bench. So it really does look like Bairdinho’s days are coming to an end under Martin Jol. No more will we see that wicked strike of a dead ball (this responsibility belongs to JA Riise) or the odd accomplished performance in the centre of midfield.
Which brings us to the present first-choice right-back Kelly. Why is he preferred? Well, last Saturday’s game was an indicator. Kelly and Duff’s link up was very good. In one attack, Duff, or Kelly, played a cheeky and slightly audacious back-heel pass to the other in a tight spot. It worked and showed off a classy side of what Jol is implementing into the side. But it was Kelly’s run into the Norwich box that stood out the most. We expect Riise to do these sorts of attacking runs from full-back. We expect the Norwegian to blaze into the opponent’s box and latch on to a through ball to fire home. Riise has been trying this all season, but to no avail. It was Kelly’s turn on Saturday. He ran into the Norwich box and collected a fine through-ball from Bryan Ruiz. Unfortunately, Kelly, with a Norwich defender behind him tracking back well, could only strike the ball against goalkeeper John Ruddy.
Of this summer’s transfer window, a couple of full-backs would surely help in depth. If Kelly continues to perform well in the remaining games of the season, he may yield right-back as his own. So a young and promising right-back could be brought in to join the young ranks of Fulham. While at the same time Baird, it seems, may move on to a different club. Or not. In his first couple of seasons with the club, Kelly was a rare feature and look what’s happened now.
Apologies for the lack of posting. I’ll post more often now – I have a lot more free time to do so.
Fulham get Charlton Athletic in the third round of the FA Cup. A fellow London team, since 2006 the Addicks have fallen from their Premier League days down into League 1. But, with a positive style of attacking football, they’re top of the table and aiming for a comfortable return to the Championship.
It’s quite a good draw for Fulham: at home, against a team playing two leagues below and against a team who play a passing game – so hopefully no nasty cup exits that injure first team players à la Stoke.
Stalemate of 89 minutes at 0-0. Then, in two minutes a team scores and a player is sent off. One team must now carry a burden for their next game.
That team is Fulham as Twente won 1-0 at home. Late substitute Marc Janko got the goal for the Dutch side when Twente crossed from outside the Fulham box – an area they were threatening from all night.
A draw would have suited Fulham, but a defeat means the final game is a must win to qualify from the group stage of the Europa League. Added to that will be the absence of Johnson, who booted the ball after a foul. He got a second yellow card for it – his first yellow coming for a foul in the Fulham half, where he did drop deep to provide good defending – and will miss the final group game against Odense. A big miss as he is Fulham’s highest-scoring player in Europe.
The first half was a cagey affair with neither team having great amounts of chances or control of possession. Twente, however, had better movement and took advantage on the wings. They won two dangerous free-kicks on the left side just outside the Fulham box. However, the Fulham defence and Mark Schwarzer took care of the set-pieces and other attacks comfortably.
Fulham had their attacking moments in the first half, too. Danny Murphy provided from the centre of midfield for Bobby Zamora but the pass was too strong and high and went harmlessly out for a goal kick – Zamora informed to Murphy that he needed to keep the ball on the ground. To which Murphy duly did when he passed from a similar position in midfield to Andrew Johnson who was almost through on goal but the Twente goalkeeper Nikolay Mihaylov.
The second half had a higher tempo. Ola John was subbed on for Twente and produced dangerous crosses from the left wing near the Fulham box. A cross to Luuk de Jong was destined to go in but his header went wide. Emir Bajrami also hit a shot that was equally destined to go in – a bit like Darren Ambrose’s goal last night against Manchester United – however, it went wide and Fulham, although hard-working and resolute, had their backs against the wall.
Then, a brilliant chance for Fulham came, when, a free-kick was won by Johnson outside the Twente box on the right. Murphy cut the ball across the box to Zamora who struck it with the outside of his left-foot and went just wide of the goal. It was Fulham’s best chance of the night.
But, as the match seemed to be ending as a well-fought draw, Twente scored. A cross from the right of the Fulham box met an unmarked Janko who tapped it in and sealed emphatically Twente’s progression into the next round of the Europa League. Fulham meanwhile must beat Odense at home. The odds should be on a Fulham victory, but without the Europa League high-scoring Johnson, it could prove to be a bit cumbersome.
The Martin Jol era has started with quite a bit of experimentation in the defensive part of the squad. What manager coming to Fulham would ever dare separate the centre-back pairing of Hangeland-Hughes? Roy Hodgson brought the two players together during his tenure and Mark Hughes stuck to it because it proved to be very successful. But under Jol, Aaron Hughes has been shifted to right-back and replaced by Philipe Sendoros in the centre of defence. The new backline has had a shakey start with five goals conceded in four domestic games. But those goals should be taken into the context of the whole of Fulham squad under-performing in those games.
So why experiment with something that’s already working? Well, perhaps Jol’s thinking is to look at all the players in the sqaud and pick the best individuals. Senderos is arguably a better centre-back than Hughes. However, as football shows us, sometimes it just isn’t about picking the best individual players but those players who work best together.
On the other hand, maybe Jol’s selection of Hughes at right-back is part of a trend in football. Hughes is, judging by his time wearing a Fulham shirt, a centre-back more than a right-back, which means there are three centre-backs and an attacking full-back, John-Arne Riise, in defense. This is a trend identifiable in two of football’s top teams: Barcelona and Manchester United, who are deploying three centre-backs – with one being adaptable to full-back – and a natural attacking full-back in the back four. The formation takes advantage of having a talented attacking full-back in their teams: Dani Alves for Barca and Patrice Evra for Man Utd. If they bomb forward then there will always likely be adequate cover with three good centre-backs in defense. And this tactic seems to be present in Fulham to suit the great forward runs of Riise.
Perhaps then, if Fulham didn’t sign Riise, the Hangeland-Hughes pairing would not have been separated.
And so where are the goals gonna come from? Two goals in four domestic games is a poor start to the season. Even in the Europa League campaign so far there has been a struggle for goals at times. With the £10 millionish signing of Bryan Ruiz, one can expect it will be easier to score. He made a huge impression for scoring goals in the Dutch league – 36 goals in 61 games for FC Twente.
However, Ruiz isn’t a striker, he’s a winger who, judging by clips of him on youtube, likes to come from deep, run into the box from a central position and scores goals with quite special technical ability. He’s the perfect player for a 4-4-1 formation. Playing behind a target man, finding some space, taking on a couple of defenders and scoring goals from what can look like awkward positions.
For me, Ruiz could be a new Zoltan Gera who played an exceptional season behind Bobby Zamora in a 4-4-1 formation. Gera isn’t a striker, but acted like one after coming in from a midfield position, puzzling defenders and finding that space to score from positions that require special technical ability. Ruiz could end up finding his role in the Fulham sqaud will be much the same as Gera’s 2009-10 season.
And then one wonders, if Gera had have stayed at Fulham, £10 million could have been saved.
Fulham’s domestic campaign starts tomorrow. Up first is Aston Villa who are an unknown quantity with a new manager in Alex McLeish. He may introduce the defensive tactics that made his previous employers Birmingham City a tough unit to score against. Although, they were unable to actually score themselves, which contributed to their relegation.
But at Aston Villa McLeish has found, and bought one, pacey attacking players in Gabriel Agbonlahor, Marc Albrighton and Charles N’Zogbia. And to benefit from these quick attackers is Darren Bent up front. Last season Bent and playmaker Ashley Young could at times link up superbly. But the latter has moved on to Manchester United, so will Bent be as prolific without him or can another playmaker like N’Zogbia fill the boots of Young?
With six competitive games already played in the Europa League, Fulham’s first touch of the ball and fitness levels will presumably be better than Aston Villa’s. From these games in Europa League we have also seen glimpses of how Fulham are playing under Martin Jol. He seems to be putting his trust in a Zamora-Johnson strike partnership, which hasn’t been prolific but has been productive at times.
Jol has been decreasing the average age of an aging Fulham squad after buying some young players. Two summer signings that could be playing their Premier League debuts are Marcel Gecov and Pajtim Kasami. The midfielders look to have great potential after playing in the U-21s European Championship with Czech Republic and Switzerland respectively. Two teams that were very impressive in the tournament.
It all starts tomorrow then. Another test for the Fulham sqaud to cope with a long Europa League run and a domestic campaign. With an experienced European manager in Martin Jol and with a team that is almost the same as the one that reached the Europa League final, expectations are, although they may not repeat a progression to the final, that Fulham make a good account of themselves in both tournaments.
Schwarzer, Baird, Hughes, Hangeland, Riise, Duff, Murphy, Etuhu, Dempsey, Johnson, Zamora
Aston Villa XI
Given, Young, Dunne, Collins, Warnock, Albrighton, Petrov, Bannan, N’Zogbia, Heskey, Bent
A 0-0 draw against NSI Runavik means another step in the Europa League journey. The next step is in Belfast, against Crusaders, in Seaview, a stadium that is just under a ten minute walk from where I live. Handy enough and means I can say ‘I watched Fulham away in the Europa League qualifying rounds’ – without having to go to somewhere like Amkar Perm, which is a bit more than a ten minute walk for myself.
But back to Fulham playing NSI in the Faroe Islands. I wasn’t able, and I imagine many, many other Fulham fans, to watch the game as it was being played. I scanned through the BBC report of the game afterwards and noticed that AJ missed a few goalscoring opportunities. A point that stands out because of rumours. AJ has been linked with West Brom, West Ham and QPR. Not being able to take chances against a team of part-timers might influence a move away from Fulham. Or the opposite. Other clubs could think: ‘Flip, if he can’t score against those up in the Faroes, who can he score against?’ Besides this point, well done to NSI as they recorded a first draw in Europe, which sounds a bit patronising but is meant with sincerity.
Another game I couldn’t watch live was Fulham’s friendly against AFC Wimbledon. Fulham fielded a mixture of youngsters, fringe players and established players but lost 2-0. Has Martin Jol told the team to just take it very easy in these first couple of games? You would’ve thought Fulham could beat NSI Runavik and Wimbledon by a mountain of goals. Fulham didn’t but realistically neither games didn’t carry much weight or stress and why exert too much effort?
Crusaders this Thursday and I hope, for selfish reasons, that they play a starting XI of established players because they’ll be turning up ten minutes down from my house. And of course so that they progress to the next stage of the Europa League. I heard Crusaders have injury concerns and might not be able to play their regular XI themselves. But Crusaders will put out a great performance nonetheless and, as Europa League 2nd Round qualifers go, is a game I’m very much looking forward to.
I’m still here. Sorry for the slight hiatus; I’ve been pretty busy with work. But enough with the excuses. Fulham. They’re back in action. A 3-0 win over NSI Runavik at Craven Cottage, which was a comfortable enough result to begin what could be a very long Europa League campaign.
Damien Duff, Danny Murphy and Andy Johnson scored the goals against a defensively packed NSI that Fulham couldn’t quite get to grips with in the first half. Murphy tried through balls and lobs towards Zamora but the NSI defense always had it covered. Eventually Duff got through the defense and hit a shot from just inside the box. Johnson looked to have got a deflection but it stood as Duff’s goal. Fulham pressed more succesfully in the second half, resulting in Davies winning a penalty. Murphy stepped up and calmy slotted in. Johnson then got the third goal after good combination play with Bobby Zamora.
Next week Fulham travel to the Faroe Islands for the return leg for what will surely be a formality for Fulham. The game won’t be at NSI Runavik’s home ground but instead at the Svangaskard Stadium in Toftir, which meets UEFA club competition specifications and has quite the picturesque backdrop:
Last summer it looked as though Martin Jol was to become Fulham manager. It wasn’t to be. Ajax kept him as manager – until December, after he was sacked – while in the meantime Mark Hughes took the Fulham job instead. One season later, Hughes leaves Fulham. So, Jol, are you able to come this time around? Yes? Well, welcome to Fulham.
Jol is a very good appointment. He’s got good Premier League experience with Tottenham Hotspur and equally good experience with Hamburger SV – reaching the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup with the latter in 2009. Fulham are on the up in the league and are in the Europe once more. Martin Jol brings experience to both competitions.
A worry is that the appointment could be a repeat of Hodgson and Hughes. These were two managers who happily came to the club and were successful. Their success at Fulham heightened their ambition and they went on to further pastures. Hopefully, this time round, Jol will find success and he will like to stay to continue the success.
The summer transfers will be interesting. For a man who has recently worked for two European clubs will he want to take some of the players he worked with there to join him at Fulham? In his time out since December has he had time to think ‘if I get a job soon who will I want to sign?’
At Spurs he made some very astute signings, although some did not quite work out. The big ones he signed were Dimitar Berbatov and Gareth Bale. The former, a brilliant goal-scorer at his time there, and the latter a player on many clubs wish-lists. With the club’s resources not as big as Spurs, Jol will have to be even more astute in the market.
But what will the transfer season bring for players already at the club? Surely he will not want to disturb a team that’s working so well at the minute. Although, perhaps it will be time for some players to prove themselves once more. Painstil and Gera are two players who were on the fringes of the squad under Hughes. But now, under Jol, will they be able to reassert themselves? Possibly, but possibly Jol has other ideas. Not just for Painstil or Gera, but other players too. This could be a season where a whole lot of new faces show up at Fulham. As the likes of Damien Duff and Danny Murphy are close to retirement, perhaps Jol is the man to find the players who will replace them down the line.
A final note must be a well done to the board to hiring a new manager very quickly. Although Jol was on the books before, and would have been top of list if Hughes were to leave or be sacked, the quick appointment showed the quick confidence in finding a manager who can keep Fulham on the up.
Jol has only sixteen days until his first game in charge. It will be a Europa League qualifier. Hopefully, it will be one of many Europa League games this campaign and many more games with Jol in charge.
After one season, Mark Hughes resigns. He managed Fulham to a very respectable eighth place in the Premier League and into the Europa League – albeit through the Fair Play league. His time at Fulham was shaky at first, the worst moment coming on Boxing Day after a 3-1 thumping at home by West Ham. But fortunes turned after the New Year and Fulham, under Mark Hughes, enjoyed a good run of form.
So what to make of his resignation? Frustration that the club has to look for a manager again and at a time when the club is a force domestically and possibly on the continent again. It’s a case of deja vu. As with Hodgson, Fulham had it good. But Hodgson left and we were stuck for a manager – one who wouldn’t disrupt the success of Hodgson’s team. Well, along comes Mark Hughes. He does a good job and keeps the team as a solid force in the league. Another season with Hughes possibly and hey maybe we could win something. Nope, he chooses the clause in his contract which allows him to leave.
But there’s no love lost. Mark Hughes raved about the ‘quality’ he found at Fulham in post-match interviews time and time again. On the pitch, too, he was commanding and vociferous – his ambition showed. Now that he’s left quite suddenly, and at a time when Fulham are on the up, can we question his time with the club. Where did his ambition lie? For Fulham to be successful? Or for himself as a manager to be successful? I’m sure both, but when a manager was recently manager of super-rich Manchester City, coveted by a Premier League teams (Aston Villa…) and at one point wanted by Bayern Munich, the man has high ambitions. The balance tilted towards his ambition. Hughes didn’t believe, through making this decision to resign, that Fulham matched his ambitions. His goodbye from the club is a formal handshake of a job well-done. Not one of a hug, salute or high-five.
It means a few days, maybe weeks, of speculation over which manager will get the Fulham job. Here’s a list of contenders – some realistic, some wishful thinking, some just in there because it’s rumour time: Roberto Di Matteo, Claudio Ranieri, Martin O’Neill, Martin Jol, Avram Grant, Carlos Ancelotti, Steve McClaren. To name but a few that are on many bookie lists.
What Fulham need is a manager with good experience of both the Premier League and European football, which is a big ask. An even bigger ask is one that the new manager will show heart and commitment in Fulham Football Club if they are successful. Hodgson achieved some, Hughes too. But when they got it they believed do better things at other clubs. It didn’t work out so well for Hodgson and time will tell if it works out for Hughes.