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Premier League
Sunday, 28th September 2008

Fulham 1
West Ham United 2

by Gordon Thrower


It’s nice to get back to writing about football rather than hypocrisy. A glorious day started early on the good ship Suerita where a boatload of Hammers set sail for Putney. Not directly of course. A trip downstream from Tower Bridge saw us heading in the general direction of the North Sea. Thankfully our vessel turned around at Greenwich before this turned into a report on Southend v the O’s following a tub of eels on the Golden Mile. Mention of the film The Poseidon Adventure saw Romford in particularly top form: “was that the one with that tower that turned into an inferno? No? What was that one called then?”

A leisurely trip upstream – we were overtaken by rowers at one point – saw us make several passes by Craven Cottage to sing “Bubbles” at the early arrivals before finally coming ashore at Putney. A nice walk through the park in the company of two young ladies from Norway (“we couldn’t get in at Arsenal”) saw us arrive in perfect time to see the nauseating Fayed paraded in front of the home crowd – who, incredibly, applauded him.

Team news was that we were unchanged from the eleven that had started against Newcastle, with Ashton’s ankle keeping him away for another few weeks and Zola electing to keep faith with the 4-3-2-1 formation used in his first match giving us a line-up of Green, Faubert, Ilunga, Upson, Neill, Parker, Behrami, Noble, DiMichele, Etherington, Cole.

It was an eventful first 45. Fulham had started well at home and, whilst they weren’t nearly as dominant as some subsequent reports have suggested they did have a lot of possession and the better of the half chances. On 4 minutes DiMichele embarked on a promising run, finding Cole with a pass at the end of it. Cole, who may soon be looking for lifts to training from teammates, launched his shot high into the crowd. Fulham then went on the attack and some loose control by Etherington saw Davies volley not too wide. We hadn’t quite settled at the back and on 8 minutes another edgy clearance from Etherington made it only as far as Murphy whose long diagonal ball into the box saw Zamora put an almost free header wide from 12 yards out.

Parker then saw an effort from distance go over before the game’s first yellow card on 20 minutes. Parker sold Ilunga a little short but the challenge by Johnson was disgraceful, the former Everton player stamping on Cheri’s standing ankle in a manner that could easily have caused serious injury. The yellow card was the very least he deserved and a straight red could have met with few complaints. Thankfully, Cheri’s injury was not serious – no thanks to Johnson – and the left-back was able to continue after some treatment.

On 23 minutes Zamora latched on to a through ball and made room for a shot that, thankfully, went just wide. Ref Marriner then started a one man campaign to give Jimmy Bullard as many free-kicks as possible, usually without waiting for the usual nicety of actually seeing a foul committed. Firstly Davies tried to run through Neill which was, apparently Neill’s fault. Bullard’s free-kick thankfully went over. This wasn’t good enough for the ref who then penalised Behrami for handball when he couldn’t possibly have known anything about it from that distance. Bullard’s free-kick brought out what turned out to be Green’s only real save of the match, the ‘keeper turning the ball wide. Paintsil slid in late catching the ‘keeper a painful one as he did so, though there was an element of slipping as the full-back came in. The challenge provided the statutory bout of “handbags” that is demanded whenever a ‘keeper is fouled these days but no disciplinary sanctions were required.

Konchesky was next into the book, deservedly so for another horrible challenge on Etherington, which, like Johnson’s earlier effort could easily have been a red. The ignorant amongst the home support – clearly not in a minority – proceeded to boo Etherington for, er, being chopped in half and requiring treatment. Matty, though, was to have the last laugh.

A couple of minutes after Konchesky’s assault, Cole headed a Green clearance into Etherington’s path. With the whole of the right hand side to run into, Etherington stormed down the right and moved into the box. It wasn’t the greatest cross in the world but Schwarzer only managed to palm it out into the path of Cole who finished off the move that he’d started by putting the ball away from six yards.

It got even better a couple of minutes later. Just as 4 minutes of stoppage were announced, Parker fed Cole who laid the ball off to Noble. Noble’s first time ball over the top saw Matty run into space, easily winning the race to the ball with Schwarzer and lifting the ball over the hapless ‘keeper for our second of the game and his own second of the season, his cupped-ear salute rubbing it just a little more for the home support.

The home side appeared to have lost it and the fingers were hovering over that button that appears in every crap sci-fi movie that sets off a strangely comforting female voice who tells you that she is “initiating auto-destruct sequence”. Firstly Murphy went straight through the back of Noble for another deserved yellow. Then Johnson left a foot in on Neill that produced a second yellow and, in consequence, the red that his earlier – and only other – contribution to the match had deserved. It was the last piece of meaningful action of the first half.

We started the second period the brighter of the two sides. Noble took advantage of some backing off in the home defence to let fly from about 25 yards, Schwarzer saving a little unconvincingly low to his left. The corner was only half cleared to Faubert who hit a powerful curving effort that possibly shaved a micron of white paint from the top of the crossbar on its way over.

Faubert then moved down the right and played a ball from deep into the box. It appeared over-hit but Etherington kept the ball live and pulled it back to Noble who fed Ilunga whose low hard shot saw another save by Schwarzer to the ‘keeper’s left.

Clean sheets are not a speciality and this match was no exception. A Fulham corner from our left came back off the turf from a header and up onto Neill’s arm. You see them given and not given. Marriner gave it and Murphy sent Green the wrong way to reduce the arrears.

The goal seemed to galvanise the home side. Parker picked up a yellow for a late challenge and Bullard’s free-kick in eluded everyone – including Zamora who had escaped his marker.

The first substitution came on 73 minutes. DiMichele had influenced matters little and a fluffed shot was one too many for Zola who replaced the Italian with Bellamy on 73 minutes. Shortly after Mullins came on for Etherington. Within a few minutes of his arrival Bellamy should have put the game beyond doubt. Mullins fed Noble who played the ball inside the full-back to the overlapping Ilunga. Ilunga cleverly pulled the ball back to Bellamy whose first shot was blocked by Hangeland and whose second effort went way over. It was a bad miss – Bellamy probably had time to control the ball for the second shot.

Although Fulham had a fair bit of possession it was telling that Green was largely unemployed and there were spells when we were able to string together passes well into double figures. We also looked the more likely to score. Ilunga’s clearance found Noble in space and his pull-back deserved better from Cole than the weak shot against the defender it actually received.

Although Fulham created little themselves they could easily have profited from Mr Marriner’s “Bullard-Aid” campaign. Parker won the cleanest of challenges against Davies. Incredibly Marriner saw the clean winning of a ball as a foul – Rob Styles would probably have been the only person on the planet to agree with the ref and we’ve all seen how bad he is. Bullard didn’t beat the wall however.

Bellamy briefly interrupted the Marriner show to run at the defence and set up Behrami who brought a save out of Schwarzer. . Fulham’s cause was not helped by the ‘keeper throwing the ball straight at a defender which kept the ball down at their end. Boa-Morte replaced Parker as Bellamy and Noble kept the ball in the corner – Noble was hauled down but for some bizarre reason the free-kick went Fulham’s way. Hangeland spotted this trend and flattened Neill, gaining the free-kick as he did so. Bullard again found the wall – Cole’s clean header bringing ridiculous claims for handball – and that was about it.

It wasn’t a perfect performance – we rode our luck early on when Fulham created their chances - but the goals worked marvels. Certain players are enjoying the new system and it is refreshing to see us trying to play football from the back. It is notable that Green only seems to kick long these days when he has to. The longer we continue to play a passing game the better the players will get at it and the signs are that the change of personnel has done wonders for confidence in some quarters. Keep it up guys!



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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Only one real save to make – turned a shot round the post under pressure from Paintsil. Otherwise came and dealt with a few crosses and I suppose we now have to slag him off when he doesn’t save a spot kick!


Julien Faubert
One of those for whom the change in management has worked wonders. The move back into defence looks to have been a shrewd one, especially as he can also get forward when required.


Herita Ilunga
Has had an impressive start to his career. Stronger tests than Newcastle and Fulham are to come but early signs are that we have a useful player here.


Lucas Neill
Early on needed a bit of sorting out but improved as the game went on. The penalty was instinctive rather than deliberate.


Matthew Upson
Again recovered from early confusion to put in a useful shift.


Scott Parker
A lot of hard work and decent tackles and clearly enjoys the increased responsibility the new system gives him.


Mark Noble
Reduced Bullard to having to seek assists from the ref. Played some superb passes, not least for Etherington’s goal.


Valon Behrami
With both he and Faubert now seemingly in the right positions he is now beginning to show more influence.


Matthew Etherington
A couple of loose touches early on apart he had a fine game. In the past when he’s been kicked by the opposition he has disappeared – something of which Konchesky seemed well aware judging by his assault. However, Etherington seemed spurred on by the treatment he received in this match and the freedom to roam the new system clearly suits him.


David Di Michele
The one big disappointment of the day, he failed to make much impression before his eventual replacement by Bellamy.


Carlton Cole
Held the ball up well and gave the home defence a hard time.


Substitutes


Craig Bellamy
(replaced Di Michele, 74) Looked a lot livelier than Di Michele had done but his finishing let him down. I look forward to seeing him play 90 minutes in this system.


Hayden Mullins
(replaced Etherington, 80) Came in for the last few minutes to bolster things up in the middle. Did so.


Luis Boa Morte
(replaced Parker, 90) Came on in the dying minutes as an aid to running the clock down. Did so.


Jan Lastuvka
Did not play.


Walter Lopez
Did not play.


Calum Davenport
Did not play.


Fred Sears
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: Andre Marriner.

Attendance: 23,946.

Man of the Match: Mark Noble.

West Ham United

Robert Green, Julien Faubert, Herita Ilunga, Lucas Neill, Matthew Upson, Scott Parker, Mark Noble, Valon Behrami, Matthew Etherington, David Di Michele, Carlton Cole.

Goals: Carlton Cole 43 Matthew Etherington 45                .

Booked: Scott Parker 68          .

Sent off: None.

Fulham

Schwarzer, Pantsil, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky, Gera, Murphy, Bullard, Davies, Johnson, Zamora.

Substitutes: None.

Subs not used: Zuberbuhler, Ki-Hyeon, Nevland, Dempsey, Andreasen, Kallio, Baird.

Goals: Murphy (pen 59).

Booked: Johnson (20), Konchesky (39), Murphy (45+2), Hangeland (88).

Sent Off: Johnson (45+4).

 
Gordon Thrower's Man of the Match: Mark Noble


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