Fulham 0 West Ham United 1

Saturday, 23rd February 2008
by Gordon Thrower

I was looking forward to this one for a while. Not because I was expecting a feast of football – let’s face it, it was Fulham we were playing. No, I figured that since I was paying £45 for the ticket, my matchday “experience” would include some fantastic special gift from the proprietor of Harrods.

Perhaps an at seat neck massage from TV's Samantha Janus perhaps, or at the very least a gold encrusted hot-dog. It was therefore with some anticipation that we assembled at a riverside hostelry for pre-match cocktails where we were joined by Taff and his delightful missus Rhiannon, or Blodwyn or something - none of us could remember her name (including Taff I suspect).

Then came the day's first disappointment. Our chosen hostelry, despite having a nice LCD telly on the wall didn't want to show the Birmingham v Arsenal match so we upped sticks and moved to the Walkabout that had televisions but no proper bitter (John Smith's does not count). The walk through the park to Craven Cottage is a pleasant one affording as it does pleasant views of The River. If you happened to be walking near us you'd have heard what appeared to be the sound of a married couple arguing with eachother. Not Taff and whatsername - they were a picture of wedded bliss. No it was Gent and Romford who were bickering:

"you told me it was a 15 minute walk"
"no I didn't I said it was 20"
"how long have we been going now"
"about 15 seconds"

And so on.

In the end it took about 23 minutes to get to the ground and I looked for the private VIP entrance that no doubt my ?45 ticket entitled me to use. I was disappointed to see that I would have to share a turnstile with the masses. I was further disappointed to note that there appeared to be no sight of TV's Samantha Janus either as I arrived at my seat. Now Jerry and Bernie - my regular neighbours on away trips - are decent chaps but frankly if I had the choice between them and TV's Samantha they wouldn't even begin to enter the equation,

Team news was that changes were afoot. Noble had recovered from the knock that led to his late withdrawal from the Birmingham match. Bowyer's successful appeal against his ludicrous sending off in that match had not been matched by his battle against injury. Fair play by the way to Clattenberg for putting his hands up to the error.

All this left us with a starting line-up of Green, Neill, McCartney, Ferdinand, Upson, Ljungberg, Mullins, Noble, Faubert, Boa-Morte, Cole.

The match was preceded with applause for Bobby Moore - where have the last 15 years gone? - and throughout the afternoon the away support's chants paid regular tribute to the great man.

So the match. Well whatever it was I paid my ?45 for it obviously wasn't entertainment. It was an awful first half. I was reminded of a newspaper report I read as a kid once. A journo from the Daily Express once wrote something along the lines of "The entertainment value contained within this match can be summed up by the following" The rest of the column was completely blank. At the time I thought it quite funny - now I'm a bit older and more cynical, and having met a few journos in my time, I now realise that we were probably looking at the writings of someone who a) fancied an early trip to the pub and b) was clearly plagiarising the famous Len Shackleton blank chapter on "what the average director of a football club knows about the game." I was tempted to pull off the same trick for this report but on reflection I think I'll save that one for a Sunday morning when I have a bad hangover.

There were a few incidents. Ferdinand blocked a Dempsey shot with the rebound falling to Konchesky whose angled drive was gathered by Green. Some good work on the right by Boa Morte and Noble saw Noble's cross volleyed first time by Cole, though in having to stretch his leg round a defender he had little control over the placement and it was an easy save for Niemi.

Boa-Morte was caught by a late one by Hangeland who is a big lad. Webb allowed play to continue but Cole was thwarted by a last ditch Konchesky challenge. Nothing came of the corner. Shortly after Cole tried another snapshot from the edge of the box which went over, possibly shaving the bar on its way.

Boa-Morte wriggled his way out of trouble in the middle only to be cynically hacked down by Andreasen for a deserved yellow. A Dempsey knock down to McBride was followed by a weak shot that Green gathered in his sleep. That's about it really. Faubert & Ljungberg swapped wings which only had the effect of changing the players that were kicking them and I began to wonder whether the ?45 tickets were actually the cheap seats -the really expensive ones being those that were directly behind one of the pillars in the structure they give to the away supporters that has a disturbingly temporary feel to it. I guess they could charge even more for those facing away from the pitch.

Half time came and went with no sign of TV's Samantha Janus. The nearest we got was "Diddy" David Hamilton and let's face it that is no consolation whatsoever. Maybe the gents were going to have gold-plated fittings? No chance.

The first incident of note in the second half was an incredibly optimistic claim for handball as Ferdinand blocked a shot from about two feet away. Noble played a nice one-two with Ljungberg and did well to get a shot in with the ball coming back to him awkwardly, the shot missing by a foot or two.

Faubert, who had received little service on either wing and had had little impact on the match left just after the hour to be replaced by Nobby. Shortly after this we had something of a let-off. Ferdinand lost out to McBride, Upson to Camara leaving Dempsey clean through. Dempsey's shot however was as weak as a cup of railway buffet tea and green looked almost embarrassed as he gathered the resulting gentle lob into his arms.

We then should have taken the lead ourselves. Solano's exquisite 40 yard pass into the channel might have been better dealt with by Ljungberg by way of a shot. Instead the Swede elected to try to play in Cole. The pass was blocked. Ljungberg regrouped (if one person can be said to regroup) twisted and turned before clipping an inviting cross that Cole headed straight at Niemi. It was probably, no definitely the easiest of the chances that had fallen Cole's way and he knew it. On 80 minutes Cole left to be replaced by Ashton.

With 5 left Fulham played their only bit of football of the afternoon. A fine move down their left involving Camara and McBride saw Andreasen bear down on goal, his clever reverse pass finding Bullard. Green pulled off an excellent save and Bullard could only lob the loose ball over the top, though Green had by this time got back. The save will have impressed the watching Capello assuming that he a) hadn't gone home and b) was still awake.

It had been frustrating stuff all afternoon as two lots of 4-5-1 had cancelled eachother out. The away support was beginning to grumble as well, the growing chants of "too ****ing negative" letting everyone know exactly how parts of the crowd felt

So with a 0-0 draw looking very likely we scored. In keeping with the rest of the match it was a scrappy goal. Ljungberg found progress blocked on the right and played the ball back to Neill. The skipper took a touch before playing the ball into Boa-Morte who knocked the ball into the path of Solano. Niemi was very slow off his line and Nobby beat the keeper to the ball to settle the match. I'll be honest here, my first look was towards the ref. Not because I thought it was a foul as such. However, it looked like the sort of challenge that usually gets given by referees irrespective of whether or not it should be. Thankfully ref Webb saw nothing wrong and neither challenge nor the accidental coming together of Peruvian elbow and ball were enough to rule out goal.

Now here's a funny thing. In the aftermath Andreasen picked up a second yellow. The only reason I know this is that Taff mentioned it as we walked through the park on the way back what with me having missed the whole thing!

Spector immediately replaced Ljungberg to bolster up things for the 5 minutes of stoppage time that were added on. This seemed excessive until I was reminded of Noble's lengthy spot of on-pitch treatment which, with the substitutions made it about right. We could have done without giving away a free-kick in Bullard territory but eventually the clock ran down and the three points were ours.

In truth this was a poor game which put one in mind of Ian Holloways mad ramblings about "pulling ugly birds on a night out" - I believe if you look on the downloads page of this very site there is a link to said interview. I'm fairly sure it was games like this that he had in mind - though with him it's often difficult to tell. The three points now mean we're on the magical 40 point mark and I am now prepared to concede that we may be clear of relegation. On second thoughts I'd rather have a few more on the board just to be on the safe side - you know what it's like.

On the bright side I've now worked out why the tickets were so damned expensive. The clue came to me when the chants of "there's only one Prince Philip" started up. Over the past few years Fulham's obnoxious owner has spent much of his life making numerous - and often contradictory - allegations against just about everyone over the death of his son and Diana, Princess of Wales. From what I can see the inquest that's currently in progress is likely to confirm the "tragic accident caused by drunk driver" theory, Which means that the phoney pharaoh is likely to be facing a fairly lengthy queue of people who think that they may just have been libelled.

Yesterday therefore may just have paid off one of the out of court settlements that Fayed is likely to be facing in future months. You can't blame him I suppose - after all he will definitely need to cash in now because they definitely won't sell out too many home matches in The Championship. Either that or Diddy david Hamilton charges them a lot more than I thought. In the meantime the hunt for TV's Samantha continues!

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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Coped comfortably with what little came his way. One fine save and a few easy ones.

Lucas Neill
Fairly comfortable though a couple of passes went astray.

George McCartney
Linda has a problem when Ljungberg plays left side. That is Ljungberg's habit of NOT playing left side. This leaves Linda with no support or cover, hence his penchant today of playing the long ball out of defence.

Anton Ferdinand
Fairly steady though he did have one worrying moment as both he and Upson lost out to McBride & Camara respectively.

Matthew Upson
Tried to bring the ball out of defence whenever he could. One dodgy moment as mentioned above.

Hayden Mullins
Did the usual Mullins thing but his distribution wasn't the best today and he got caught out of position a few times.

Mark Noble
Effective without dominating like we know he can.

Freddie Ljungberg
A funny game really. At times he looked capable of causing problems. Then he'd go missing. Really must learn that if he's playing on the left he needs to help out Linda from time to time.

Julien Faubert
Struggled to make an impact and was often crowded out. The switch of wings failed to improve things.

Luis Boa Morte
Not nearly as bad as some people make out. Worked hard and laid the ball off well for the goal.

Carlton Cole
Was getting a lot of unmerited stick from one or two supporters. Had four attempts on goal. The first three were difficult but he ought to have done a lot better with the header.


Nobby Solano
(replaced Faubert, 63) We looked a lot better with Nobby on the pitch. Put in at least one superb 40 yard pass and, whilst there may have been a spot of fortune about the goal, that would have resulted from his determination to win the ball.

Dean Ashton
(replaced Cole, 80) Looked a little sharper than of late and did well in running the clock down at the end.

Jonathan Spector
(replaced Ljungberg, 90) Not on for long enough to register more than the slightest blip on the radar.

Richard Wright
Did not play.

John Paintsil
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Robert Green, Lucas Neill, George McCartney, Anton Ferdinand, Matthew Upson, Hayden Mullins, Mark Noble, Freddie Ljungberg, Julien Faubert, Luis Boa Morte, Carlton Cole.

Goals: Nobby Solano 87                  .

Booked: None.

Sent off: None.

Fulham: Niemi, Staltieri, Konchesky, Hangeland, Hughes, Bullard, Murphy, Andreasen, Dempsey, McBride, Camara.

Subs not used: Keller, Nevland, Smertin, Bocanegra.

Goals: .

Booked: Murphy (14), Hangeland (20), Andreasen (28).

Sent off: None.

Referee: H.Webb.

Attendance: 25,280.

Man of the Match: Nobby Solano.