Fulham at Home 2018/19 – Beer (again)

Some days you’re the pigeon and some days you’re the statue. That’s just the way it is. The bad thing is we can’t all be pigeons at the same time and, inevitably, one person’s amazingly brilliant day is another’s shower of doo-doo. This seems to be most true of all with football fans with promotions, relegations and local derbies all taking their toll. But when you get a mid-table clash in bright sunshine at the wonderful time of three o’clock on a Saturday then your day is going to come down to circumstances and individual performance.

Circumstances, for me, were such that I was unattended, unsupervised, unfettered by rules. No “The Boy” who was and is with his mum and sister in an activity hotel in Devon. Unfortunately, I had important work meetings planned on the Friday and Monday. Glum face. Statue. But, you know, every cloud and all that. I strolled in the sunshine around our wonderful town, taking in just what a great place it is when the weather’s nice and you have all day, and then I strolled in to the Welly at the sort of time many of you are still having breakfast, caught up with some old friends, had a pint and watched the cricket. Happy face. Pigeon.

All of which goes some way to explaining why it is I’m bleathering on about statues and activity hotels instead of the game. One in the Welly, one and a half in the Caxton (wonderful pub, you must go, great landlord) and then met Steve who was not camping but was walking up the hill to catch the train to the Swan and even more beer and sunshine. And then I saw him. Old, old friend with whom I have been to many away games in many northern grief holes back when football actually was a bit scary. “Good” you think. Well, said friend doesn’t go much these days but, when he does, we normally lose and he’s therefore regarded as something of a Jonah. Luckily he’d only stopped in for a pint while walking his dog across the downs and was not actually going but we’d still seen him. I should have known then it would be draw.

As we strolled some more to the ground we checked the team news to find out that Dunk had made a Lazurus like recovery and was playing. Harsh on Balogun who’d done nothing much wrong but I suppose if your captain and defensive talisman is available you have to play him. Other than that Groß was back in for Bissouma as we fielded the same side that started against United. More of these two later.

Like United I felt we started strongly, chasing and closing and having far more territory. Fulham may have had the first decent chance, Mitrovic heading over a cross that was partially behind him, but in general we looked a lot more threatening and Fulham took on the real air of an away team. Knockaert and March were having a lot of joy against their full backs. Our full backs once again looked solid. There really wasn’t too much to worry about and then, suddenly we should have been leading the comfortable life of collective pigeons.

We broke from defence quickly and Propper fed Knockaert on the right. He looked for the obviously offside Murray but the latter checked his run, went nowhere near the ball and ran back onside cleverly while Knockaert continued with the ball before slipping it back to him. With Fulham all over the shop Murray went in to the box and turned from goal, drawing a foul. PENALTY!

Unfortunately Groß was the designated taker. His last two penalties had gone in so he was entitled, but how his last one wasn’t saved I have no idea. Sometimes you – maybe the whole ground – just know what’s going to happen. “He’s going to miss” I said to Mark next to me, and his low penalty was  saved. Now. This wasn’t a terrible penalty but he telegraphed where it was going in both look and run up. This would later send my friend Ollie vaguely apoplectic over post match beer. “Why do they even have to look at the goal? They’ve been doing this since they were eight and its never moved!”. Fair point, well made. But even then we could and should have scored from the resulting corner, Murray heading just wide from close in.

Still, this would only be a disaster if we conceded.

And concede we did. A beauty of a goal to be fair, Fulham spreading it quickly inside from the right wing and Seri playing a lovely cushioned lob to beat the offside trap and see Schurrle finish with aplomb in to the corner. All that hard work and one nil down.

Still we nearly got it back, early doors in the second half. Propper robbed Mitrovic and played a lovely through ball for March who was one on one with the keeper and hit Row Z with his shot. Go and stand in the statue section with Pascal, Solomon.

The woeful Groß was replaced by Bissouma and then our day got worse. A hopeful long punt up field should have been dealt with by Dunk. A fit Dunk would have dealt with this all day long but the Dunk who was rushed back was out fought by Mitrovic who went through on goal. Ryan stopped the first shot but it rebounded straight to the same player, who stuck it away. Dear, oh dear, oh dear.

Enter our very own pigeon in the form of Murray. He’d been fantastic, again, all afternoon and now he (with lots of help from Knocky) saved the day. Fulham gave it away wastefully at the back, Knockaert’s run took out the whole defence before he slipped it to Murray who showed how to finish a one on one.

On came Ali J and Locadia, the former looking lively, the latter still not quite all there for me, but there was no doubt the momentum had swung our way. Murray drew another clever foul out wide and, from the resulting free kick and aerial ping pong Mitrovic inexplicably handled in the area. Pigeon to statue in one half of football. Murray showed the whole ground how to take a penalty and that was that. 2-2, some mild scenes of joy and we were done. A point gained that could feel like two dropped.

Our post match conversation, Ollie’s penalty rant aside, must have been the same as yours. Was Dunk brought back too early? Yes, undoubtedly. And why has Groß lost his confidence? Last season’s best player and bargain of the year has been made to look extremely ordinary each time out this season. Just as having competition seems to have given Murray a new lease of life so it’s knocked Pascal’s confidence out of the park.

And then? A bus. Craft beer. The Albert. Some bloke off NSC. Feeling wobbly. Another bus. A kebab. And bed. A day in the sun drinking with the best people in the world, my pigeon like demeanour ruined only by some statue like finishing and defending.

 

 

 

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Fulham Away 2016/17 – Carbon Copy

A side that’s flying, a new year bank holiday and a chance for me to visit one of my favourite grounds in the country for (I think) the sixth time while the boys got to revisit the scene of Hemed’s iconic penalty last season. It doesn’t matter what the blog title is, we were off to Fulham and so were an estimated 6000 others.

Having been royally dicked around by the trains this season we’d decided to drive, safe in the knowledge that we had a reserved car parking space through Car Park Direct. An uneventful drive up became extremely eventful when it became clear that the car park we’d booked didn’t exist and was, in fact, being demolished. Instant karma kicked in as we found a street space and discovered that those parking charges and restrictions were suspended on bank holidays, so we left the car with no additional charges and wandered off to the Coat and Badge. There, over orange juice and lemonade since we’re both attempting Dry January, Steve extracted a refund out of the shysters while the boys and I watched bits of a deadly dull 0-0 between Boro and Leicester.

And so to the ground and one of the weirdest pre-match conversations I’ve yet had, thanks to that hardy perennial of the London away game, the massive pile of police horse shit.

The boys – “why do the police use horses?”

Us – general explanation of why

The boys – “but wouldn’t a cow be better? A cow would do a much better job”

Us – general explanation of why a police cow would not be such a good idea

The boys – “no, we want to see policemen riding cows”

And so on……

It was a relief to get to the ground where we promptly found, as ever with Fulham, that we had to be in our actual seats, which were in row ZZ. This, as you might gather, was right at the back. It made for a good view of the hordes of Brighton fans in front of us but not such a great view of the pitch. The boys, additionally, had a steward in front of them for much of the game, always handy when you’re ten years old and quite small.

 

The atmosphere in the away end built to a crescendo as the players came out. Fulham’s only noise appeared to be some kind of North Korean clapping routine using clackers, while the away end went through the full repertoire of songs, old and new. But if the performance in the stands was building nicely, out on the pitch we were flat as a pancake.

It’s quite possible that Hughton’s team selection had changed from what it might have been, given the postponement of the Cardiff game. In the end ten of the players who started against QPR carried on here, with March replaced by Skalak. This was a change that looked to severely unbalance the side. Fulham pressed us in midfield, kept the ball themselves with some lovely slick passing and attacked time and again down our left. Twice Fulham created chances from dangerous diagonal balls on that side of the field. Skalak didn’t look like he knew whether to stick or twist, drawing Bong and Dunk out of position. When we did get it back – which wasn’t often – Fulham’s quick organisation closed our options down, restricting us to long, hit and hope passes. The odd time a simple line ball was on we misplaced it anyway, Bruno and Bong both guilty of poor passes early on. We simply were not at the races.

Inevitably Fulham created chance after chance and Stockdale was already earning his corn with a series of clawing grabs. Fulham’s best chance, though, came from a chance that seemed to have gone. A deep cross saw Smith hustled out of a header and the ball bounced to Bruno who had time to clear. However, he inexplicably controlled the bouncing ball with an arm to give away a clear penalty. Head in hands moment for the travelling masses. All except Steve who called it. “Stockdale will save this” he confidently asserted and he was right, our keeper guessing correctly and Johansen putting the penalty at a saveable height and distance from the corner. Bedlam in the away end.

Fulham continued to dominate. We had two half chances, both further evidence of our first half wastefulness. Baldock had won the ball high up but had contrived to neither shoot nor find Murray, before the latter was even more frustrated. Knockaert pounced on a loose ball and was away but, with Murray in yards of free space and central, the ball to him was massively over hit. Neither could agree whose fault it was. Not exactly #together.

Half time. “I reckon they’ve had seventy percent of the ball” I said and then checked on the BBC, who confirmed that they had had sixty eight percent of the ball and we’d not had a single shot.

We couldn’t be as bad in the second half, and indeed we weren’t. We closed space better, passed better, and generally woke up. Of course Fulham finally scored. A neat series of interchanges saw them get in to the box but we initially had the shot covered. A clever backwards ball and a disguised pass forwards gave Lucas Piazon the space he needed and he curled a lovely low shot past Stockdale and in to the corner.

The away fans’ patience finally wore out as Bong, for once, played a beautiful through ball down the left line. Or it would have been a beautiful ball to Murphy or March. Skalak simply didn’t have the pace to reach it. The calls of “Solly, Solly March” echoed round the Putney End and Hughton finally obliged, removing Skalak who’d had a nightmare. Four minutes later Hemed also came on and Steve and I agreed we weren’t sure what he’d bring. Four minutes after that, the turning point.

We’d attacked with more verve since Solly came on. Now Knockaert moved inside off his wing, collected a pass and drove at the Fulham defence. He was brought down just outside the box but referee Attwell let play go on for a moment to see if advantage developed and Hemed collected the loose ball and was hauled down in the box. Penalty. Hemed and Murray argued over who would take it (not exactly #together) before Hemed came up with the ball and lashed it low in to the corner. The Putney End nearly took off.

One minute later and I swear it nearly collapsed. Fulham cleared to midfield where Dunk was first to the loose ball. He carried on his run before feeding Knockaert with the sort of pass any of our midfield would dream of. Knocky’s shot was powerful but straight at Button who couldn’t hold it. Dunk had continued his run and now headed the rebound in to an empty net. Bananas would be an insult as to how mad the away end went. I feared The Boy might explode. Steve and I hugged. Everyone hugged. Dunk did his best to dive on a steward and everyone else dived on Dunk. In the Fulham end bitterness mixed with indignant resignation. We’d done it again.

 

I said in my home report they looked better than us for most of that game, but we’d won 2-1. Now we’d done it again. We had to survive a couple of late burst and four minutes of additional time but then the final whistle went to more delirium. Newcastle had lost. We were top. The singing continued behind the Putney End as we left and in to the park where the smell of the Thames mixed with the horseshit and burger onions and the noise of the crowd. The drive home was smug. Our first double of the season and it was almost a carbon copy.

The Boy’s Ref Watch

Minus ten billion for Mr Attwell, a little harsh in retrospect given that both the decisions he complained about were given by the linesman (Skalak’s handball and Knockaert being denied a corner and getting booked for protesting).

For me, while there were some comedy moments in blocking the ball and falling over, the advantage for our first goal was the decision of the season. But then I don’t really write this bit.

Fulham at Home 2016/17 – Singing the Blues

I’ve never felt more like singing the blues / When Brighton win, and Palace lose / Oh Brighton…….you’ve got me singing the blues

There I go again, ruining the ending with spoilers. Yet for much of the day it seemed another type of blues would be far more appropriate. I would not sing them. I would have them. Such is the beauty of football. This is why we do it, right?

But back to the beginning. A different pre-game approach to last time out, just as well as I suspect you’re heartily sick of hangovers, pubs and a scribe who claims to report on home matches, yet struggles to recall chunks of them. No danger of that this time as I was the responsible adult in charge of not one but two ten year old boys. Steve was away at a friend’s birthday so I took his son and The Boy.

Now I know this is only going to resonate with a fraction of you but do you know what sounds ten year old boys make these days? The first is “but what if” and the second is “CACHUNK”. The “but what if” is the standard ten year old boy’s response to you answering a question in a reasonable manner. Example:

“Do you think we’ll score today?”

“Yes, I think with our attack and Fulham’s wobbly defence we probably will”

“But what if the referee gets captured by space aliens when we’re clean through?”

“He won’t.”

“He could….”

And so on.

CACHUNK, meanwhile is the sound of water bottles being endlessly flipped on to the floor in an effort to land them on their base or, the holy grail, on the cap. “Stop flipping those water bottles”. “But what if there’s a youtuber videoing the concourse?”.

Luckily we saw a toddler in an elf hat on the station, so I paid them back by insisting it was a real elf and doing dad-quality elf jokes all day. Small pleasures…..

Anyway, I was sober and apparently in charge of two boys who really wanted a bottle of water instead of Fanta or Coke so for once I was winning at parenting. Would we be winning on the pitch? We would see but it was not the brightest of starts.

In fact we had a horrible first half, as bad a performance as I’ve seen under Hughton. For what felt like the first five minutes we hardly had a touch of the ball, nor did we get out of our own half. Yet the first two shots on target were ours, Murphy sprinting down the left, cutting in but hitting a tame shot straight at Button in the Fulham goal. Then a neat interchange in midfield led to Knockaert spotting Murray free in the box and finding him with a clever reverse ball. The angle was always tight and, while the shot was struck powerfully it was never going to go in. After that though, we fell apart.

More pressure and dominance from Fulham. Stephens and Sidwell could not collectively cope with Cairney who was running the game. The former, in particular, seemed lacklustre, all careless passing and second in to the ball. On our left Bong was being given a torrid time. As we struggled to cope with a side keeping the ball and pressing for it back we conceded one of this season’s freak goals. A corner on their right was swung in close to Stockdale who, unfortunately, was on the floor, having been tripped over by Stephens. McDonald had a clear header for them from the tightest of angles but, with no keeper, it bounced over the line before we cleared it. 1-0.

That we did not go two down was down to three players; the aforementioned Stockdale and Duffy and Dunk. Without our centre back colossuses it would have been much worse, but with Fulham continuing to dominate the ball and the territory they certainly had a lot of practice. Stockdale too. Easy to blame him for the first but watch the replay back and you’ll see it wasn’t his fault. It certainly didn’t knock his confidence. First he produced a magnificent one handed save from a wickedly dipping shot from Aluko, then stood up firm to a drive from Malone. Either could easily have seen us go two down.

Meanwhile Duffy was winning every tackle and putting his whole body on the line, time and again, while Dunk seemed to want to be playing centre midfield, given what a poor return our actual centre midfielders were getting. Without these three it would have been very, very ugly. But we got to half time just one down and it was a chance to regroup.

We didn’t exactly regroup. In fact the statistics will tell you that we had only 41% possession in the whole game, while your eyes were inevitably drawn to Cairney whenever Fulham did anything of quality. But this team doesn’t know when it’s beaten and this team can get a goal from anywhere, even if the referee is captured by space aliens when we’re clean through. And so it was that Super Sammy Baldock struck one of the goals of the season out of the blue. A set piece produced a spot of head tennis and Fulham failed to clear cleanly, the ball dropping on the volley to Baldock on the edge of the area. He struck it superbly in to the corner. An awful lot of tension was lifted and I don’t mean like that you mucky sods.

Fulham pressed back, a good passing interchange down their left forcing Stockdale in to another great save, but now we were their equals and Baldock hit the post from close range soon after. As the game inevitably stretched it became apparent that Fulham did not quite have the fitness for the high pressing, possession game they’d been playing. The longer it went on, the better we looked.

The it happened. Baldock had the ball on the left and got a step free to swing in a cross. Half the Fulham defence marked up and half played offside. Murray had the freedom of Falmer to tap the volley in to the corner for 2-1. Absolute SCENES.

As we went in to a tense five minutes of injury time Guy and Ray behind me gave me the sad news that Palace had gone 4-3 up against Swansea. “At least that’ll keep Pardew in a job” I replied, then I got on with five minutes worth of nail biting. From behind me the noise CACHUNK started up again. At last the ref blew the whistle. More scenes. How had we won that?

As I left the ground a bloke I’d not talked to before gave me the happy news that Palace had lost 5-4 to Swansea. We high fived.

Back at the ranch, Steve was home and I delivered his son in one piece and with a new firm belief in elves. We cracked open the wine and talked over the dinner table of everything good about the Albion, Chris Hughton and football in general. I definitely felt like singing the blues.

The Boy’s Ref Watch

“He was actually pretty good dad. Gave most of the correct decisions, just not enough cards. CACHUNK”.

A mark of minus 150 which, as they say in Bargain Hunt, could be a winning score.

Fulham at Home 15/16 – Destruction

The phrase “big weekend of sport” was used in many of the papers last week but it left me cold. Or, rather, it didn’t mean anything to me personally. Sure, there was the Grand National on which I duly lost a tiny amount on Tony Bloom’s no-hoper and a slightly larger amount on my own badly advised choice, but the rest was a bit m’eh. The Joshua fight? No way was I paying per view for that given my propensity to fall asleep before ten o’clock in the evening, the eventual two-rounder justifying my parsimonious decision. And the GOLF? A good walk spoiled. IMHO like. But most of all there was no Albion game. How can it be a big weekend of sport without US?

So instead, this has been a big week of sport. On Monday I went to the pub but stayed sober (yes, really, I have witnesses including a well respected children’s tv actor and a flummoxed barmaid) and we watched the Forest game, initially with pride and latterly with our fingers over our eyes, until that glorious and thoroughly undeserved late winner from some Knockaert genius. On Tuesday I did my last pre-marathon training run, a very ploddy three miles with my coach for final instructions, and that night The Boy and I watched Citeh knock PSG out of Europe in what no one at all calls El-Middle-Eastern-Moneyco. On Wednesday we watched Atleti do a number on Barca. The only things to cloud a glorious week of sport were that Boro got three points out of their game in hand and our home game against Fulham was coming ever closer in a concertinaed schedule.

What was also coming closer was the Brighton Marathon, at least for me, and this will explain my rather odd pre-match preparation. So preoccupied have I been with the race that I found myself literally forgetting about our game, which is not a good thing for an Albion blogger to admit. Friday dawned and I headed to the Expo to pick up my race number and timing chip, a journey which could have gone a little better. My bus over was delayed by a recalcitrant chav getting caught with a saver ticket from last week by an inspector and refusing to pay or get off. “I’ve gotta get ta school innnit” she whined which was unconvincing given it was 10.30 in the morning and she was in full make up, t-shirt and jeans.

Then I failed miserably to buy a single banana from Waitrose before eventually arriving at the queue in a horrendous rainstorm. I let the women who arrived at the same time in front of me and two minutes later a seagull took a massive shit which landed all over her. So it could have been worse.

Once in the Expo I finally met two of the guys from the NSC running thread I will be running with and ‘St Leonards Seagull’ admitted he had not thought of the marathon at all. “I’m much more worried about tonight”. “What’s tonight?” I absent mindedly replied. You may shoot me now.

But just as the marathon had banished thoughts of the football then, by half past five the football was banishing all thoughts of the marathon. Despite needing to remain sober I managed to engineer us all on to a slightly earlier train. Thank Christ I did. We got to the stadium in plenty of time but, after we left, the system went in to meltdown because the people charged with running our trains haven’t got enough people to run them properly.

Thus we were at our seats with huge gaps everywhere as the game kicked off. The regulars in front were missing. My promised seat buddies were missing. Eventually they arrived in drips and drabs. To be fair they weren’t missing anything.

We were – let’s face it – woeful for the first twenty five minutes or so. It was like the second half at Forest all over again as they pressed and dominated the ball and we obligingly pinged it back to them. Though no damage was done score wise the psychological battle was being lost. An edgy crowd at first fell silent and then lapsed in to that “come on Brighton” chant. The Fulham fans delighted in our silence and their players in our hesitancy.

But – and it’s a bloody big but, not dissimilar in size to the one I’ve spent a year running off (parp) – we were clearly waiting for there to be a full house before we started properly. On twenty eight minutes, with the train SNAFU finally over, we came to life.

A through ball down the left channel put Wilson in the clear against a ponderous defence for the first time and he dribbled neatly round them in to the box whereupon he was shoved over. Referee Woolmer pointed to the spot, to Fulham protests led by Scott Parker. A tip, lads. If you’re going to protest it then the initial reaction by the pusher shouldn’t be the ‘hands on head, what have I done?’ gesture. Hemed stuck away the spot kick majestically. 1-0.

Five minutes later it was two. How good is Skalak’s dead ball delivery? (EDIT – David Guile has pointed out this was Knockaert and he’s right. How good are BOTH wingers dead balls is what this should read). We won a free kick in a position that would have been innocuous for most of this season but a delightful floated, curving ball banjaxed a static Fulham defence and Hemed rose above them to head his second. Two nil to the Albion. NOW the crowd bayed. Fulham fell silent. Their whole game plan had been to press us high and hope to find a goal out of either prolonged possession or a forced error. Now that plan was redundant. They had nothing else.

Most assuredly they had no back four. I do not want to blow my own trumpet (sod it, of course I do) but, my pre-match prediction of 3-2 was based equally on my worries about McCormack and Dembele and my knowledge that Fulham’s defence is utterly woeful. Now only the latter was having an effect. After fifty four minutes the game was effectively over. We forced chance after chance with some sparkling interplay and footwork and, eventually had a corner from the West Stand side. Skalak took again, a Fulham player DUCKED and Bruno had the freedom of the back post. He needed two touches to finish it but was given all night to do so. 3-0 and that lovely man, stand in captain and magnificent beard had got a goal in front of the North Stand. The Amex went crackers.

To keep this a readable length means I cannot describe every single incident because there were too many, but it would be lax not to mention the save of the night from former Fulham keeper Stockdale. Freed of the need to actually win the game, Fulham briefly came to life down our left and the ball was cut back for a close range shot that really should have been 3-1. Stockers not only made a magnificent one handed save, he then pawed the ball away while on the ground, like a beach volleyball player stuck in the sand. Then it was all us again.

Hemed was on a hat trick. He nearly got it as a rampaging Wilson put him in from ten yards but Bettenlli came up with a point blank save. But soon it came. Another attack down the right from Knockaert saw the ball squirt all the way across to Skalak who laid it back for Stephens. His shot played pinball in the box and Hemed tapped it in. At full speed he looked a good yard offside but it wasn’t given and Fulham’s defence went mental at the officials again.

Fulham were destroyed. There’s no other word for it. Mentally from the 4-0 score line and their fans evacuating early to London (at least they’d probably have a train running). Physically from the first 28 minutes of pressing and from the bad back induced by picking the ball out of the net so many times.

We took the mickey though actually the North Stand used a different word. Another magnificent save was drawn and they cleared one off the line. Then it was five, Knockaert curling one in to the corner through three defenders. The last of the Fulham fans either left or celebrated with us.

There was still time for Lua Lua to fire in to the side netting before we were sent on our way. All three boys were madly excited, Steve and I shook hands like long-lost old friends and the Amex saluted an exuberant Bruno on a lap of honour.

As we waited in the train queue a sudden thought struck me. “How the heck am I going to run a Marathon on Sunday?” I wondered. If you want to find out I will be in a bright white REMF t-shirt slogging round with the North Stand Chat running group. Give us a cheer. And your ****ing money. Link below.

https://www.justgiving.com/Jason-Thackeray3