It seemed Roy Hodgson had his excuse for Sunday’s defeat at Molineux lined up even before the game kicked off. “I’m afraid that at Fulham we have to live with the fact that teams look at us and expect to get three points,” the manager said prior to the weekend’s humiliation. He is right, of course, just ask Hull City, whose six points the Whites gifted them kept them in the Premier League last season.
But why were Wolves given that extra bit of ammunition they needed for the win? Instead of playing up to Fulham’s ‘friendly family football club’ tag, why could Hodgson not have turned this around and warned Mick McCarthy to expect no favours. This stereotype needs to be quashed or other sides will come out and play at home as Wolves did on Sunday, and the Cottagers will never make the transition from top-half hopefuls to top-half regulars. Now, instead of looking at St Andrew’s and Turf Moor as three point games (as Fulham should well be doing with the extra quality in their team), fans will be dreading these trips and hoping for a point. This writer is struggling to think of any other existing top-flight teams who will travel to the newly promoted clubs expecting defeat.
After the 2-1 loss, Hodgson, of course, praised his opponents, rather than looking at himself and his team for the way they went about the game. Yes, Wolves approached the game perfectly, pressing for the whole 90 minutes and giving Fulham’s creative outlets – Clint Dempsey, Damien Duff and Danny Murphy – no time on the ball to feed the front men, but this somehow seemed a surprise to Hodgson and his men. After regularly losing at newly-promoted sides – both Hull and West Brom last season – the manager could do worse than bring in an extra midfielder for such fixtures and pass around the opposition.
The usual 4-4-2
4 Pantsil – 18 Hughes – 5 Hangeland – 3 Konchesky
16 Duff – 13 Murphy – 20 Etuhu – 23 Dempsey
8 Johnson – 25 Zamora
In this formation, the central midfield pairing of Dickson Etuhu and Murphy often works perfectly. The former uses his strength and speed to harass his opponents, which leaves the latter to work his magic with – and here is the key point – time on the ball. On Sunday, McCarthy’s game plan was to press, press and, if that failed, press some more – a tactic that won the match somewhat comfortably, largely due to Murphy not being allowed to influence the play. What the game also showed was – if anyone was still unaware of this – Hodgson’s lack of a Plan B if the tried-and-trusted fails. If, as was the case against Wolves, Etuhu and Murphy are given no time to find their teammates, then Plan B is exactly what is needed – by the way, after the second goal is too late for a tactical change. Back to the extra midfielder idea, then.
Plan B, flood the midfield in a 4-5-1
4 Pantsil – 18 Hughes – 5 Hangeland – 3 Konchesky
16 Duff – 13 Murphy – 27 Greening – 23 Dempsey
Were Fulham to line up in the above 4-5-1 formation (put the fact it will never happen aside for a moment), the pressure would be eased on the captain, and instead spread throughout a five-man midfield. Jonathan Greening would come in for one of the strikers and link up with Murphy, limiting the effectiveness of a pressing game for the opponents. Etuhu would be able to sit back and not worry about helping to create chances and even the wingers, Duff and Dempsey, would be – shockingly – on the wings as opposed to being forced to help out in-field. It would be a difficult choice of which striker to drop, but this writer would start Bobby Zamora on the basis that, yes, Andy Johnson can put away a chance, but he cannot bring the midfield into play nearly as much as the big man – a vital trait for any lone striker.
Although often seen as a negative tactic, if used correctly it can be utilised so the midfield can play football in a difficult situation (such as away games at newly promoted sides). At least it would be worth a try – it could not be less effective than the norm.
“We’ve got to make sure it [being targeted by teams] doesn’t happen. It doesn’t annoy me, why should it?”, Hodgson said prior to the Wolves defeat. Because, with that attitude, your side will be run ragged by arguably less talented opposition, Roy. Being feared would not be such a bad thing – just ask all the successful clubs.
Fulham Club Focus
Long season ahead – July 29
Confirmed: Zamora’s foot does fit in his mouth – August 5
Fulham needs Brede to survive – August 12
How do Fulham push on? – August 18
Roy Hodgson raids the Post Office queue – August 21
Lethargic Cottagers slump to derby defeat – August 25
Makeshift Cottagers shuffle into Europa League – August 28
No ammunition from midfield as Cottagers continue to fire blanks – September 1
Window shut firmly for Fulham – September 4
Hodgson must adapt to rid closet of skeletons – September 8
Forget August, the season starts now – September 11
Normal service resumed? – September 15
Second string given chance to shine – September 18
No-one fearful of Fulham, so time for Plan B – September 22