When Fulham plays Everton the home side always wins and it is apparent that last season’s concluding game was just a blip on this statistic. Sunday’s win over the Toffees resumed normal service in more ways than that, however, as it also proved Craven Cottage has not become an easy away ground overnight and saw a Fulham XI working for each another once more.
Of course at half-time this Club Focus was set to read very differently. But, as is so often proved, football is a game of two halves and the second on Sunday provided more positives than, arguably, the whole of August did. There were positives before kick-off too, as not only did Danny Murphy and Bobby Zamora recover in time to face the Toffees, but even Andy Johnson lined up against his old club – a full five weeks earlier than was predicted.
He and his partner Zamora might have wished they weren’t playing, however, as they botched the kick-off and gifted the ball straight to the opposition. And Fulham fans were left wishing that this comical start would not be an omen for their afternoon. It was about time the Whites started to perform and Roy Hodgson even made a tactical surprise to force the issue. Well, he switched his wingers’ sides, if that counts. Taking a leaf out of the Gordon Strachan book of coaching, the Cottagers boss played the left-footed Damien Duff on the right of midfield, in the hope he could do some damage by cutting inside.
This writer did expect the two wingers to switch positions throughout the game but, despite an unproductive first 45, Hodgson – as he so often does – stuck to his guns and was proved right as Duff fired in the winner after, of course, cutting in from the right of midfield. But this was not before Fulham’s Premier League ineffectiveness prior to Sunday’s game looked set to continue. Another sluggish first half performance from the Whites saw them again needing to come from behind to salvage any points. This time, to the delight – and perhaps surprise – of the Cottage faithful, they managed it.
But how did a side that, before the game started, had as many shots on target as Emmanuel Adebayor has admirers at Arsenal manage such a turnaround? This writer hates to say ‘I told you so’, but the answer, in this instance, is Bobby Zamora – as suggested in the September 11 Club Focus . The front man threw himself around, won more than most of his headers and brought his teammates into play far better than Diomansy Kamara or Erik Nevland managed against Aston Villa. If he turned down a big-wage deal at Hull to finally prove himself in London then he has gone a long way towards his objective with his display against Everton.
The assist for Duff’s winner will go to Johnson – after all he did lay the ball off and pull Joseph Yobo away from the Irishman’s line of sight – but most of the credit should go to his strike partner, who fought and sprinted his way to win the header that ultimately created the chance. More of this, combined with Johnson poaching some goals, and there could well be a very efficient partnership up top for the Cottagers – the connection that Hodgson envisaged when he brought the two together last summer, in fact.
Not everything went swimmingly for Fulham, of course. Paul Konchesky’s attempt at the knee slide celebration was laughable and, as such, Tim Cahill’s corner-flag sparring effort wins the ‘most polished celebration of the day’ award. But the left-back’s team won the most important prize of the day – three vital points. Besides, a goal from the defender is too rare to warrant him spending time practicing his slides in training. The work he put in to keep Leon Osman in his back pocket worked wonders, so it is best to leave everything on the training ground as it is.
With Simon Davies making his return, coming off the bench in the 2-1 win, Fulham’s wingers must continue to perform and battle for their places. Despite Hodgson’s unwillingness to change personnel, no-one’s place in the team should be guaranteed, so perhaps there will be some form of rotation for the busy fixture list. That would hardly be normal service but, then again, nor is European football at Craven Cottage. A rotation policy would be welcomed, but only if the replacements battle like Sunday’s (second-half) players did. All change? Yes please.
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