The answer is more than six, apparently. Although there was no bulb, only a red card to flourish, the fifth (or sixth, perhaps) official helped the referee to make an absolute mockery of the argument for having extra brains to help with difficult decisions. The decision in question was the sending off of Fulham right-back, Steven Kelly, or centre-back, Brede Hangeland. Forgetting for a moment that a red card in itself was a ludicrous decision, two trained professionals not knowing who actually gave away the (soft) penalty is inexcusable. It took strong protestations from the home players – and plenty of conferring between the men ‘in charge’ – to eventually send Kelly packing – the fact that Hangeland was covering so that John Arne Riise was not the last man seems not to matter. Mark Schwarzer brilliantly saved the penalty, but that incident was where the majority of the three minutes’ stoppage time came from, right at the end of which Roma inevitably equalised.
What can be ascertained so far from the goal line officials trial? Well, if your name is Sepp Blatter, probably that more are needed. Soon there will be swarms of them, outnumbering the spectators, covering their own metre of the football pitch, each adamant a different player should have walked – with one even thinking that it was the substituted Bobby Zamora’s fault. (And they would still be unable to judge whether the ball actually crossed the line – their original purpose, remember.) If we really must remove the occasional ‘Russian linesman’ moment – which this writer thinks is far from necessary anyway – then introducing more human error is not the answer. The whole debacle only serves as ammunition to the pro- video technology police.
On reflection of the game, a draw was a fair result – it is just the manner in which it happened that will be difficult for Fulham fans to swallow. The home side played two different halves of football. The first a dominant, free-flowing game, from which they were unlucky to only be one ahead, with Hangeland’s excellent leap the only chance that went in. The second was nervier, with deep defending inviting Roma to attack – which was the first mistake, settling for the 1-0. The second mistake was taking Zamora out of the attack. That was the moment it became obvious Hangeland’s would be Fulham’s only goal. In the first half he made Philippe Mexes look like a League One defender, and he should know – he has played against plenty. In the second the French defender recovered somewhat, but Zamora was still getting more joy than his stand-in strike partner, Diomansy Kamara, who had worryingly returned to his oh-so frustrating head-down and run approach. Erik Nevland came on to replace Zamora, but both were lost without their link to the midfield which Zamora so effectively – when on form, of course – provides. Few can doubt the Whites are a more organised, purposeful unit with the big man on the field.
They are also more creative with Danny Murphy in the middle, but Jonathan Greening for the first time showed he has plenty of ability. Always wanting the ball, the on-loan midfielder has traces of Jimmy Bullard in his play, roaming around the park to display his passing portfolio. He was excellent in the first half, finally looking sharp, and was very unlucky not to find the net with searching efforts from just outside the box. The only problem with a wayward midfielder is the space on the pitch that is left behind. Chris Baird – excellent in Dickson Etuhu’s place on Monday – had a lot more to do last night to cover the inevitable gaps Greening’s forages forward created. As such, he did struggle to a certain extent but, despite not standing out, there were no real errors as the Northern Irishman continues to show what a worthy back-up he is.
Fulham fans may have forgotten what it feels like to be pegged back in the dying moments, but they are certainly accustomed to it. In the Lawrie Sanchez ‘era’ it was a weekly occurrence, except usually involved two goals, rather than just the equaliser. Worryingly, it has now happened twice in just three matches – although in both games the Whites were a man down and under relentless pressure. Most would have taken a point last night, and at half-time against West Ham, but both results are testament to the sport. Now, if it could only happen the other way around for a change.
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
Rotation, rotation and more rotation – September 25 Ten points for effort, but no points where it matters – September 29 Cottagers should follow Baird’s example – October 2 Whites Kagiso close to unlikely win – October 6 Whites hope for unhappy return for Bullard – October 16 Rampant Whites ruin Bullard’s comeback – October 20 How many officials does it take to change a light bulb? – October 23