In the August 28 Club Focus, this writer mentioned he expected to see an empty space on the field when Kagiso Dikgacoi lined up on it. Funnily enough, for over 50 minutes against West Ham that is exactly what happened. Although he does actually exist, and for 40 minutes was steady if unspectacular, his inexperience showed and a moment of madness looked as though it would cost Fulham all three points on Sunday.
Ironically, with just ten men and only one up top, Fulham played as well as they have all season in the second half and were the width of Aaron Hughes away from taking a deserved win. Diomansy Kamara was the lone striker, and he wreaked havoc in the West Ham defence after a largely anonymous first 45. The Senegalese striker relished the responsibility given to him by his manager, and within a minute won the penalty to pull his side level. The Fulham faithful cannot help but wonder why their side only decide to show up when the odds are stacked against them – i.e. a man or a goal down, or, in Sunday’s case, both.
After Zoltan Gera found the net from a Paul Konchesky corner, Fulham held their shape brilliantly, forcing the home side into shots from distance, and it was through luck rather than judgement that one of these – from Junior Stanislas – found the net. It was an unfortunate end, but the fight, perhaps being instilled by the reserve players being called upon, is becoming increasingly evident game on game. Every single Whites fan at half-time would have snapped up a draw, and to be disappointed after having a win stolen away at the death is testament to the determination of the players on the pitch. That effort, should it continue, will be enough to propel Fulham to mid-table, and they can start looking down on the league, instead of propping it up.
Although the performance in the second 45 earned a more than creditable draw, the first half should not be quickly forgotten. The aimless punts towards the strikers and rash fouling of poor performances past were back, and Roy Hodgson was surely happy to only be one goal down at the break. Brede Hangeland seems to be doing his best to take himself out of the shop window after lunging in on Julien Faubert whilst attempting to win a ball he was never in the race for. He was booked, and the Hammers took the lead from the resulting free-kick – a just punishment for the Norwegian’s recklessness. Andy Johnson was guilty of a glaring miss to pull his side undeservedly level as Danny Murphy and Clint Dempsey were spraying passes all over the park – just not to anyone in white. And then came the red card.
Dikgacoi – he was silly, undeniably, but it is certainly no surprise that the player on the ‘receiving end’ was a certain Scott Parker. This writer will put it down as simply a case of the South African not having learned the ability other Premier League footballers have – the restraint required not to punch Parker. There is no doubt the full three-match ban for ‘violent conduct’ will be upheld – the same ban, by the way, which was not given to a player two weeks ago who did the same to a fan. Some consistency would be nice unless, of course, Craig Bellamy was in the right by running 30 yards to aim a slap at a supporter.
He did raise his hands to the pest that was his opposite number, and in the rules of the game he had to go, whether Hodgson likes it or not. On the dismissal, the Fulham boss spoke with a touch of nostalgia: “I come from a time of playing football when there was quite a lot of violence on the field and people actually did get head-butted and kicked and people got hurt.” He even used the old clich