For a club with as bad a Premier League away record as Fulham, having gained ten points from the last five league outings to Manchester City is, frankly, remarkable. The City of Manchester stadium is the Whites’ happiest stomping ground outside of SW6, but when Martin Petrov fired home to make it 2-0 on the hour mark on Sunday, that looked set to change. But, showing exactly the kind of resilience Aaron Hughes before the game declared himself proud of, within eight minutes of the almost certain winner, Fulham were level and Champions League hopefuls City were reeling.
Hodgson’s rules of away-day football are clear. One – aim to not get beaten, and two – try to nick it, if possible. Being hard to beat is not a bad thing, and nor is a point at moneybags City, but Fulham’s approach to games means the ability to score – so often evident when they fall behind – is stifled, usually until reparation action is required. This writer is not criticising Hodgson’s tactics, only it sometimes is the difference between three points or just the one.
Funnily (or not) enough, when Bobby Zamora was presented with what can only be described as ‘the easiest chance, ever’, an already difficult to break down Cottagers side looked set to prove their manager right by having a slender lead to cling on to. When the ball trickled to the striker’s favoured left foot, with Shay Given sprawled and the City defenders having given up the chase in concession of the impending goal, everyone – with the possible exception of the majority of Fulham fans – thought he would ripple the net. The saying, “it was harder to miss” has never had a more fitting situation to be used in, but Zamora pulled off the impossible, blazing the ball over from the six-yard box. He is surely the only player in the entire league, including goalkeepers and those on the treatment table, who would not have buried that chance.
Having been excellent in the Whites’ previous two games in the week, the big man, in one horrendous swing of his foot, appeared to have halted any progress he had made. The truth still remains, however, that Fulham are a stronger side with their No.o 25 playing, as every other striker in the side – Andy Johnson, Diomansy Kamara, Erik Nevland and Eddie Johnson – need a partner to provide for them. Perhaps David Elm is better with his feet, but he does not appear in consideration. Kamara himself is fortunate that Zamora trumped his own first-half miss. After being sent through, the Senegalese’s touch completely deserted him, which allowed a disbelieving Given to collect. At least Zamora impacted the game in other ways, unlike his partner, but with both having left their shooting boots in London (or Brighton, in Zamora’s case), it was up to the midfield to score the goals.
With Hodgson’s approach to away games, if his strikers are not taking their chances, it is imperative the midfield helps out. And in Damien Duff and Clint Dempsey, Fulham’s wingers – fortunately for the travelling support on Sunday – certainly know where the net is. After seeing their two teammates’ howlers in front of goal, the wide men took matters into their own hands – and, in Duff’s case, fed off Zamora’s excellent lay-off, to share the points – and the strikers’ blushes.
This season Fulham has used a number of striking options – Zamora and Andy Johnson, Zamora and Kamara, Kamara and Andy Johnson, and Kamara and Nevland. With the first two pairings, Fulham have caused opposition defences the most issues. The second two have proved fruitless at best. One partnership that this writer feels is crying out to be tested properly, is Zamora and Nevland. Far and away the best finisher at the club, the Norwegian has always had his chances limited to substitute appearances in his time at Craven Cottage. There is little point starting two strikers who can’t find the net (Kamara can, but is far too inconsistent to do it regularly), so having a target man alongside one who scores for fun – with the midfield chipping in – can only serve to benefit the team. That is unless, of course, Hodgson just loves the thrill of the chase – this writer, however, thinks that is not the case.
A rejuvenated Liverpool side come to the Cottage next and, while it is arguably a tougher test for the Reds to prove themselves, Fulham simply must learn to take their chances before once again the draw has to be chased.