A Fulham side under Chris Coleman or Lawrie Sanchez would not have escaped from Sunday’s game with three points. In fact, they would probably have gifted them all to Birmingham. The overall performance was not epic by any means, but just enough was done at both ends to justify the result.
It took two moments of brilliance to nullify Chris Baird’s inexplicable opener for Birmingham, and it was class that won out in the end – once upon a time anxiety in the Fulham defence would have sent two points back to the Second City. A nightmare start like that from Baird would, in bygone days, have resulted in a nervy Fulham display, but Roy Hodgson has instilled a determination in his troops that lasts for the full 90 (plus) minutes. The visitors have shown numerous times this season that when they go ahead they are difficult to beat, but Fulham won the battle of resolve to dig in and grind out an excellent win. There was a coolness in the players all over the pitch and they seemed to know that there was enough time to do all that was needed to take the points. The team have got themselves out of their mini-slump in textbook fashion – they have concentrated on defending first, and have gradually gained the confidence going forward. In Hodgson, they have the perfect manager to coach them out of a rut. Not many players have put the ball past Mark Schwarzer this month, but the Australian has watched his teammates score for fun – Bobby Zamora especially, who bagged his 15th of the season despite a lengthy injury layoff.
Yes, Zamora should be seriously considered for the upcoming England friendly, but there were a couple of players who helped the big man no end on Sunday and are as crucial to the club’s recent set of good results as the 15-goal forward is. Aside from Zamora, the two men that stood head-and-shoulders above the rest on Sunday were Damien Duff and Zoltan Gera. Snapped up for £2.5m from Newcastle in the summer, the Irishman, Duff, has been a revelation. He has gone a long way to recapturing the form he had when a key part of the Chelsea side and is, in this writer’s opinion, one of the signings of the Premier League season. On Sunday, Duff showed everything he is about – direct running, both-footed crosses and dangerously cutting inside – all combined with Hodgson’s philosophy of defending as a team. In fact, his willingness to do work by his own corner flag was a huge reason for Baird’s excellent recovery from his own goal. It is, of course, in the attacking third where Duff excels and his goal, an unstoppable 20-yard drive following the best move of the game was his eighth of the season, which really is the proof behind his excellent performances all season.
While Duff slotted into the team as a winger, his natural position, the Hungarian, Gera, in his first season was used predominantly out wide too. For him, however, the slot behind the striker(s) is where he is more comfortable. This writer has previously discussed Gera’s renaissance behind Zamora but his gain is, unfortunately, another man’s loss. There is no doubt Fulham fans have not seen a fully fit, on form Andy Johnson in his time at the club. And there is no denying he gives everything to the cause. But when analysing the performances of those who have replaced him alongside Zamora, his effort does not compare to the goals and assists others have provided. Gera has stepped up emphatically – something Johnson could not manage when first-choice alongside Zamora last season. Gera’s mindset is different to Johnson, and indeed any other option Hodgson has tested up front. While the recognised strikers tend to play off the shoulders of defenders, the Hungarian drops deep, pushes up or utilises the channels – he also shows a strong desire to win the ball back from deeper when he loses possession which, to be fair, has probably come from his time on the flanks.
The combination of the three main forward threats, Zamora, Gera and Duff on Sunday continued what is starting to look like a very potent attack. Each man has his own very different role, each holding equal importance and they come together excellently for the team’s cause. With all being involved in one or the other of Fulham’s goals last Sunday, they could be the men to drive the Whites towards that all-important, and not yet unreachable, seventh place.
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