Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Fulham fathom five

A second reporter's assignment for guest contributor Adam. His debut was the disappointing pre-Christmas home defeat to West Brom. How would the team fare under his scrutiny this time around?

Fulham 5 - 2 Newcastle Utd

No apologies for cribbing the title of this post from the Bard as this was a second-half tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, albeit one performed by the Reduced Shakespeare Company as Newcastle somehow contrived to shoehorn several games’ worth of defensive errors into sixteen turbulent second-half minutes.

It had all looked so different at the interval. Newcastle had appeared the more composed side from the off and looked far more likely to score than the hosts, two Big Lad headers and a low drilled effort from HBA troubling Fulham 'keeper David Stockdale early on. (The confusion arising from the latter enabled John Arne Riise to submit a strong entry for the season’s Lowest Header award - Baddiel and Skinner fans take note). Indeed it was 24 minutes before Tim Krul was tested, gathering a weak effort from former Magpie Damien Duff which just about summed up Fulham’s first-half impotence.

Newcastle kept up the pressure for the rest of the half, with HBA his usual lively (if occasionally frustrating) self and Davide Santon causing problems down the left channel. Even our central defenders were getting in on the act, with something of a collectors' item as Sideshow Bob got on the end of a zipped Mike Williamson cross only for Stockdale to save at close quarters. Just before the break the Toon pressure deservedly bore fruit when Danny Guthrie unleashed a 25-yard belter which gave the Fulham 'keeper no chance. Back to the dressing rooms, job well done. Another 45 minutes like that and we’d be sitting pretty in fifth place.

Just before half-time, however, Fulham boss Martin Jol had replaced the injured Steve Sidwell with Andy Johnson. Little noticed at the time, this change - along with a tweak to the Cottagers’ formation - transformed the game as the previously isolated Bobby Zamora began to look more threatening as Johnson created space with cute runs. It was, however, Duff who inflicted the first wound when he tangled with Santon on the edge of the area and a penalty was awarded. Danny Murphy slotted it away and from that moment onwards Newcastle had a game on their hands.

Unfortunately that "game" swiftly turned into a rout as Johnson, Zamora and Clint Dempsey thereafter seemed to stretch the Newcastle defence at will. The latter’s first goal was rather fortuitous as the ball rebounded off his knee into the net following a fine parry from Krul. However his second, five minutes later, was much more accomplished as he latched onto a Johnson through-ball to power a shot low into the left-hand corner. And before the away end had decided who to blame the scoreline was made even worse as Fulham broke again, Krul upending the advancing Johnson and Zamora slotting away the home side’s second penalty of the game. Thankfully referee Lee Mason declined to add salt to an already gaping wound as Krul escaped with a yellow card.

Newcastle were given belated hope five minutes from time when HBA cut in from the right, tied Riise in knots and slammed a low shot past Stockdale. However any travelling fans whose thoughts strayed to another 4-4 scoreline were disabused of the notion minutes later when Dempsey outpaced our tired-looking centre-back pairing to slot home and claim his hat-trick.

All in all, a strange game, and it would certainly be remiss to overlook how comfortable Newcastle appeared for much of the first half. Nevertheless, while not quite the horror show suggested by the scoreline, the manner of this defeat must give cause for concern. More specifically, the second-half bruising inflicted by Fulham’s attacking trio bore uncanny similarities to the efforts of West Brom’s Shane Long and Peter Odemwingie who made hay at St James’ Park last month. Our difficulties in containing Chelsea’s Daniel Sturridge earlier in December also point to an inconvenient truth: that however solid our defence has intermittently appeared this season, it is vulnerable to genuine pace and movement, suggesting that reinforcement during the January window is a must.

Oh dear. Better luck next time, Adam...

A Fulham fan's perspective: Craven Cottage Newsround (which does a fine job of expressing the shellshock of the Fulham fans at the result, as well as that of those in the away end)

Other reports: BBC, Observer

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Blogger Ben said...

Awful, awful decision for the first penalty. It completely changed the course of the game. That said, we were defensively shocking thereafter and can only rue the fact that we weren't more clinical when in such complete control in the first half.

We recovered from the unexpected horror shows at the Reebok and Britannia last season - hopefully we'll do the same now, and this will soon be forgotten as a freakish aberration.

1:07 p.m.  

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