Feel-good factor returns

Posted by Phil Mison

Darren Bent celebrates putting Fulham into the lead.GettyImagesDarren Bent celebrates putting Fulham into the lead.

Finally, after nigh on six months, Fulham fans had something to cheer about at the Cottage. Yes, it took that long for the Whites to fashion a home win. And stirring stuff it was, too.

Against a vibrant high-riding Everton side, Fulham produced the unthinkable – coming from behind to win this League Cup third-round tie against their bogey team, winning 2-1. Fulham did so by matching Everton’s energy, making substitutions at just the right time, and turning in a genuine team effort where not one man in white let the side down.

So euphoric was the mood at the ground by the end, it rekindled memories of the famous European nights at the Cottage. One felt the genuine outpouring of relief at the final whistle (those four added minutes seem to run on forever) and it was heartening to see how much it also meant to the players as they came up to the Hammy End.

A very respectable contingent of traveling support helped generate a fine atmosphere for a game that was compelling from the off. I hope Fulham's global followers find ways to access the whole match to review.

So often Fulham's Nemesis, Everton were easily the brighter in the first half. This is still David Moyes' team and, despite the six changes from Saturday’s win at West Ham, those picked all carry the imprint of his style. High energy, getting the ball quickly from box to box, incisive wingers and ever dangerous from set pieces. Fulham did well to stay with them and only concede one. As Everton manager Roberto Martinez said, “We paid for not adding more goals when we were on top.”

It was clear under-fire Fulham manager Martin Jol picked a side to provide more substantial support to target man Dimitar Berbatov, now free from injury, while Darren Bent was held back on the bench. Alexander Kacaniklic at least got some crosses in, Adel Taarabt worked tenaciously to try and get shots away, Scott Parker and Giorgos Karagounis were always looking to feed balls forward into the channels, rather than merely play laterally.

But for that first 45 Everton had Fulham's number -- their keeper, Joel Robles, was not worked hard enough, and Jol’s Fulham left the pitch to a chorus of boos.

Your correspondent dashed among the crowd canvassing opinion from the regulars. “Jol has to go, his time’s up now, we are going nowhere,” Fulham fans sensed bad times a-coming and they wanted Jol’s head. We will never know what was said at the interval. Rumours are that Parker gave the team talk. But whatever was said, it worked! Fulham were on the front foot from the start of the second period -- I noted from the first attack Pajtim Kasami was 5 yards tighter to Berbatov. Within nine minutes of the resumption Fulham were level.

Yes, there was a huge assist on the goal from an Everton defender, but the ball that landed on Berba’s toe 8 yards out was the direct result of Fulham pressure. Kacaniklic should have done better with a volley, but no matter. For once Fulham made a proactive change by throwing on Bent, and three minutes after joining the fray the big man had fired us them front.

A sweet moment indeed, and this writer, who learned to curb his enthusiasm from many years adhering to etiquette in the press box, was out of his seat right in front of Darren punching the air and screaming like a banshee! Most unseemly for a man of my years.

A terrific second half from the boys then, handing Everton their first defeat of the season and showing Fulham is not such a bad team after all. Of course, league points are paramount, and the value from this game hopefully will be manifold in consolidating what should be our best eleven, with decent cover in reserve. Nobody can still be sure what Jol is likely to pull out of the bag next though. Here’s what we learned from Tuesday night:

Parker should be made captain. As already blogged, he for one is not going to take any petulant gestures from you-know-who. I noted far fewer histrionics from Berbatov, some in the first 45 as Fulham struggled to break Everton down, less so in the second half. Dimi caught the mood and the work ethic of his colleagues and put in a shift. He still produces sublime touches beyond belief and oozes class on the ball, even if he’s loathe to go chasing it!

When Bent is able to build up his fitness and integration to the team the B&B combination up front must make a massive difference. It draws the spotlight from Berbatov, and in Bent gives him a foil I’m sure the Bulgarian will appreciate. Three times Tuesday Bent was a whisker away from streaking clear, halted only by marginal offside decisions.

Elsad Zverotic looked a real find. A very impressive debut, passing the test against Everton’s raiding wingers with flying colours. Further evidence Fernando Amorebieta will be a major asset. Replaced a labouring John Arne Riise at left-back after half-time and was equal to everything that came down his flank. Calm in possession, has an eye for a good pass, commanding in the air. The end of the line surely for JAR?

I was pleased to see Kakaniclic retain his place, having been abysmal at Chelsea. He wanted to be more involved, not everything he tried came off, but needs a run of games and some decent coaching to realise his potential. The same can be said for Kasami. It’s easy to forget how young he still is. We want him to be another Clint Dempsey, but the brilliant Texan himself was a late developer, and Kasami now probably has more technique to his game than the Deuce did at the same age. Like Clint, he’s not nippy, but Kasami will only get stronger and harder to shift off the ball. I like his attitude.

Kieran Richardson, Aaron Hughes and Sascha Riether were all rested for this one, along with Steve Sidwell. Well, if Jol wants competition for places, he’s got it now. Both Karagounis and Philippe Senderos were excellent Tuesday. Romelu Lukaku is the real deal, you can see that, but the Fulham defenders managed to contain him. I don’t think he had a clear opening in the game.

A long season still lies ahead. How great for Jol and Fulham's overall strength in depth if both Derek Boateng and Mahamadou Diarra are able to provide additional cover?

Into this mix Fulham have Ashkan Dejagah and Mesca knocking at the door. A good thing, because I remain unconvinced you can get enough telling performances out of Taarabt over a full season. And what about Fulham keeper David Stockdale -- unlucky to see their goal squirt into the net off his heel, but solid throughout, so well done Stockers!

I think the fundamental message from Tuesday is Fulham certainly have the makings of a decent team. They ‘manned up’ and showed character. This is not a team to be pushed around, and they clearly are still happy to put it on the line for Martin Jol.

Have I been firing a few brickbats in their direction in recent months? Mother, forgive me. To prove I can do it – a blog without a trace of negativity. More of the same on Saturday, please!

To end on all this positivity, and how remiss of me not to have mentioned it before. Warmest congratulations to all the matchday staff and Fulham folk behind the scenes after Fulham FC were honoured as the club offering the warmest welcome and best overall matchday experience in English football. Bravo to all!

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