Groundhog Day at Stoke

Posted by Phil Mison

Charlie AdamGettyImagesCharlie Adam scored as Fulham struggled again

It was an utterly predictable result at the Britannia for the Whites, even down to the manner of the match winner. No less depressing was Fulham’s approach to the game. Are you telling us this was meticulously planned out through five days of preparation on the training ground? I don’t believe it. Is this team of highly-paid, long-term professionals only capable of playing one way? Martin Jol set the team up to play the same system seen at Arsenal in our last away game. Yet, in the Premier League, you will not find two sides more diametrically opposed in style than the Arsenal and Stoke City.

In five seasons of going up there since the Potters got promoted, Fulham not once have done themselves justice. Even our solitary win in six league and cup attempts came out of the blue and was a total fluke over the Christmas of 2010. It was Bairdinho’s finest hour with a double hit that had us two up early on - after which Hangeland and co. put up the shutters and repelled all that Stoke could muster. I’m not sure if we actually had a third effort on goal.

Even the dumbest creatures in the herd eventually realise, go too close to that electrified fence and it will give you a kick. When will we ever learn? I am heartily sick of our managers moaning about Stoke’s physical style after we have yet again been shoved aside and finished second best. All Fulham as a club achieve is a reputation for being sore losers while engendering ill-feeling between the managers. We are rightly painted as southern softies, always good for a home win and an easy outing.

How did the two managers see it? “I thought we murdered them for an hour. I can’t believe we haven’t gone in three up at half-time. Then we get nervous in the final ten because we haven’t put the game to bed.” That’s Pulis for you. Put the hyperbole to one side and that’s a fair assessment of what happened. “We were much better in the second half; I think we deserved a point.” Oh Martin my friend, who are you kidding?

It is true, we were better in the 2nd half. We actually forced Begovic into a save! It did not come until the 74th minute mind you. I’m not a great one for statistics, but perhaps the Hammyenders might give us one of their chalkboards from Saturday.

A tale of two teams - football analysis in its simplest form. To score goals you need to be in areas that threaten danger to the opposition. The more time you spend in their area, the more likely you are to score. Simple percentages. Stoke had nine shots on target to our three, seven corners to our two. I would suggest they had perhaps 15-20 incursions into our danger zone - we maybe managed five at the other end. The Fulham side we have cannot pass and move its way through two disciplined ranks of four, especially when that side are overly physical, tenacious in the tackle, and prepared to play to the margins of legality. I thought Stoke won all the key individual battles and certainly far more second ball than we did.

We dare not lump aerial balls up to the box in hope because there is nobody to win any heading duels for us. Sides short on skill seek to make up for deficiencies elsewhere with a raft of well-planned set pieces. Fulham clearly have no such routines in their locker. Our defenders never contribute set-piece goals. Finally, when all else is failing, hope that someone is prepared to try the odd long-range shot. Dempsey often did. Nothing happening in that area now for FFC.

Can you tell I’m pessimistic coming up to Christmas? This is a bad time to lose form. There are a lot of points to play for before we can dive back into the transfer market to strengthen key areas. My major worry is seeing our talismanic new skipper begin to lose heart - and it could happen.The side is feeling sorry for itself, hard done by, and maybe a little demoralised.

Nobody from the fringes outside the first team looks capable of providing a spark. I am fed up; fed up that we are not winning. Fed up with everyone in football praising Berbatov to the skies and saying we’ve made the signing of the season. I’m fed up with our inability to keep a clean sheet. I’m especially fed up with the manager repeating the same words after every game. “We looked to play our game in the first half, but we could not do it. They made it difficult for us. We started slowly, that is a problem for us.” Repeating these words every week in the tunnel is akin to telling me it can get cold at the north pole.

You have been trotting this out for two months now Martin and it’s time to come up with a fix. You are starting to sound dangerously like Mr Hughes, formerly of this parish. Too much carping from the couch from someone who has no idea what football management is all about? I’m talking about myself here, not dear old Marky. Yes, guilty as charged. But let me remind Jol of his own mantra. He wants fast attacking wingers. Were we not supposed to be tying up the Heerenveen wonderboys with the unpronounceable names last summer? We only perked up Saturday when Damien came on. Dejagah has been getting talked up on these forums and was supposed to have the muscle to take on Stoke. I would have given him four out of ten for his wing play. Very disappointing and still adjusting to the hustle of the Premier League.

To beat Stoke we had to be strong down the flanks, and much quicker in playing the ball from back to front. Crosses needed to come in hard and low to make the big home defenders play the ball facing their goal. After his fine goal last week Petric was anonymous, but given nothing to feed off. Dejagah failed to get beyond the last man and was too often bottled up; Riise now has the irritating tendency always to hit the first defender when attempting crosses. Sidwell lacks the poise, balance and brain to run midfield. Diarra should have started. Had he not been bench warming at Cardiff for a wasted month, Frei might even have been given a run. He may not be the finished article, but you always have a shout at a penalty if he gets on the ball in the final third.

Let’s see what you’ve got in the locker for Stamford Bridge this week please Mr Jol. Continue to come up short and we might be starting a campaign to have Roberto di Matteo at Fulham. You never know what these millionaire owners are likely to pull. I mean, Rafa Benitez in at Chelsea?

Roman, you cannot be serious!



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