Fulham do the right thing

Posted by Phil Mison

Clive Rose/Getty ImagesDimitar Berbatov showed his class yet again with two first half goals in Fulham's win over QPR.

Spike Lee would have been proud of us. Perennial underdogs and makeweight fodder in the exalted Kingdom of the Premier League, modest little Fulham's finely-tuned business model and calm stewardship from the Chairman down did for the over-excitable Harry Redknapp and the bloated ambitions of his club from the wrong side of the borough.

- Match report: Fulham 3-2 QPR
- Brewin: Down among the dead men

You would expect this blog to be nothing but partisan. A quick sweep of posters to the BBC and other web sites however last night showed here was a popular result with multitudes of football supporters. Not least fans of Southampton and Portsmouth, where 'Arry's game has brought proud old clubs to the brink of ruin. With a result that edges Rangers ever closer to the relegation trap-door, the financial folly pursued by Rangers will exercise Tony Fernandes' business acumen to the full over the coming months.

But let's start by saluting another Fulham win. We did it the hard way, with Rangers harrying us to the death as I predicted, like rabid dogs snapping at our ankles as the riches were being cleared from the Premiership table before their very eyes. I heard the team news on the way down. Redknapp was going for it. He had to. Bryan Ruiz was passed fit so Fulham went unchanged and on the back of a decent little run -- only the two Manchester clubs have beaten us in the league this year.

This was a seminal game in Rangers' campaign. I had written two months ago when reviewing Fulham's end of season run-in how difficult a game the Rangers return at the Cottage would be, especially after Redknapp's moves in the January transfer market. Yet it was the Whites who made the fast start, and how deliciously ironic that it should be the megabucks signing centre back Christopher Samba who decided Monday night to turn in a miserable 45 minutes as Fulham stormed into a 3-0 lead.

Dimitar Berbatov kept his hot streak going; he is if anything even more self-assured with penalties than Danny was, then almost apologetically scuffed in a second after Samba catastrophically dwelt on the ball. When John Arne Riise's hammered cross spun into the Rangers net off Clint Hill's body (after the most intricate passage of build-up play that included a Messi-esque backheel from our skipper) I briefly entertained thoughts of another 6-0 romp -- having assertively discounted it in my preview.

The game of course took on a new twist, with Ashkan Dejagah's withdrawal in particular damaging our rhythm and grip on the game. We utterly bossed the first half, but threw Rangers a lifeline with a very careless pass from the Greek warrior that allowed Adel Taarabt to run on and pull a goal back right on halftime (although Mark Schwarzer nearly got it round the post).

The second half was largely one of torment, at times the fear factor at the Hammy End matched the dark days of the Great Escape from 2008. This was certainly a match from a spectator's point of view best seen from the Putney End, because that's where all the action was. Apart from my close-up view of Julio Cesar fielding back passes, I spent most of that second period numbed with cold, willing the clock to run down and wondering if Urby Emanuelson was ever going to get near the ball.

You could understand why Martin Jol would have sent him on for Dejagah with Fulham bossing the game and leading 3-0, but this was not an arena for the AC Milan loanee in the second half as Fulham sought to repel the red tidal wave of attacks and needed to batten down the hatches. Giorgios Karagounis conceded a silly penalty, two costly errors from the veteran who galvanised the crowd with his never-say-die-attitude but which also undermined his overall performance. Loic Remy slipped between our centre backs to claw another one back in a period either side of Schwarzer's game-changing penalty save where the Fulham goal came under siege.

The game was on a knife edge; we had nothing to offer coming forward, but showed real strength of character, and even after Steve Sidwell's red card (thanks Lee Probert again) it was, surprisingly, QPR who seemed to run out of ideas in the final 15 minutes. Redknapp threw on yet more forwards, but Fulham stood firm to claim their third straight win in London derbies. Two more to follow this month?

Two important factors helped us get over the line in that awful second period. Jol subbed out Emanuelson for the take-no-prisoners defensive strength of Emmanuel Frimpong, and Damien Duff went over to defensive duties on the left to shore up the loss of Sidwell -- who incidentally had an immense first half in breaking up play and imposing Fulham's dominance in midfield. He was maybe a little unlucky to receive a straight red, but I am yet to see the video replay you Sky watchers no doubt had the benefit of.

Reflecting Fulham's first half domination, there was also a lot of industrious and brave play from Ruiz in trying to pass the ball around in tight situations, although I see from posters he continues to polarize opinions as to his overall worth to the side. There's been no harsher critic of Ruiz than me since his arrival. Nobody can feel anything but disappointment that he's not contributed more, especially in terms of goal scoring. But for a man who was supposed to be carrying a hamstring injury, Monday night in a blood and thunder game that turned into a second half cup tie, he never sulked or looked to hide from the battle. He didn't get pushed around too much, nor make fundamental errors like Kara.

The real heroes in this resounding result for me were at the back. Welcome as our three strikes were, they were indeed calamitous and entirely self-inflicted, as Redknapp fumed. Fulham won because the spine was stronger. Again Schwarzer showed the coolest head on the park, and for the second home match in succession made a game-changing penalty stop.

Brede Hangeland was immense, right back to his imperious best. His appetite for more football with Fulham is back, the intensity is there. Did he really want it last night? You bet! It was written all over his features when he strode up to give the Hammy End a clenched-fist salute at the final whistle.

The final word however must go to our match winner yet again. How refreshing to hear his tunnel interview as Berbatov was handed the Man of the Match champagne, praising the team, lauding Schwarzer's contribution, and repeating how much he is enjoying his time at the club. For all the big signings made in West London over the past nine months, Fulham Football Club made the one that really counted. The reason we're staying up and Rangers are going down.



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