Story of a Match: Fulham

Posted by on January 1, 2012 in Match Analysis | 7 comments

I hope you all had a splendid New Years Eve. Mine certainly improved at around 4:50pm when 4 foot 8 inch Simeon Jackson did what Holt and Morison struggled to do all game: beat Hangeland and Senderos to a header. It rescued a point for Norwich in a game a lot of fans (rightly or wrongly) expected three from. So how did it come about?

Early Goal

This really changed the contest. I don’t know exactly how Fulham would have approached the game if they weren’t leading from the seventh minute, but I doubt they’d have surrendered the pitch quite as much, let Norwich play and tried to grind out a narrow win. After Sa’s goal, they were content to let us play on our terms and threaten on the break, happy to use their tall, strong centre backs to knock away any crosses.

The goal itself was a great finish but came from two pieces of poor play. The first was from Johnson who, to his credit, went on to have a very good game. He allowed Dembele to get past him all too easily and struggled to match him for pace. Once the ball was passed off to Sa, Whitbread responded by .. well, I’m not quite sure. He goes to dive into a tackle but doesn’t go to ground. Nevertheless, the gets completely done on the turn, opening space for Sa to shoot and fire it past Ruddy. I noted Zak’s problems in the last report, and chalk this up with them.

Following this, the first half was a bit give and take. Fulham were more or less happy to let Norwich play but they had chances themselves, especially hitting the bar and Naughton clearing Sa’s shot off the line.

This allowed Johnson and Fox to get a foothold on the game and build attacks. Fox, despite being taken off after 45 minutes, completed more passes in that first half than Hoolahan did the entire game, despite the latter having a good match. While Fox wasn’t the player I’d have taken off for Holt, I can see the logic behind it; too much of our play was in midfield and then on the flanks, with little threat coming from Morison on his own up front. Holt was needed to get more bite and a bit more shape, and so it came down to which midfielder to sacrifice. With Johnson having a good game and probably offering more defensive cover, Fox was sacrificed. That isn’t to say we didn’t have our chances first half. We had a great spell of pressure that resulted in several corners, one of which resulted in a header that hit the bar, and Morison had a couple of chances. We were getting into good positions but Morison looked tired up front, frequently out of position on the flank. When he’s out there, our nominal 2nd striker is Hoolahan, and he isn’t going to win any headers vs Hangeland.

Second half was a different story as Norwich had their foot on the pedal throughout. It’s worth remembering that Fulham were content to sit deep, and their fans made a few noises of discontent during this, seemingly frustrated at not pushing more men forward to take it to us.

As you can see from the passing chalkboard above, Fulham really didn’t do a lot in the final third, and especially not in front of the centrebacks. They tried to get the ball wide to Frei and Dempsey but didn’t get the ball into the box much and Ruddy had very, very little to do. In midfield they got close with Dembele and Murphy, and later Etuhu, but they were happy to surrender possession.

This was ideal for the centre backs, Whitbread and Ayala. A lot of positive comments have come out of the game regarding both centre backs, though in the case of Zak it is tempered by his shocking defending for their goal, but it’s worth nothing that Fulham didn’t try to get a second goal at all. As Huckerby said on twitter, it’s easy to look good when you’re playing against no-one. Ayala came out of the game with a lot of deserved credit for his composure on the ball and ability to pick a pass, and as you can see above he was excellent in distribution, completing 45 of 50 passes. Defenders that can pass are vital at this level and this is a side of his game that will please many. On the defensive side, however, he remains untested and it’s worth remembering this before we christen him the new Baresi. An encouraging performance, but not a complete one.

Further into the second half Simeon came on for Morison, and eventually pressure told when he grabbed the equaliser deep into injury time. The buildup was good as Bennett dummied past a defender and put in a great left footed cross that Jackson attacked from deep. It was no less than Norwich deserved as they’d banged on the door all second half, going close through Naughton, Morison, Surman and Holt. It was hard to argue with the removal of Morison though, and a few people have suggested a bit of a rest for the front man after a couple of poor performances. After the Spurs game a few fingers were pointed, which I addressed in the report. It’s hard when in comparison with Holt, but Morison did often seem disinterested, out of position or unwilling to attack and press a defender.

The difference in his play can be seen above. The top chalkboard shows his tackles yesterday, the red ones were unsuccessful. He was frequently unable to win headers or beat players, and was generally less involved. The bottom, during his spell of good form against QPR, shows many more blue, successful tackles. Here he was frequently winning aerial battles, beating defenders and wasn’t afraid to get stuck in. Morison has been a very positive signing since he joined and I think it’s fair to say his form has dropped. Like others in the squad, it’s about time this was recognised and he was given a rest, giving others a chance.

On the whole, it’s hard to argue with the 1-1 scoreline. We were the better side but didn’t make our chances pay until late, and Fulham defended well throughout. With a bit of tweaking the team was more than able to make chances and taking the game to Fulham, and there were encouraging signs. Jackson’s second goal in three games gives him a strong claim for a start tomorrow against QPR, perhaps alongside Holt, while Bennett had a good showing from the bench. Both fullbacks were outstanding, especially Naughton, and as said, Ayala looked good on the ball. Unfortunately this game was never a walkover like some fans expected. Players like Hangeland, Frei, Dempsey, Duff, Dembele and Etuhu would get into the Norwich side without a second thought and they’ve had European football for a couple of seasons now. No games are bankers and expecting any just breeds complacency. Lambert was spot on when he said on Match of the Day that the fans should recognise this, and we should do the same tomorrow. QPR may be in 17th but to underestimate them will only bring disappointment.

As ever, chalkboards courtesy of the Guardian.

7 Comments

  1. Did you go to the game?

    • Of course.

  2. Generally agree Matt. It was clear in the last 15mins against spurs that morison was completely spent and in need of a rest. People shouldn’t forget he’s also had to fight off the head cold/virus in recent wks that no doubt has taken its toll in the recent heavy work schedule. I was very surprised PL opted to go with 1 up top chosing morison as the loan front man given his (to me) clear need for a rest (or as PL likes to say “a helping hand”).

    I have to say I think PL has got the formation wrong in the last 2 games. Against spurs I thought it was a nailed on certaintity we would play the 4-2-3-1 formation to try and pin the spurs full backs down in their half with the use of pilks & benno. Against teams outside of the “top 6″ I would always like us to play with 2 up top at home. This is a far more effective formation for us at home – as shown in the 2nd half. But fair credit to Lambert for realising this so early & bringing holt on at half time.

    I agrees with Lambert about the crowd, was very disappointed with some of the crowd yesterday – I can only go with what I heard from those around me (lower barclay) but the perceived idea that we should be “rolling over teams like Fulham” or “come on city it’s only Fulham”….yes guys the same Fulham that are an established premier league team who have been in Europe 2 yrs and got to the Europa lge final!! What planet are these guys living on? Stop your moaning and groaning and get behind the team! Rant over :)

  3. I see where Speccy’s coming from – I saw a different game ! I didn’t think we played well at all. First half was rubbish – due to, as Jenny says, another bizarre PL formation and plan (if there was a plan rather than a hope that spirit and effort would prevail anyway). Far from realising “early” that GH was needed, PL should have put him on after 20 minutes. Had he done so we might well have had time to win the game. Heresy? : PL at fault yesterday – still learning at this level.
    Morison : probably was tired if he’s had a bug. Some round me call him lazy and often disinterested. I don’t buy that at all. But he is out of his depth especially on his own and I think it is unfair to him and the team and the fans to keep asking him to do that role. And in the first half too often the ball was played for him to chase down the wide channels – leading nowhere with nobody in the middle. The problem is that he’s only a reactive player, usually on his heels and tbis is why some think he’s tired, lazy etc. No one thinks that of Simeon but despite his energy he’s also a reactive player. That’s just not good enough in this league – intelligence and effort are needed together. Perhaps Chris Martin’s confidence and attitude will have bucked up while farmed out . . . . better to have an on song CM alongside GH. Hope Vaughan will fit the bill.

    I didn’t rate Johnson’s contribution. He has poor positional sense and lacks awareness of the shape, positioning and movement of those around him. No wonder he allegedly covers more metres than most – he overcommits upfield and gets regularly caught out of position. In the first half he kept getting in the way of Andrew Surman and Wes. In the holding role he lacks the imagination and creative passing of Fox. I’d have taken him off instead.

    I share your continuing concerns about Zak. He was made a mug of several times last season and it’s tougher this year. I’d like to see Ayala and Martin at centre back – I think Russell is a better CB than RB. Naughton was excellent – probably his best game so far.

    Bennett was also excellent and I think worth the nod over Pilks in the starting line-up. Pilks has bags of promise, looks potentially the real deal, but has a lot to learn and some confidence to still build – far from £5m to Liverpool or whoever, a spell on loan to a good footballing Championship side would do him good and be be an investment for the future.

    We were not the better side but the usual fantastic resolve got there eventually while the better side pissed about and pathetically tried to waste time. We didn’t deserve to lose but we were lucky to scramble the draw.

    Lastly (thank god, did you say?) I’d love to know why GH didn’t start. Could be all sorts of valid reasons needing not to extend him. But if not, then it’s high time PL stopped messing about and put his name first on the team sheet.

    • A few points then.

      One, I’d agree that Lambert is still learning. This is clear, and I’ve said a few times where I think he’s got his selection or shape wrong. But I prefer to analyse the game that happened and not just state that it was wrong from the start and we’d have done better with other people in etc.

      Two, opinions are opinions. That’s what makes football chat great. I disagree that Morison is out of his depth. He’s had plenty of great games so far this season, including as a lone striker, to justify his place. Is he always good? No. Can he improve in plenty of areas? Sure. One thing I am happy to say is that Chris Martin is not the answer, and he never will be at Premier League level. He had his chance, and he simply doesn’t have what it takes. No amount of confidence is going to change it.

      Johnson… sure. I’d have kept Fox on but I felt Bradley kept the ball well yesterday and got into positive positions. There’ve been other games that I thought he was rubbish and couldn’t pass for toffee. Yesterday I was happy enough with him.

      Pilks on loan? Really? Bennett has had a remarkably average start to his Norwich career, doing very little of note until yesterday. I want him in and around the team. Pilkington has had much more of an impact, scoring goals and setting them up. I want him in and around the team too. Both have a role to play, both have already contributed to differing levels, and suggesting Pilks should go out on loan is just knee-jerk.

      And fine, if you think Fulham were the better side then you’re entitled to that. I disagree. They had a good first half while we still had chances, and offered nothing second, happy to sit back and defend. In the end they didn’t. That’s how I saw it.

  4. Its funny the guy who sits next to me agree dwith Abduls assessment, we were rubbish and didn’t deserve anything. I had to disagreee wuth him as we pressed in the second half and accepting that Fulham were playing just to defend We got a great goal and a cracking cross from Bennett which was one of the reasons for going for him, his “assists” If we’d have scored at say 70 minutes when Surman narrowly missed it would have been very interesting.

    My major concern was how the defence managed to back pedal in unison when they were faced with attackers coming at them, this lead to the goal and also a couple of the opportunities Fulham spurned. Ayala’s woeful attempted tackle of Dembele (I think) just before Naughton cleared off the line wastypical and a reason why the crowd was very much on edge. Like the Tottneham games the opposition’s goal was too easy

    I thought Johnson had a good game yesterday but I think we really need a big powerful holding midfielder (like Dembele or Song) to hold up the opposition and help the back 4, probably more so than any other position, although I’d love to have Naugton on a permanent, please.. Trouble is I’m not sure who that might be given the understanaable comments coming out of the management (not knocking those re salary and cost).

    I thought Morision looked frustrated again he did some positive things but was often out on the left wing to avoid the attnedance of the two big CBs. This was a bit like the Spurs game but this time he didn’t have any support in the middle and a by product was that Hanngerland was often able to stride upfield unhindered and when the City Midfield did approach him all they left was Dempsey , Murphy Or Dembele open spelling more trouble.

    Pilks did a lot of good things but at least twice he also managed to make a complete hash out of some promising positions losing the ball or letting it go out of bounds. He’s in need of a bit of pollishing and his replacement by Bennett just cranked up the intencity and pressure. He may of looked lively vs Spurs but he also couldn’t get the better of Walker much (IMHO) He’s a good change up when needed as was Bennett on this display,

    Ayala’s “on the ball” play was good and he may well grow up to be a class player but he was rarely put under pressure and when he was it was often to Zack he looked. I think the reason why he and Zack were in the side yesterday is that (wit both LBs out) Naughton had to be a LB (he played in pre-season there) De Laet out so Cafu was back @ RB and those two were better delivers of the ball than Barnett

    The initial formation and tactics didn’t work and Fulham have a very good midfield which just showed up ours (again) this is becoming a bit of a feature whic is why we need a guy who will pick up balls out of our defence and theirs and generally break up the play before it gets to our danger area. Crofts almost does that Johnson ditto. Johnson does act as a cover for balls in the air and probably delivers the ball better than Crofts and managed the midfield yeaterday. Surman continues to play well and I did feel for Fox when substituted. Wes did his usual trick of beeing hero one minute and goat the next and as I have said before its not as easy to duck and jupe around Premier league players as in the championship (unless your neam really is Messi)

    Cheers for the review msotly spot on!

    • That’s exactly the sort of player we need, and as it goes we used to have one. He was getting a few boos yesterday mind – Etuhu. Very strong, solid midfielder who can pass it too. I would have him back straight away.

      Agree with the rest of what you’ve said too. With regards to Wes, I think he had an outstanding first half with a quieter second. First he seemed to be the only real City player with any drive or forward thinking, so I guess he stood out more. Second he was a bit quieter and everyone else had obviously improved their game.

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