So it’s back to the Lane next week, as I predicted in my preview. This in itself in unusual, getting something right in the preview that is, but there was always something about this fixture that screamed ‘draw’. Fulham are busy and well-organised but low scorers, Spurs more creative but since the four goals in the Cup we can’t quite do enough at the Cottage to score one more than them. And that’s the match summary, right there. We played well but lacked the cutting edge to make sufficient decent chances, Fulham had less of the ball but kept Gomes moving around without having the sharpness in the box, where it counts.
Following Harry’s remarks earlier this week that we can’t play 4-5-1, Spurs duly lined up with Crouch and Pav up front in the absence of Defoe. The pattern of the game was drawn by Fulham withdrawing their midfield into an area 30 or 40 yards in front of their goal when we had possession. Willingly we came on to them and moved the ball around well for the most part, searching for an opening, although at times we could have done so more swiftly. Modric was prominent in the early stages and had a good game. He’s made for that central berth. Always trying to make himself available and able to pass both long and short, able to pass quickly or hold it as the situation demands, he’s never on the ball for any longer than is necessary. It was noticeable how seldom he was caught in possession, and for that matter the same can be said for his team-mates, a sure sign that the support for the man on the ball was good throughout the team.
Crouch also had a fine first half, although he faded later. Two reasons; one, he stayed close to his team-mates rather than isolating himself further upfield as he has done too often this season. Two: decent service. We played it up to him early, accurately and firmly. No aimless hoofs, Crouchie kept moving and responded in kind with quicker lay-offs. This blog has always said that he could play like this and has become increasingly irritated by his performances over the last few months, but there’s evidence here to show that the long ball may have been imposed upon the team tactically by the manager, worrying in itself but that seems to be history now so we’ll let that one go for the moment. TOMM doesn’t forget, however….now there’s a threat to set Harry twitching, just watch him next time he’s in the dugout, you’ll see what I mean….
One of the sub-plots of the match was the comparison between the two big centre-forwards. Earlier this season I was somewhat disparaging about Zamora in my preview of the corresponding league fixture but yesterday as time went on he came into the match as Crouch disappeared from view. He’s come to terms with his limitations and under Hodgson’s wise guidance has become an effective target man, determined with his back to goal and looking to come on to the ball in the box. His team work well around him and he provides that extra second or two that enables the Fulham midfield to get to him and turn defence into attack. He provided Bassong with a stern test but for the most part Seb did well. As with the Bolton centre forward in the replay, Bassong was determined not to let his man turn. It was a fine tussle, which also provided a nice piece of commentary (not sure I’ve ever written that sentence before in regard to ITV…). Beglin rightly enthused about Zamora’s surge and shot in the second half, talking about how he put it across the keeper. Clive came in, quietly and dryly: ‘It’s gone for a throw-in.’
And that sums up much of Fulham’s efforts in the box, they didn’t quite come off, but in the first half they seldom approached our area, let alone the goal. I’m a big fan of Roy Hodgson and he had prepared well. His midfield were prepared to concede possession but not space in front of their box. We had the ball but no room. So it became a series of almosts and might have beens as our attempts nearly came off but not quite. Also, Roy put two men on Bale, something that he had better get used to. It’s easier to mark him when he’s in midfield because he starts his runs from further up the pitch. At fullback he comes from deeper and so is more difficult to pick up. Also, he can move later in an attack when defenders are already more committed. Despite this he coped reasonably well and occupied two men. If Duff is back, his attacking prowess is blunted, whihc in turn releases pressure on us. Modric picked up on this and switched play regularly to the right. However, Corluka had a poor game. He became the spare man and was the main target but his distribution was inaccurate with a series of wasteful crosses and passes. This to me was a crucial element of the match, we failed to take advantage of the spare man and amount of ball on the right that we had worked hard to achieve.
Fulham steadfastly reused to budge. We prompted and probed but did not really get very far. Pav worked hard but did not get past the white-shirted barrier. His control let him down too often, especially in the area. Again, like the Corluka comments, this was a match that might have been won and lost on the tiniest margins, so this mattered.
The second half began much as the first had ended. Fulham livened up a bit but did not really look like the home team until they went 4-4-2 towards the end. They slid the ball inside and behind our full-backs and if Murphy had been playing, his shrewd passing might have been significant. We were defending well and I wondered if this could give us the room to hit them on the break but it was not to be. Our solidity was due to in large part to Palacios’ determined sentry duty in front of our back four. He refused to budge, something that I’ve advocated throughout the season and again in the preview, and his disciplined performance was justifiably rewarded with a MOM award. He repeatedly broke up the Fulham movements and knocked it out to a better placed colleague. This strength enabled Modric and Krancjar to play their more creative game (I was pleased with Niko’s work-rate too) and really gives the team shape.
Other bits and pieces: BAE was quietly efficient, his brainstorm clearance in the second half aside. He just gets on with it, and I like it. We failed to capitalise on the corners because of bad delivery, and the same can be said for the long throws – Bale can do it so can’t we have a system to profit from it, as Stoke do, rather than have a loose informal gathering in the box as is the case now.
We have a great chance for a cup semi-final in the replay. We could have won it yesterday with more punch up front but on the whole a decent performance, credit Fulham with being an effective team in their chosen role.
Finally, a moan. The warm and respectful gesture to wear black armbands in memory of Keith Alexander was tainted by our use of black shiny gaffer tape. It smacks of hasty preparation. We should have put more into that – how long would it have taken to run something proper up, as our opponents managed.