Newcastle 2 – 0 Fulham

Painful and frustrating game. Newcastle scored an early goal thanks to Mark Viduka, and a late one thanks to Michael Owen.

Fulham didn’t play badly, but they didn’t play well either. Toothless up front and disorganized at the back, this game saw a reversal of much of the progress made since January.

From front to back:

McBride and Johnson: Johnson is going to take most of the criticism here, but to be fair, McBride didn’t do squat either. Johnson wasn’t getting any through passes to run onto and use his pace, and McBride wasn’t winning headers. On the rare occasions when a cross came in, neither seemed to be in the right place.

Davies, Bullard, Murphy, Andreason: Davies and Murphy had quiet games, Bullard played well, and Andreason looked lost and disgruntled on the right flank.

Konchesky and Staltieri: Both played very well indeed, playing solid defense, and providing most of the width in attack. However, their playing so far up the pitch so frequently may have led to added pressure on…

Hangeland and Hughes: Unusually shaky. Hangeland is being blamed for not closing down Viduka for the first goal.

The second goal was just poor marking, as somebody (Hughes?) found himself marking two players. Owen shakes free and poof, there’s the game.

Those who have been preaching on the message boards that Fulham will find salvation in attacking may have received their answer. Fulham played very aggressively away from home and got beat. Andreason wasn’t there to protect the defense, and Konchesky and Staltieri were constantly chasing down players from advanced positions. One of the more common sights from today’s game was a Newcastle player receiving the ball in acres of space, with only a few pigeons to slow him down. I’m not sure that a 4-5-1 as seen at Blackburn wouldn’t have been a better option. But hindsight is 20-20.

As far as our wide play goes, I think that Fulham have found a formula that sort of works, if we ignore the added stress that it places on the defense. From a purely attacking point of view, Bullard or Murphy get the ball out to Davies or Andreason, who then holds it up for Konch. or Staltieri. It’s not new and it’s not complicated but it works, forcing the defenders to switch off, creating good crossing opportunities. But how often did we see the crosses float across the area, as harmless as a soap bubble? Or even worse, come whipping in only to find Johnson and McBride watching, from the wrong part of the area, as the ball is cleared?

Fulham’s strikers ain’t that great, and this season at least, they ain’t gonna be. McBride has spirit, but he’s only a year younger than Jari Litmanen. Johnson has the potential to stretch a defense, but he needs to be forced to make an agressive play. Dempsey, Nevland, Kamara, Healy. These aren’t great options. Therefore we are reliant on the attacking system. So when the system breaks down, like today, there’s no moment of brilliance that will save us. We looked much more organized today than Newcastle, but the game was won in the 7th minute by a clever move from a clever striker. That’s not us. Attack is never going to be a strength for Fulham. I believe that midfield can be. So maybe, just maybe, the 4-5-1 can work? Against Derby, who knows. But as rotten and confused as I feel right now, I’m just glad I don’t have Roy’s job, because I know he feels a lot worse.

4-5-1 or 4-4-2, we’ve probably seen the last of Andreason on the wing. Murphy or Dempsey, please.

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