Fulham definitely seems to be back on the right track after playing extremely poor in January. While the two wins and draw came against weaker opponents in the aforementioned Burnley, Portsmouth and Bolton, the fact remains that Fulham did what was needed to get positive results at a critical time when the team could have packed up the tent and mailed it in as other clubs have done in years past.
This team is resilient and after some patchy play in defense, the staple of this team, the Cottagers have found some form and played much better at the back. Brede Hangeland looks to be healthy once again and Aaron Hughes is as solid as ever. Mark Schwarzer is back on his game and the addition of Nicky Shorey in the back has been a nice addition to a team that has been without John Pantsil and Paul Konchesky of late. The club did a nice job identifying Shorey as a player that could step right in and help the team and the former Reading man has done just that. He has and will continue to be a nice piece of the Fulham puzzle as the season progresses.
Up front and in the midfield, there was no doubt that players would have to step up in the absense of Clint Dempsey and Andy Johnson who are both out for quite some time with injuries. One player that has taken advantage of his opportunity is striker David Elm. The lanky 27-year-old Swedish striker might not be the quickest or have the best touch, but he is creating problems for opposing defenses. On Tuesday, Elm recorded his first goal in league play for the Cottagers and played a key role in assisting Danny Murphy in the opening goal of the match.
Elm, like Peter Crouch, is tall and looks a bit awkward out on the pitch. However, he can hold the ball up and can get into scoring positions. I am not sure he will be the long term solution for the Cottagers offense, but his height alone makes for defenses to have to know where he is at all times and he poses a threat on set pieces as well. He is not as good as Peter Crouch, but he plays similar to him. He is a change of pace attacker that can compliment Bobby Zamora, Stefano Okaka and others well for the Cottagers.
I am pleased with the direction the team is headed after hitting a bump in the road during January. However, the rest of February will be a busy month for the Cottagers. Not only do the Cottagers have a fifth round FA Cup home tie with Notts County, but they also return to the Europa League for a home and home tie with defending champions Shakhtar Donetsk as well as league matches against Birmingham City and Sunderland. Three competitions and a possible six matches over the next 18 days is a lot for any team.
It has been a few weeks since I last wrote in my blog. I apologize for this as my wife was sick and then my child was sick which kept me from writing and keeping this blog current. For those of you with children, I am sure you understand. Anyways, I have some random thoughts I wanted to share you with you regarding Fulham.
- Stephen Kelly is not a Premier League player. He has been lackluster in the back for the Cottagers and the sooner he is not playing regular first team football, the better things will be for Fulham.
- Losing John Pantsil for the season has been possibly the biggest loss of the season injury wise. He played with energy and was a vocal leader in the back for the club. The aforementioned Stephen Kelly is nowhere near as good as Pantsil. My hope is that when Paul Konchesky returns to full fitness that Nicky Shorey will play in the right back role, Konchesky will play on the left and Kelly will no longer be needed. It's tough to watch him out there.
- I was pleased with Fulham's deals during the January transfer window. Both Stefano Okaka and Nicky Shorey will make solid contributions for this team. Seeing as both players joined on loan, the Cottagers did not break the bank for them.
- Could this be the year Fulham makes a serious run in the FA Cup? It's been since 1975 the last time Fulham made it to Wembley and the FA Cup final. With big dogs Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool out of the competition and Fulham facing lowly Notts County on Sunday in the fifth round, there is a distinct chance the Cottagers will advance to the Final eight. I guess it all depends on the draw going forward, but if the ping pong balls bounce the right way and the Cottagers can avoid Chelsea, I would say they have as good a chance as any other remaining team to make it Wembley. Exciting times ahead for the Cottagers in the FA Cup if they can get past Notts County.
- I am not really disappointed in the loss of Andy Johnson through injury. I have waited the better part of a year and a half for Johnson to do something productive on a consistent basis and my wish has remain unfulfilled. Rather than see him being unproductive on the pitch I would rather him get fully healthy and be ready for next season. I also think this gives others like David Elm and Stefano Okaka the opportunity to step in and show the manager and the supporters that one, the other, or both can score goals consistently for the club.
- I like Dickson Etuhu. He may not score a lot of goals and may not do anything flashy but he simply gets the job done. He is a strong, physical presence in the middle of the park that can go toe to toe with opposing players. His presence on the pitch will not allow the Cottagers to get run over physically in midfield. I hope he can continue to improve and play a role for Fulham.
That's all for now. Let me know what you think about David Elm, Dickson Etuhu and the team in general? Do you think the struggles in January are a thing of the past? Can Fulham make it to Wembley and the FA Cup final for the first time since 1975? Have your say. I would love to hear from you.