It's a while since I enjoyed a match day quite so intensely. With a large contingent over from Scandinavia for the game it's fair to say there was quite some drinking done pre and post game, though behaviour of course was good natured throughout - we are Fulham after all. The away fans added to the atmosphere, though they had precious little to cheer, and the ones I spoke to were just delighted to get to visit the Cottage and still be in with a shout of survival. With four straight home games to come for Blackpool, points are there for the taking from the likes of Wigan, Stoke and Newcastle - so let's all hope they stay up. The Prem would be a poorer league without Holloway's side and their supporters next season.
You sensed this would be our day with the roar that greeted news of Zamora's inclusion from the off. What a difference he made. Making his first start since the Wolves game last September when he fractured his right ankle, Bobby needed just 28 minutes to put us two clear, and underline all that we have missed in his absence. Hughes stuck with the regular back four and Etuhu in midfield, Dempsey and Duff were on the flanks, a revitalised Dembele lying a little deeper, up alongside Bobby in a 4-4-2, with AJ back on the bench.
And let me be the first to say Hughes was fully vindicated with his team selection. Full-backs don't always catch the eye from the press box but Bairdinho was my clear man of the match, not least for his crucial goal-line clearance on the stroke of half-time. That might well have changed the course of the second half, had we been made to pay for Schwarzer's aberration (his one weakness, the inability to punch forcefully).
We got away with that and a couple of other narrow squeaks as Holloway admitted his men had been below par. He tinkered with his line-up and I for one was delighted to see Varney overlooked - he caused us problems up at their place. All today's graphs show Blackpool dominated possession and made 50% more passes than us. Their problem was, most went backwards or sideways, Fulham by contrast bristled with intent and incision. Dempsey, Duff and some mazy Dembele runs all carried the threat to our opponents from the off. I felt Blackpool began over cautiously, almost as if they for once didn't quite believe in their ability to hurt us. Schwarzer didn't see the ball for half an hour, by which time Bobby had struck twice.
Hughes rightly hailed Zamo's return as the key, he created danger from the first minute. Intelligently holding up the ball when it was played long, linking well with Duff, prowling the penalty area, committing defenders. From Beattie's misplaced pass in the centre-circle he accelerated away into the space between the centre-backs for our opener. Still with it all to do his control at high speed was perfect, the rocket of a right foot finish into the top corner unstoppable. A terrific strike. Might AJ from the same situation have finished so emphatically I wonder? Having already set up Duff to hit a post - outstanding touch from the keeper to be fair - it was the Duffer who then turned provider, curling over a quick free kick five minutes later for Bobby to nod home number two. Another free kick after half time killed off the game, this time met with a crashing header by Clint against the post. Brede coolly kept the ball alive from a tight angle, crossed, and Etuhu turned it over the line from close in.
Close behind Baird for top marks, Etuhu also had a fine time of marauding around midfield and put in some tough challenges - rode his luck a bit with the ref as well. Bobby trotted off after an hour, he's had a head cold all week, and although the game was wrapped up, AJ gave us a cameo of his 'irritating fly' presence, which did nothing to unsettle the Blackpool back four nor enhance his diminishing reputation.
With Fulham's international army out in force it was a good opportunity for this blogger to reveal his identity to a number of people. Too many to mention, but if you follow the blog, you know who you are, and great to meet up. Common threads expressed are that Zoli's days seem clearly numbered, not even on the bench Sunday, but that he deserves to have a couple more good seasons where his type of game will flourish - possibly the Bundesliga. Fulham have twice denied Gera the chance to move since January, now looks as if they're just angling for some kind of fee for last year's Player of the Season. Pantsil it seems would like to stay, I know his family are very settled in London and a big part of the local church, but after Baird's performance yesterday, I fear we may have to wave goodbye to John and his post-match salute to the fans. That will be sad.
I sense a lot of fans would not be sorry to see AJ offloaded. If Fulham are to strengthen in the summer, as indeed they must, getting the highest earner off the wage bill will free up resouces for younger prospects. And many are of the opinion Stockdale needs to be confirmed soon as Fulham's new number one - mess this future England keeper around any longer and he'll be snapped up by one of the big clubs. Sorry, Mark - but thanks for everything, and g'bye mate.
If Hughes, as seems likely now with 38 points and a strong GD, keeps us up, the summer is the time to show us how he's going to take Fulham forward to another level. We've got another 38 games out of a squad that was starting to show its age with last year's massive work-load of 63(!) competitive matches. We won't get away with it a second time. Stand still in football and you ask for trouble.
Finally, I guess we have to mention 'that statue.' Having now been within touching distance of it, it is indeed hideous, and shows a monumental lack of class by our chairman. Luckily MJ is tucked away in a corner, staring out across the Thames to a boathouse. The jacket looks as if it's been crafted from silver bubblewrap and there's more than a hint of early Cher and sister La Toya about it. You can't see it from the Stevenage Road frontage thank heavens, and never likely to become a tourist attraction where it stands. It would be highly appropriate if Blackpool collected it on their next trip and stuck it up on the Golden Mile where it would be more at home. I do fear for the statue where it is- it will surely be vandalised e'er long, sawn off at the base and chucked in the river.
Big thumbs up to the guy in the Hammy End yesterday who donned the full Bo' Selecta Jacko outfit on 85 minutes and scarpered up the terraces before the stewards could nab him. Top gesture! That summed up Fulham fans thoughts for the most on the 'Maestro' now sharing exhibition space with the dysfunctional high-pitched warbler...that er, 'close friend' of Mohammed al-Fayed, who once upon a time was led down to the Cottage by his publicity people and the Harrod's press office for a solitary game.
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