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Believe it or not, I was contemplating a teaser for you all last week on who got Fulham's first hat-trick in the Prem. The answer of course, in our 11 seasons to date we'd never managed one. Not even with King Louis in his prime. And if you'd suggested to fans over the summer Andrew Johnson would be the first man to get it, well, you'd have found few takers.
50% of us quietly hoped the club might get him off the pay-roll (top earner at £50k per week last two seasons) in return for £2 million back on the £10 million paid for his services. Now he's the hero of the hour, and nobody deserves it more after the injury hell AJ's endured, but even when fit, could anybody seriously suggest we'd had a return on our dough for the ex-England international? He was certainly not a guaranteed starter in Jol's early season plans, and the player himself appeared lukewarm to overtures of a one year contract extension. I'm certain Fulham listened to enquiries for AJ in the summer, and until last week I fully expected to see him moved on in January.
That was before Odense away. For whatever reasons (more of this later) Bobby stayed home. Researching the Danes for my preview I felt there was not much to fear in this group match-up. Odense were on a poor run domestically, and in provincial Denmark in front of a small crowd I knew we had far bigger characters in our ranks who could change a game. Jol picked a strong side, Fulham did the business, and Andy scored both goals - the 2nd a real peach.
Building on that momentum, Jol got his selection for QPR bang on. Andy was paired up front in a no-frills 4-4-2 with Big Bob, something the players could all intuitively play to. Let's not forget that Bobby too had scored in our last two home league games, so both front men were in the goals. Dembele running at last with purpose, and getting off the shot that led to our early goal, was a real handful for defenders all afternoon. His close control and ability to dribble round players at times is sublime. Once he learns to offer himself more with runs into space and link the play at speed when Fulham break out, he could become a real menace.
Although more one-paced than Moussa, our Belgian boy has much to learn from the magnificent Texan in midfield. Is he getting taller season on season or is Clint's integral impact on games now so immense it just seems like he's morphed into a colossus? Both were brilliant yesterday in supporting the front two, with Deuce feeding Bobby for number 6 while topping off the move of the match for number five himself. Rangers were shredded on the break, a terrific pass out of his own half by Brede putting AJ away on the left. Pace took him past one man, his cross back-heeled by Bobby at the near post and Clint arrived like a train to pick his spot from 10 yards. Fabulous goal! I was 20 yards away from it in Row I and for me the move summed up our overall performance and the tremendous potential now in this side.
If all you've seen of the game to date are brief highlights, let me tell you, it could easily have been 10-4. Clint shot straight at the full-back on the line with the whole goal to aim at, AJ and Bobby missed by inches, and Ruiz fired just wide of the far post at the death after a brief cameo that at last showed glimpses of his potential. To be fair to Rangers they came to try and match us at the passing game. What they lacked was the skill to get at us down the flanks - Grygera again very solid - no big target man up front (Bothroyd subbed) and no defensive pairing to match the calibre of Hangeland and Baird. Both made crucial interventions around our own box before Danny's pen put us two up. We writers do tend to bang on about strikers, but let's not overlook this was our 4th game in all competitions returning a clean sheet.
As with his decision to go 4-4-2, Jol has now got around to recognising Baird's worth. I'm pleased to see Jol open to change, and with an international break to savour the implications of this result, we can hopefully start posting the points our potential suggests. I think you can safely assume the AJ-BZ twinning - the one Roy anticipated such a return from - will be in place through the autumn. If AJ really has discovered a new lease of life, three years on, we fans could be in for some really exciting football in the weeks to come.
Despite the heat and the White's game Thursday in Odense, it was Rangers looking demoralised at the end, with Kenny happy to time waste rather than risk conceding more goals.
So we finally get to salute our first hat-trick hero in the EPL. All three typical poacher's goals, a thing Andy used to do by instinct. If his mojo really is back, and he and Bobby get on the same wavelength (they are clearly best mates), the rest of the league had better watch out. As for team spirit, when Andy's quick thinking saw him latch onto Danny's cute free-kick for the hat-trick goal all nine outfield players roared over to the little man as one to join in the back-slapping.
Now to Bobby Z, called up again for England duty. You can't argue with that. What happened before the plane left for Denmark? Maybe Bob asked if he'd be kept back among the subs, as he was at the Bridge. And maybe, with two wee babbies in the house, Bobby might politely have enquired if he could be spared to stay in London? It's conjecture, but possible. Damien Duff, also married just a year ago, might have backed up Bobby with a similar request recently? We will never know. But where the 'People' found their story that 'Zamora seeks out in January after Jol bust up,' I cannot imagine. Pure fantasy. I could not believe some idiotic postings elsewhere that Bobby 'did not show up Sunday till late on.' He was in the thick of it from the off, feints, flicks and headers setting up chances for Dembele, AJ and Clint. He had two assists, finished powerfully for his goal, and brilliantly created the opening for Dempsey to bury. Bobbie was at his best, playing with a smile, and playing for the team...and the gaffer.
Stoke next up away will be interesting, for they surely will mix it up far more than QPR. At which point I must do the unthinkable, and praise Joey Barton. Despite being absolutely thumped he was not guilty of a single bad challenge or moment of petulance. The game in fact was played in a good spirit and from my vantage point I noted a fair bit of banter between 'us' and 'them' at corners and throw ins - SWP even responding to crowd taunts with a quip.
You may choose not to believe it, but after the Europa game I had a gut feeling someone was about to really cop it from us. I think Jol sensed the same. I stayed my hand from typing it last week, not wishing to jinx the day. But in this season of big results we've finally got one of our own. We've tonked both Norwich and WBA with six in the past, though I did not see either game. Sunday was my first 'sixer' since Darlington at Christmas 1996, so that's how rarely such results come along. Rangers were not actually that poor. Their patchwork quilt of a new side however was ruthlessly unpicked on the day by Fulham's slick play, and Warnock acknowledged the fact. The chairman must also have had an inkling, choosing to parade across the ground before kick-off.
One final element to what was a red letter day all round. The Fulham Badgers and the QPR Tiger Cubs partook of the interval penalty shoot-out. These kids have charity status and are supported by the two clubs. They all had the kit colours, and they were all up for it. Oh yes, they also had Downs Syndrome. What they all got Sunday was the unforgettable experience of bearing down on the Hammy End to have a pop at goal. It ended 4-4. They punched the air and ran the length of the Johnny Haynes Stand to a standing ovation. I bet there were some pretty proud parents in there. You can't bottle an experience like that. Bravo the two clubs for setting it up. Now there's a video clip I'd like to send someone...Carlos Tevez perhaps?
Enjoy the international break, and here's to more points at Stoke and off the Toffees!
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