One could be forgiven for feeling a little pessimistic upon arrival at The Cottage on Wednesday evening. Fulham have won just 1 of the last 12 against West Ham in the league and memories of the performance at Upton Park earlier in the season did little to inspire confidence. Following the defeat at Old Trafford and a succession of performances lacking in any real attacking threat, we set up with Saturday’s goalscorer Aaron Hughes on the bench and Senderos preferred alongside Hangeland in what we can only presume was an attempt to counteract the aerial threat of Carroll & Carlton Cole. Having caused us so many problems back in August I don’t think I would be wrong in saying that most of us were relieved to hear that Allardyce had decided to go with Chamakh from the start. More significantly for Fulham, Rodallega started in support of Berbatov with Ruiz pushed back into midfield. New signing Emmanuel Frimpong was named as a substitute alongside long-term absentee Simon Davies.
Craven Cottage has not been the fortress we are used to this season and our East London neighbours seemed in a particularly confident mood in the build up to the fixture. According to the ever popular Mark Lawrenson “Fulham have become Easy to beat” but what became immediately apparent in the first few minutes on Wednesday was that with Rodallega sitting on the last defender and giving Fulham a much needed out ball, we actually looked fairly competent on the break. We are used to seeing Berbatov & Ruiz play up top only to spend most of the game in and around the centre circle, forcing the likes of Sidwell and Karagounis to play short give and go passes without actually gaining any ground in the process. Hugo’s advanced position encouraged Berbatov to hold a higher line and in turn created some much needed space between our midfield and forwards.
In what perhaps seemed something of a novelty to Fulham fans of late, a Damien Duff free kick on 10 minutes saw no less than 3 different men in white shirts attack the ball with Berbatov stealing in at the back post to give us an early lead, despite perhaps appearing to be offside when the ball was played. A few sheepish looks at the referee’s assistant followed before celebrating his birthday goal.
A positive start had the Hammersmith in fine voice but what followed was a period of West Ham pressure mainly through Matt Jarvis on the left although Riether did well to limit the supply to Chamakh and Nolan. We offered the occasional threat including a solo effort from Berbatov and the tireless running of Rodallega with his willingness not to drop to deep meant that our counter attacking game for once was relatively effective. I don’t think it is harsh to say that Rodallega is not a natural forward but the fact that he was willing to be so direct and provide an option for the midfield really made the difference tonight. On a number of occasions this season we have cursed his name for seemingly wanting to shoot from everywhere but given our lack of efforts in recent games, tonight he was a breath of fresh air.
One of the most frustrating things about Fulham recently has been Bryan Ruiz. He is capable of moments of brilliance like the ball played to Rodallega in the final few minutes of the first half but consistently finds himself caught in possession. He was not helped by the performance of Mohamed Diame who was without doubt our visitors man of the match. On the day before the transfer window closes he produced a “come and get me” performance reminiscent of what we saw from Dembele at Old Trafford in August. The fact that we still found ourselves 1-0 up at the break was testament to the work rate and tackling of Sidwell and Karagounis.
At the weekend I remarked that one of the most painful times for any Fulham fan is the first 10 minutes after half time. It seems to be a period where we are mentally still in the changing rooms and regularly cost us goals. On Saturday we were 3-0 down and effectively out of the cup! Tonight we lasted just the 2 minutes before Nolan equalised. Berbatov seemed to have his mind on other things, perhaps the post match cigar and a slice of birthday cake.
This however was a different Fulham team , We showed the ability to bypass the midfield and move forward with pace. We went straight up the other end and restored the one goal lead. Rodallega getting the reward for his hard work on the end of another fantastic Duff delivery.
The introduction of Cole & Carroll saw Hangeland & Senderos deal with everything West Ham threw at us. The latter is not always the most popular addition to the first team amongst fans and despite a few hesitations and slip-ups it would be fair to say that it was certainly one of his better performances. Riise looked solid following his return to the team and as already mentioned, Riether justified why we should be looking to make the move a permanent one as soon as possible.
In the same way that the introduction of Baird seemed to invite pressure, the substitution that saw Dejagah replace Ruiz changed the balance in our favour. Dejagah was influential in the creation of the third goal showing intelligence to hold the ball in the corner before laying it off.
By no means was the performance anything to write home about, we spent a lot of time on the back foot with significantly less possession than we achieved against both Manchester clubs. The times we did have the ball though saw us get it forward quickly, run at defenders and generally take a more direct route to goal. Duff provided a touch of quality with both assists but the performance of Rodallega was the match winner. Ironically it was he who seemed to bring Berbatov in to the game.
Unless we are unbelievably “inventive” in the last day of the transfer window I wouldn’t expect too much from Saturday. We are all hoping for a few new additions but at least tonight we showed that we are not “easy to beat” and are guaranteed not to be last on MOTD on Saturday.