70th minute: Fulham are leading Arsenal 2-1, Tottenham are beating Birmingham City 1-0, and Everton had Seamus Coleman sent off, giving them a man disadvantage against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
80th minute: Zoltan Gera had been sent off for a stupid tackle, possibly taking a Europa League spot away from Fulham. Tottenham had let up an equalizer. And 7th place Everton had scored a man-down goal and was up 1 on Chelsea.
What a difference 10 minutes makes.
Spurs ended up beating Birmingham City, sending them down. But Arsenal ended up equalizing later, and Everton beat Chelsea, securing 8th place for Fulham instead of tying their best ever finish, and Zoltan Gera may have destroyed the Cottagers’ chances at a Fair Play bid into Europe.
In his last acton in White, Gera slid hard with both spikes up into Thomas Vermaelen, and totally deserved a red card for his actions. Something I mentioned on Twitter is the thought of him doing it on purpose. I don’t believe it at all, but I did want to bring it up as a possibility. Some players as well as Mark Hughes in the past have expressed their displeasure in the thought of a Fair Play bid, and I’m sure it’s somewhat possible that Mark Hughes told Gera to get a red card. Do I believe it? Absolutely not. But a lot of the pieces fit. It happened just 4 minutes after coming on, it wasn’t anywhere close to the ball (Vermaelen had kicked it away a second or so earlier), and coming around all the questions of if people wanted Europe or not, it seems to be plausible. But Gera and Hughes are just not the types of people to do that at all to me, so I don’t believe it.
We’ll find out in a few days if we’re playing in the Europa League or not. Reports are that Blackpool have taken the Fair Play spot from us, but I find it hard to believe since we have better scores than them in all but one category in the table released April 30th. Red and yellow cards are just one of 5 categories. We’ll have to wait and see what UEFA decides. Let’s break today down.
-Andy Johnson: He was really fun to watch, especially in the first 20 minutes or so when everyone else was lollygagging around the pitch. He was lively, and played with a creativity that I frankly haven’t really seen from him before. Loved it.
-The midfield: They played with a lot of action, instead of sitting back, they often attacked the opposition, both when they had the ball and when the Gunners had it. Sidwell got the first goal in a beautiful flash through Szczeney’s legs, Danny Murphy was all over the place even after tweaking his ankle, and Greening didn’t have his Birmingham City magic but still put a few really good balls in the box. Dempsey was a bit invisible the first half but in the 2nd he had a few buildups that could have been better if the through balls were more accurate.
-Bobby Zamora: I think it’s obvious at this point that Fulham are at their best when Zamora is in the lineup. He seemed to get quite stiff towards the middle of the 2nd half, but especially in the 1st hafl and even in the 2nd when he got his goal, he continues to make things happen. He’s a chance creator (assisted Sidwell’s goal) and a chance finisher (headed in the 2nd one). Heck of an asset to have for sure. Just gonna have to get a good attack mate for him in the summer.
I would have included Schwarzer in here, because he played great, and had an incredible save in the first half when it was still 0-0, but the final goal should have been stopped, I believe. He got a hand on it, and tapped it wide, but not wide enough. I think he had enough time that he should have gotten it farther wide. I know some won’t agree with me on that, but I do think he could have gotten it. Otherwise though, he played great.
-Zoltan Gera: 4 minutes, 1 tackle, 1 red card, 1 Europa League bid in danger. What an awful way to end a great run at Craven Cottage.
-Matthew Briggs: The kid actually played well, but at the end he got incredibly tired and was having trouble keeping up with the Gunners attack. This led to the equalizing goal. I’m not going to totally throw him under the bus because another defender played worse, and he was solid for most of the match, but missed a few assignments and in the end had athleticism troubles. I still think he’s going to be solid in the back in a year or two.
-Philippe Senderos: In the match against his old team, Senderos missed a lot of assignments and was most to blame for Arsenal’s first goal. Nobody played horrifically bad, but I would say Senderos played the worst of any of the Fulham members.
Man of the Match: Gonna have to go with Zamora here. He really energizes the club.
So where do we go from here? We’ll just have to wait and see if UEFA gives the Fair Play bid to Blackpool or Fulham. If Blackpool get it, there will be 2 teams in the Championship next year playing in the Europa League.
As far as this season goes, 8th place is certainly an acceptable finish. Fulham finish with 49 points and a +6 goal differential. They finish with 8 wins, 7 draws, and 4 losses at home, and 3 wins, 9 draws, and 7 losses away for a total record of 11-16-11. Given the injuries Mark Hughes had to deal with, he did an excellent job bringing this club up the table from the relegation zone. Here’s what I think we learned about the club:
1) Mark Hughes is the right man for the job. End of story.
2) Bobby Zamora is essential to this club’s success.
3) The club needs a good strike partner for Zamora in the summer and they can really go places.
4) Fulham are based on solid defense and creating lots of chances. They’re not the best finishers (albeit not the worst either), but if you create enough chances one or two are bound to go in.
5) If this summer goes well, I think the club has a legitimate shot to contend for a regular Europa League bid next season.
6) This summer is incredibly important.
Any other things you think that are important that I left out, feel free to leave it in a comment. We’ll go through some more rumors throughout the summer here on the blog, and I’ll be giving you breaking news on Twitter as well as it comes in so make sure to click that follow button!
A little bit of news that I’ll get more into later is John Pantsil is not going to be returning to Craven Cottage as expected. The two sides were clearly at odds but for a bit were thought to be making progress. But Mark Hughes confirmed today Pantsil will be leaving.