Forget slamming open the door, Fulham busted down the door like a SWAT team looking for a tweaked out crackhead with a sawed-off shotgun.
Add that to the fact that QPR got drubbed by Swansea sans Brendan Rogers and Gylfi Sigurddson, and Liverpool were ripped apart by West Brom sans Roy Hodgson, and it was quite a day for Fulham fans. The Whites are now at the top of the table, thanks to a +5 goal differential as well as alphabetical advantage over Swansea.
The Fulham new boys were right in the thick of things. Mladen Petric scored twice (which sounds almost like an afterthought considering how many players had stellar days), Hugo Rodallega definitely would have scored had he not been scythed down for a penalty, and Sascha Riether was just as sharp as any of the defenders in support of the clean sheet. Best part? They didn’t cost a single pound in transfer kitty.
Finally, Alex Kacaniklic bagged his first Fulham first-team goal, a fitting reward for such a promising young kid who just missed a screamer the last time he came so close.
This not only was a massive victory on the pitch, but it gave Fulham fans a respite from the Clint Dempsey madness, something which all of us have been begging for.
Hmm, well this section could probably compete with a Harry Potter novel in size if I had all the time in the world to write, but alas, I do not, so I’ll do my best to pick three. And even though I’m tempted to do so, the three will NOT be 1) the offense 2) the midfield 3) the defense, even though after a performance like this I’m incredibly tempted to do so.
Mladen Petric – I said in the preseason after his flurry of goals that we should expect a nice surprise but not to put too lofty of expectations on the Croatian. While that still holds true, what a nice surprise! I think the best thing Fulham fans can take from this match in terms of Petric – it confirms that he’s clearly a perfect fit for the Premier League style of play. He doesn’t rely on pure strength like Pogrebnyak, and has a good deal more polished ball skills, and is a very well-rounded target man at the point of the attack. I can promise you this, you wouldn’t have EVER seen the Pog pop out a back heel like that to set up Kacaniklic for a goal. He and the rest of the attack sliced up the Norwich defense in a more technical way, a way that you can see lasting a lot longer than Pogrebnyak’s short burst of strength did.
Mahamadou Diarra – The Danny Murphy replacement played exceptionally well in the old captain’s spot. These first few weeks many of the Fulham players are going to be compared to the men whose spots they’re taking, it’s just the way things are going to be. And I can safely say if we see this on a consistent basis from Diarra, Craven Cottage will be able to put Murphy in the past very quickly. He won’t be forgotten, of course not, but moving on is a necessary task, and this kind of rock solid play in the midfield brings back memories, in a good way. By the way, remember when Diarra was bought by Real Madrid for €26 mil? Remember when Martin Jol got him for free? Performances like this bring back memories of the €26 million Diarra. Brilliant.
First half Damien Duff and John Arne Riise – Both men faded quite a bit in the second half, but not for a lack of performance, merely others (such as Alex Kacaniklic and Bryan Ruiz) stepped up to grab the spotlight. However, their first half was something to behold. Riise AGAIN was so incredibly close to a goal when he tried to nutmeg Ruddy, although that turned out to not be such a good idea, as a shot to either side would surely have been his first Fulham goal. But he was so dangerous with his play. He made a few lethal runs down the left side (one of which resulted in that near-goal), and the clean sheet speaks for itself. Finally, the cross to run Duffer through for the first goal was on point, and something we can certainly rely on for this season going forward.
Honorable mention – Bryan Ruiz and Alex Kacaniklic both performed admirably on both ends of a number of attacks (by that I mean they both did the deadly crossing and received it). Moussa Dembele was 70-73 passing (96%).
The bad? That Fulham aren’t alone at the top of the table, although there’s quite a silver a lining to that one as well (High 5 to QPR!). Let’s skip this section, shall we?
Man of the Match:
Martin Jol. This stems from his experimentation last season in his first year with the club. All that mixing and matching has payed off, as he now has found the prime pitch locations for players like Dembele, Diarra, and Ruiz. Now that they will spend a full season in those spots, we’re reaping the rewards in heaps after just the first match. I give all the credit to the gaffer. I’m still nervous about bringing in the players we need to survive a long season, but in the short term, I couldn’t be happier with the man leading the way. Lead on, Jol!
Something to watch:
I was thinking this while writing about Riise’s runs down the left-hand side – Kacaniklic and Riise seem to have a pretty well-developed innate understanding of each other on the left side of the pitch, don’t they? Often when you get an attack-minded defender and a competent winger on the same side it can cause mix-ups on the edge, but Kacaniklic gave way when Riise made runs, and when the youngster was forward the Norweigan knew to stay back. This is something to keep an eye on, and something that will be a massive asset if it continues.
On the beginning of the game:
“It’s a new team. We’ve got new players up front and Bryan Ruiz came back from his injury and played in the hole. I don’t think we started in the way we wanted to but after that slow start we picked up the pace, then we slowed it down again so it wasn’t exactly what we wanted from the start.”
“He wants to move and if you want to move you don’t want to take risks and don’t want to play. It was a very awkward situation for us and for him. He didn’t want to play because of a situation with another club. But what was more awkward is that there is no actual bid or offer from any club. Someone has told him Liverpool want him and his head was turned but for us there was nothing on the table – maybe Clint knows more than us. We feel, and the players feel, he should stay if there is no bid. In a normal world you have to stay where you are because you signed your contract. Hopefully he will play for us again.”
On fans mocking of Dempsey:
“I don’t want to hear the fans were chanting against him because he was a terrific player for us. He was the most productive midfield player in the whole league last season.”
Finally, on others who need to step up in Dempsey’s absence:
“Clint scored 17 league goals last season but he wasn’t there today. It’s not easy for us, it’s not easy for the team but today they showed they can do the business. We were open about it – the other players have to stand up and give a bit more in their productivity and their goals. We’ve always had goals in this team but, before, they never really showed it. Moussa Dembele is a very good player but would only score two or three goals on average, so he should stand up, for example.”
Jol also reiterated his desire to add to the midfield and attack in the market.
Video from FulhamFC.com: (I freakin love this guy’s sincerity and honesty)