Well that was one of the more overall boring matches of the year, but I don’t think Mark Hughes cares, and quite frankly neither do I. This match was a clear strategy, whether intentional or not, of defend and counter-attack, which doesn’t make for such exciting soccer but it worked out very well for Fulham. Fulham pull out the big win, and while I hate the phrase “3 important points” because let’s be serious, is there such thing as “unimportant points” (unless you are in 1st and mathematically have already won?) these were 3 big points because in such a tight table, this brings us within a point of Bolton at 8th, within 3 of Everton at 7th, and within 8 of Liverpool at 6th (who have yet to play this week). Also, this gets a big monkey off our back, as it’s Fulham’s first away win since Stoke City at the end of December, and those 2 are the only 2 away wins on the season.
Our bitter rival Carlo Ancelotti, after his controversial win over Spurs, had a gem of a quote that I believe sums up this match for Fulham extremely well. He said:
“A top club is more than 11 players.”
I think Mark Hughes absolutely buys into the same belief, and is one of the reasons he’s making a last ditch effort to keep Zoltan Gera at Craven Cottage. Well, guess who scored for us today? One by Gael Kakuta, and two (well, technically 1 but I’m calling it 2) by Simon Davies, 2 guys who have rode the bench for much of 2011.
The match was great from the start, with a brilliant lineup giving Davies, Kakuta, Gudjohnsen, and Senderos a chance to shine while giving Dempsey, Hangeland, and Duff much needed rests. And it only got better.
-Simon Davies: Guy has been overshadowed the last 2 matches where he’s started both. First, he was overshadowed by the baffling benching of Zamora, and then he was overshadowed by a superb Clint Dempsey. Today was his day. His passing was perfectly on target, he had a few money crosses, and his defense wasn’t anything to scoff at either. He’s been stellar in the last 3 matches, and I think we can officially say Fulham has a logjam at midfield. Duff and Dempsey got the day off, but besides those 2, Murphy, and Sidwell who usually start, add Davies to the mix of guys who all deserve to start. Go back to Carlo’s quote!
-Mark Schwarzer: While he wasn’t really worked too many times, the few he was were great stops by him, with one beautiful stop to each side. He earned the clean sheet for sure.
-Gael Kakuta: Gotta give him some lovin here. He wasn’t mind-blowing by any means, but his goal deserves mention, it was a great job beating the defender.
-Eidur Gudjohnsen: He was off-target all day, missing crosses and, in one horrible passing instance, completely blew a two-on-one chance when the match was still 0-0, sailing the ball over Zamora’s head. He has gotten 3 chances to show he’s worth something to the team, and he hasn’t done so in my opinion. Don’t forget, he has all of 1 goal in his last 50 appearances…
That’s all I really have in the bad section. The defense should get credit too, because they kept Sunderland from taking many chances at all, but part of that was also due to the fact that Sunderland had zero strikers, and it really showed. The midfielders up front for them seemed really out of place, and made a few moves that trained strikers would have probably done a lot better.
Man of the Match: Simon Davies. Like I said before, he’s been very good, but this was his official coming out party.
Moving forward, we have Liverpool at home next, and while we’ll have to play our best, we are certainly capable of taking a point from that match, if not 3. Then, we have an extremely winnable match at Birmingham City, and another winnable match at home vs. Arsenal in the finale. Arsenal won’t be really playing for much, and they’ve sucked at best recently anyways, so while I don’t think it will happen, it’s certainly not out of the realm of possiblities. Liverpool is next Monday so this gives a little more time for guys like Duff to get healthy.
Here’s some postgame from Mark Hughes:
“I wasn’t too happy with the first-half performance. We were 1-0 to the good but we understood we needed to play better in the second half to ensure we took the game away from Sunderland. Thankfully we did and we saw the game out very comfortably. Obviously the second goal was key from our point of view and I never felt under pressure that we were going to lose the game.”
“We haven’t had that many wins on the road and sometimes you can be a little bit apprehensive and try to protect what you’ve got and that can lead to a problem but we didn’t really demonstrate any tension in our second-half performance.”
“It was difficult for Sunderland, obviously they have got injuries and are struggling for strikers themselves. But even so, the way we played today, certainly in the second half, we would have gone away with the win.”