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Fulham 2-1 Newcastle: first win since October provides hope

A much-needed win at the fortress of Craven Cottage provides 3 points for Fulham to take on the “road” across town to QPR.  Meanwhile, Newcastle’s form continues to dip, with 1 win in their last 10 matches, including staying winless on the road this year. A very exciting end-to-end match featured tons of chances, and [...]

ANALYST
Feature 11 Dec 2012, 03:43 IST
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Steve Sidwell gets appreciation from his teammates after netting his first-half goal to put Fulham up 1-0.

A much-needed win at the fortress of Craven Cottage provided 3 points for Fulham to take on the “road” across town to QPR.  Meanwhile, Newcastle’s form continues to dip, with 1 win in their last 10 matches, including staying winless on the road this year.

A very exciting end-to-end match featured tons of chances, and while many went wasted by both sides, two moments of brilliance were enough to put Martin Jol’s side through for the win.

You have to look back to October 20th to find Fulham’s last win, and their 2 scores snapped a goalless streak that hit 317 minutes (3 matches plus some) before Steve Sidwell banged in his 4th goal of the season.

The midfield was strong, the attack was bright and creative despite the absence of Bryan Ruiz (which is promising given he’ll be out until January), and the defense was its usual porous but didn’t break save but once on a stunner from Hatem Ben Arfa that probably took a slight deflection as well.

Man of the Match:

Hugo Rodallega – I tweeted before the match that, while I recognized the fact that Rodallega has played more recently, I felt Mladen Petric up front would give us the best chance to win today.  I was obviously wrong.  It can’t be understated how important the relationship he has developed with Dimitar Berbatov is to the end product.  While I still think Petric is still a better ballhawk and finisher (what a blast from him today, missed the top corner by millimeters), Rodallega’s ability to cut and find space and strength in the air gave Newcastle all kinds of problems today.  Berbatov had a down day (more on that in a bit) and Hugo picked up the slack and more. Rodallega’s one mistake was somewhat obvious, he embarassingly dived after getting caught from behind in a 1-on-1 chance, but that doesn’t diminish how cutting he was today.

The good:

Sascha Riether – Riether continues to impress down the right-hand side, which is where the attack seemed to develop for the most part, especially early in the game.  Riether works incredibly hard, with the best example on a huge chance at the end of the first half when he streaked down the pitch untouched and took a touch from Duff before crossing to Berbatov in the box. He’s solid in defense as well, masterfully clearing off the line to deny Coloccini a powerful header in the top left corner.

Damien Duff – Duff’s been down the last few matches, being relegated to the bench at times, and often disappearing at others, with his usual pinpoint accuracy turning to limp, unstinging balls across the box.  Today, however, he was on point, picking up 2 assists and providing both long, dangerous crosses and short, cutting touches.  His free kick in the 2nd half found Rodallega’s head perfectly; it put Hugo in perfect position to redirect it into the back of the net.  Duffer’s going to need to continue this great form, as Fulham are quite thin both in the middle and on the edges.

Steve Sidwell – Ginger Iniesta’s reinvention of his game has given Fulham a MASSIVE boost, and given all the injuries and departures in the transfer window, an argument could certainly be made for midseason MVP of the club.  He’s turned from a conventional midfielder to something of a Danny Murphy clone.  He can score, but more importantly he provides power and strength in the midfield.  What a long way Sidwell has come from his dark days at Aston Villa.  While he’s not without his faults, it seems every time he gives the ball away he works his darndest to get it back, and his stamina is second to none.

The bad:

Alex Kacaniklic – The young Swede has shown so much promise so far at Craven Cottage, but recently he’s been very poor on the ball, and it’s starting to become a little troubling.  Martin Jol obviously has faith he’ll turn it around, as shown by the amount of runouts he’s getting, but his first touch especially hasn’t been anything to praise, and often results in giving the ball away.  He hasn’t found as much space recently either. I think he’ll turn it around, but it remains to be seen how much leeway he’ll get from Jol with Dejagah playing pretty well off the bench.

John Arne Riise – His defense was solid, but he was nonexistent in the attack with most of the cutting edge happening down the right edge.  That’s not entirely his fault and probably more a product of the gameplan, but I still think his goalless streak with Fulham is starting to get to his head.  He had one shot today, and it was clear over the bar from a long way out, and just the way his demeanor was before, during, and after, he seemed frustrated by his lack of scoring.  I hope it doesn’t continue to bother him.  He’s gotta just get back to doing what he does well, rather than trying to be something he’s not anymore.  Goals are nice from defenders, but as Sascha is proving, that’s not their top priority. Riether recently has outplayed Riise by a long ways recently.

Mark Schwarzer – Today was the day we’ve been waiting for for a long time.  Had it not been for the fantastic play of the defense (all 3 of Riether, Hughes, and Hangeland performed spectacularly at the back), this could have been a very bad finish.  Schwarzer has seemed to be losing a touch of his decision-making with every game, and today it was really bad. He also, for the first time, seems to be finally losing a bit of reaction time.  His range is still all there, but I think it’s getting very close to the time to make the permanent switch to David Stockdale.  Schwarzer has been a workhorse, and has given a ton of his career and life to Fulham, and it’s incredibly appreciated. But I think the best interest of the club is to move to the young English talent sooner rather than later.

Dimitar Berbatov – His ball movement and first touch was second to none as always, and a joy to watch.  But his finishing left a lot to be desired, and going forward Fulham are going to need him to finish chances.  Had Newcastle equalized, it would have been even more painful to see a replay of that 1-on-1 chance he blasted straight at Tim Krul (to be fair it was also a great save but he should have done better).  Putting him here was tough since even on an off day he’s one of the best players on the pitch, but he needs to convert those chances if Fulham are going to consistently get points in the future.

888sport.com Lines of the Week Recap:

This week I debuted the sponsored segment 888sport.com Lines of the Week.  So how’d I do if I was a betting man? (For the record I’m not, it’s a touch illegal here in the States).

Dimitar Berbatov to score anytime: 5/4
I lost here, but not for a lack of trying.  That 1v1 chance he blew would have made me furious had I put money on this.

Hatem Ben Arfa to score anytime: 4/1
Bang. Off the deflection.

Half with the most goals – 2nd: evens
2-for-3, I’ll take it to the bank. Thanks for playing!

What now? 

This can’t end. The club can’t take its 1 win, put it in the bank, and start over.  There were some issues today, but overall a lot of positives to build on and bring to Loftus Road.  Anything but a win there is a bit of a disappointment, and it would certainly be painful to be QPR’s first win of the season. Good win today! Time to beat the ambitious ones. 

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