Tuesday, 20 October 2009

09: Fulham 2 - 0 Hull City - 19/10/2009

As directionless and as negative as Hull City have been in years, and the manager and team should hang their heads in shame. After such a long break provided an excellent opportunity to get things right, it was a display to make the hardline supporter who eschewed the television cameras to be there feel sick to the stomach.

Phil Brown has to explain away this one. He only made one change from the victory over Wigan Athletic 16 days previously - the not-so-shocking news that much-trumpeted captain-at-large Nick Barmby is injured again - and yet altered the attitude and fabled gameplan completely from that vibrant performance.

Kamel Ghilas
, a player who should never be dropped or substituted but usually suffers one or the other each game, started in Barmby's place but the 4-5-1 formation was stifled by little desire from the midfield to get forward and support Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, a player who needed all the back-up he could get via his own personal immobility.

Ghilas and Geovanni constantly roamed the field with the ball but found themselves often heading sideways or backwards with little opportunity to create or penetrate, while at the back it was meltdown, thanks to another awful exhibition of panic from Ibrahima Sonko and, sadly to relate, a performance which threw a flailing Andy Dawson back to his days in the lower divisions as Damien Duff tore him to bits.

The first half was wholly featureless affair, with Geovanni swirling a shot over the bar from a distance too ludicrous for even the Brazilian (but notably because he had no other options) and a mixture of warm adulatory applause for Jimmy Bullard from one corner as he warmed up, set against a spot of isolated barracking from the adjacent stand of Fulham fans. At least he was there, and at least he could be utilised.

Diomansy Kamara made a chance for summer City target Bobby Zamora with a swerving cross that the industrious striker poked over the bar from an offside position, but it was evident Fulham were picking up the pace of a game only remarkable for its listlessness. Boaz Myhill had to save well from Duff's near post strike before Sonko steered it clear as the same player hovered for a rebound.

Duff, the most dangerous player on the park as the half wore on, made room for another drive which Dawson managed to block, and then Stephen Hunt got in the way of Zamora's header from the resulting corner. Decent chances for Fulham, and expectations lowered of City's hope to reach the half time tunnel level pegging.

The breakthrough came a couple of minutes before the break when again Duff had room to unleash a drive which Myhill beat out, only for Zamora - a yard offside upon Duff making contact - to nod the rebound expertly past the prostrate keeper and in at the near post. The offside wasn't given though it was evidently very tight, and while City deserved to be protected by the laws, they also certainly deserved to be behind.

So, a goal adrift as the players trooped away for a breather, and the chance to change the outlook and make players press and pass and look forwards, use the width of the pitch and the pace of Ghilas.

Not a bit of it.

One chance for City in the opening 15 minutes came when Paul McShane crossed for Hunt to size up a decent opening, but as it was on his weak right foot - not weaker right foot, just weak - he sliced and spooned it more horribly than anyone could have believed of any professional footballer. The ability to kick the ball with both feet - especially if you're left-footed - remains more of a premium among well-paid footballers than ever, it seems. Hunt should be mortified at such incompetence.

City embarked on a briefly exciting counter attack involving Ghilas, McShane and Dean Marney which forced a corner, and then another, and then another. Three in a row and all three dealt with by the Fulham defence from Hunt's supine delivery. Time for a change...

Bullard was introduced just before the hour for Ghilas - correct in the choice of substitute, beyond incorrect in the choice of player to withdraw - and while the catcalls of some areas of west London still rang in his ears upon the announcement of his entry, Kamara barged harshly into him the moment he took his first touch. It was inevitable that Bullard would get some rough treatment from his old comrades but one shoulder bash ultimately seemed to be it.

Within five minutes of his game-saving introduction, however, the script was conclusively shredded when Zamora broke the offside trap and crossed low and beyond the exposed Myhill for Kamara to slide a simple shot into the empty goal. It was far, far too simple.

Fulham could have had more. Clint Dempsey lashed a low drive inches wide and Kamara and Zamora both went close, with Myhill saving one good volley from the latter after more fine work from the resourceful Duff. A score of 4-0 or beyond would have flattered Fulham for their own attacking instincts but City were so pessimistic in their play that it would have been deserved just to remind them that winning games is impossible unless you attack once in a while.

Jozy Altidore, a young player with already a fair few doubters among the Tiger Nation, got 20 minutes in place of the execrable Hunt but didn't use his bulk to win a single high ball against the towering, beyond dominant Brede Hangeland. That said, he did make a reasonable opening for himself late on when the ball was allowed to bounce, but his swivelling, hooked shot went slightly too high.

Brown slung on Bernard Mendy for the tired and tiresome Vennegoor of Hesselink but every gesture, every attempt to alter things was little more than tokenism within a performance which stank the whole of the capital city and made a fair few living rooms pong too. The final whistle came as a relief that the scoreline wasn't greater, given that City already have the worst goal difference in the division by some distance.

Many cut Brown the slack they feel he deserves, this blog included, because of past glories (a naive viewpoint, despite what the chairman says, but understandable the viewpoint nonetheless is) and a sense of unrealistic ambition regarding City's Premier League future from those who feel the manager has bitten off too much. Ultimately it isn't asking the earth for the team to compete, be positive and creative and react in the right way to games where three points are deemed very much accessible. At Craven Cottage it was a chance staring City right in the face and the manager's obsession with cautionary football ruined it entirely.

We need to be all guns blazing when the hapless Portsmouth visit this weekend, but right now if anyone is going to cure them of their haplessness it looks like being the Tigers, and a defeat of any kind will be utterly inexcusable.

Fulham: Schwarzer, Baird, Hangeland, Pantsil, Konchesky, Hughes, Murphy (Greening 60), Dempsey, Duff (Gera 84), Kamara (Nevland 87), Zamora. Subs not used: Zuberbuhler, Kelly, Smalling, Riise.

Hull City: Myhill, McShane, Sonko, Kilbane, Dawson, Zayatte, Marney, Hunt (Altidore 69), Ghilas (Bullard 58), Geovanni, Vennegoor of Hesselink (Mendy 80). Subs not used: Warner, Mouyokolo, Olofinjana, Halmosi.