I always look forward to our visit to the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, and the home of the oldest professional club in London, Craven Cottage. Set on the banks of the River Thames, it hardly seems to have changed in outward appearance since we first visited the ground way back when, days when the Cottagers were well served by the likes of George Cohen and Mr. Fulham himself, Johnny Haynes. The old Stevenage Road Stand was actually re-named in Haynes’ honour after his untimely death in a car crash back in 2005.
We’d left Brummagem in the early hours, well just after 6.00 a.m. to be exact, Deep Purple doing their level best to keep us awake as we headed south (‘Deep Purple in Rock’ really is an exceptional album), the early departure needed because a visit to Fulham F.C. is not complete without stopping off in Twickenham, to spend a couple of hours or so with a long time friend, a Fulham season-ticket holder, and his family. Surprisingly, he wasn’t overly optimistic as to Fulham’s chances against us, although he wouldn’t go so far as predicting a Villa victory. ‘You’ll get a point’ he grudgingly conceded. ‘Watch out for Damian Duff’ he added, saying that at times he was still more than capable of splitting open a defence with just a twist and turn. That’s all we wanted to hear.
Anyway, after enjoying some varied and interesting conversation, some very welcome and much needed hot beverages, and an excellent late breakfast/early lunch, we bid our farewells, and headed off to Craven Cottage.
As was to be expected, there were several Villans in evidence, all in seemingly good voice, and here we were still a couple of hours away from the kick off.
We made our way into one of the local watering houses, and hadn’t got as far as ordering our refreshment of choice, when we were asked, and not for the last time before we departed the pub, ‘Got any spare Wembley tickets mate’?
It was certainly bitter cold as we made our way from the public house to the ground, but you couldn’t help but be cheered by the volume of noise coming from the traveling Villans. They were certainly in good voice, letting the world know that they’d shortly be making a trip to a place called Wemberley, wherever, whatever that may be.
As expected Martin had named an unchanged starting eleven from the side that had kicked-off against the Arsenal on Wednesday evening, meaning that our line up was as follows:-
Brad Friedel, Carlos Cuellar, James Collins, Richard Dunne, Luke Young, Stewart Downing, James Milner, Stan Petrov, Ashley Young, Emile Heskey, Gabby Agbonlahor.
Subs: Brad Guzan, Nathan Delfouneso, Curtis Davies, Fabian Delph, Habib Beye Nicky Shorey, and Steve Sidwell
I have to say that once again our lot looked resplendent in their claret and blue, Brad stealing the show though in his canary yellow outfit, and we set the game in motion attacking The Hammy End, Fulham’s very poor equivalent of our Holte End.
It was a lively opening from both sides, the quality of football suggesting that this probably wouldn’t be the bore fest that many had suggested it might be. We certainly looked bright and inventive. Our approach play was neat, with not a hint of us being this long ball side as suggested by a certain Frenchman who shall remain nameless, but in truth there wasn’t really that cutting edge that was needed to open up the hosts defense.
As the half progressed we certainly enjoyed the bulk of the possession, dominating the midfield, while looking extremely comfortable at the back.
Our first real shot on target was an Ashley Young effort around the twenty-five minute mark, Schwarzer easily gathering the ball.
We were certainly gaining the upper hand, and a Luke Young header brought a decent save out of the Fulham keeper, while moments later Stiliyan Petrov wasted a very opportunity to put us ahead, shooting over the top when very well placed at the corner of the six yard box. Stan claimed that the effort had taken a deflection, but the ref was having none of it and pointed for a goal kick. A wasted opportunity. Looked a glorious chance from where we were.
Up at our end, the rejuvenated Bobby Zamora got onto the end of a long ball, but with Carlos Cuellar breathing down his neck he fired over Brad Friedel’s crossbar. Somewhat surprisingly on this occasion though, the official ruled that the ball had taken a deflection off of Carlos, and so awarded a corner.
As half-time approached the traveling Villans behind Brad’s goal were starting to get a little restless. This game looked to be there for the taking. Fulham looked lack-lustre and short on ideas, hard to believe that they had thumped Manchester United here, back in December.
Finally though on the forty minute mark we took the lead, fully deserved on the evidence of the opening forty minutes.
Following a mix-up between Schwarzer and Hangeland, we won a throw out on the right hand side, a throw that was quickly taken by Carlos Cuellar. He found the unmarked Stan Petrov, who unchallenged swung in a peach of a cross. Gabby got in front of Manchester United’s latest capture Chris Smalling, and headed home. Schwarzer got his hands to the ball, maybe even should have saved the effort. Who cares? 1-0 up, time to dance about in celebration, get the blood flowing again to warm us up, and exercise the vocal chords with a rendition of the Gabby Agbonlahor song.
We didn’t have too long to wait, three minutes at the most, before Gabby struck again. He collected a pass from our heavily bearded Spaniard, turned Hangeland as if he wasn’t there, and curled a left footed beauty past the home keeper. 2-0 to the good guys from Brummagem B6.
The second half was something of a non-event as far as we were concerned. Fulham dominated possession with Murphy pushing forward and orchestrating most of their moves, but in truth they never threatened. Richard Dunne and James Collins were superb in the middle, winning virtually every ball swung or played into our area.
They did manage to breach our defense around the seventy-five minute mark, their substitute Elm beating Brad Friedel with a neat left foot volley, but the linesman had his flag raised and the effort was ruled out. Leaving the ground the home fans were somewhat angered, believing that their guy was in fact level with our last defender, and that the goal should have stood. Couldn’t tell from up our end, but the linesman certainly raised his flag immediately. He had no doubts.
As an attacking force in the second half we were completely impotent, which was something of a disappointment. We never threatened to add to our lead, and in truth Fulham dominated possession throughout the second forty-five, just as we had held the upper hand in the first half.
A well deserved win though, plenty of good individual performances, and as a team we worked hard and gave our all. Good to see Gabby net his first goals since his winner at Old Trafford, while at the heart of our defense, Richard Dunne and James Collins were immense.
Right, here we go with my marks out of ten for today’s claret and blue heroes, and until the next time, it’s a cheerio from a relatively pleased Glensider. Have a great week all, and don’t forget to do yourselves a favour and check out that ‘Deep Purple In Rock’ album.
Brad Friedel 6
Had little to do, but looked a little shaky on occasions.
Carlos Cuellar 7
Poor distribution again, really lets him down. Did o.k. though as a makeshift right back.
Richard Dunne 8
As ever, a rock at the back. Won everything there was to win
James Collins 8
Ditto. They really are our best central defensive pairing right now.
Luke Young 7
I prefer him at right full back, but does his job very well on the other flank.
James Milner 6
Some stray passes today. Not James at his best, but always looking for the ball.
Stilyan Petrov 7
That wasted opportunity was his only real blemish in what was an otherwise good performance.
Stewart Downing 6
I rate this guy. Still not yet at the top of his game, but he has such vision.
Ashley Young 7
Good showing from Ash. He was really up for it today.
Emile Heskey 7
Received a booking, but played his part. I’m getting to like Emile.
Gabby Agbonlahor 8
Two goals, the second a superb effort. Gabby for England?