White's Van Man

Tuesday 4 December 2001

From Fulham Today's Ian McCulloch

The hardest thing for a goalkeeper must be keeping awake and focused in a game where there isn't a great deal to do. When that game is against a team like Leeds with forwards of the quality of Fowler, Viduka and Kewell capable of producing strikes out of nowhere, concentration is even more critical.

For the first thirty minutes of the second-half on Sunday, Fulham had their exalted opponents on the back foot and rattled with goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar becoming a virtual spectator. It was only towards the end of the game when legs began to tire, that Leeds came back more into it, and van der Sar had to show his mettle with saves from Fowler and Smith and then a fine instinctive stop with his foot from a Robby Fowler shot that could easily have sneaked in through a morass of players in the box.

The big Dutch international, speaking after the match, was clearly pleased with the way things are going.

"We played very well. We were much better than them, and kept them under pressure for the whole game. For a period of perhaps five or ten minutes they came out a little bit more, but I think for the majority of the game we were the better team, and the more aggressive one.

"Defensively we were good. We didn't give much away, just restricted them to a few shots. We are very pleased with the performance of the team and we hope to carry on like this and to get the points from some of the teams that we should be beating. Against the bigger teams we always play well, and I hope that next week against Everton we can focus in the same way as we did against Leeds, and get the three points.

"Of course it would be nice if we could convert some more of our chances. We had some shots and one clearance off the line, so perhaps we need to be a bit more aggressive in front of goal."

When there's a big price tag hanging over a player's head, there are sometimes unreasonable expectations from the fans and it can take time for the individual to prove his worth to the supporters. In van der Sar's case, his own play seems to be mirroring that of the team, with things getting better and better every game. He accepts that there has to be a settling-in period, but is happy with his own form and thinks that the Fulham faithful are starting to see just what he can do.

"We're not conceding many goals," he said, "So for a goalkeeper that's always a good thing. I think I'm settling in very well, you have to adjust to things when you first arrive, try to integrate with the team but I think it's ok now, and I think that's the same for the other new players at Fulham.

"We're getting used to each other now. It perhaps takes eight or nine games, but we've now gone six games unbeaten and that speaks for itself. I think it's all looking very good.

"This month of December is going to be very important, but we've started well with this game. It was a good performance; we deserved more than a point. There are hard games to come with Liverpool and Manchester this month, but I am very optimistic that we will do well."

Watching van der Sar commanding his penalty area and dealing effortlessly with everything thrown at him, you can see why he is classed among the world's top keepers. His distribution is also something special. As he casually sprays another seventy-yard pass up to a sprinting Louis Saha you realise Fulham have another potent weapon in their armoury. Things are indeed looking very good.