Lies, damn lies & statistics...

Monday 5 November 2001

Ian McCulloch reporting for Fulham Today...

I read somewhere last week that Fulham have created more clear-cut scoring opportunities than any other team in the Premiership. You can always make stats work in whichever way you want, but it is reassuring for once to see the facts support what you think you're seeing.

In all my years of watching Fulham, the team have never scored the goals their play deserves. Ever. Not even when they were rubbish in the Third Division; because that's the way you see things when you're a football fan.

But this season has been absolutely extraordinary. If The Whites had scored five or six in every game I still don't think that would have done us justice.

There have been some good goalkeeping performances against us, we've hit the wood work a couple of times and we've had bits of bad luck like when the West Ham defender cleared Barry Hayles' shot off the line with his arm. But generally speaking, the main reason we haven't been scoring is because we've been very, very bad in front of goal.

I mentioned Barry Hayles' shot in the last paragraph. There is a possibility I may be had up under the Trades Descriptions Act for that. After some lovely football, Barry found himself one on one with goalkeeper, rounded him brilliantly, and with the open goal gaping at his mercy, somehow contrived to produce the slowest shot on target that has ever been seen in the whole history of football.

With the ball trickling towards the line, it was scheduled to hit the net sometime around Tuesday lunchtime. It still took an illegal arm to prevent the goal, and I can only assume that the referee was laughing too hard to realise he should be awarding a penalty.

And that's been symptomatic of the whole season. There can be absolutely no criticism of the overall play; some of it has been absolutely breathtaking and as good as you're going to get from anybody in the premiership. Until we get near the goal that is, and then suddenly we go all peculiar and the headless chicken syndrome seems to click-in.

The peculiar, and very frustrating, thing of course is that all of our forwards have been affected by the same unpleasant disease at the same time. No question of colleagues concealing other's barren patches by scoring lots of goals themselves, they've all been totally exposed together.

One of the main problems seems to have been that they're all trying to walk the ball into the net and score the "perfect" goal. It's almost as though it's beneath us to try a few "hit and hope" long shots or scramble the ball over the line using unusual parts of the body a la Gordon Davies. We want to stroke it immaculately into the onion bag after dribbling round the whole of the defence twice, and playing countless one-twos with a whole range of back-heels, flicks and fancy-dan tricks. Nothing mundane for the Fulham.

You can't even put the lack of goals down to poor individual performances. All of our forwards have played well. Hayles has been a revelation in his first season in the Premiership, Saha has been doing all his usual brilliant things, Boa Morte has looked dangerous and threatening every time he gets the ball, and Marlet seemed to be settling in nicely with a fine first half performance against Southampton - it was extremely disappointing to hear the news that he will now be out until the new year with his leg injury.

But the number of goal-scoring opportunities shows how well the forwards have really been doing. If they had been off form we wouldn't have had a sniff of a goal, and as it is they've been scaring opposition defences witless. It is just unaccountable why hitting the back of the net hasn't featured as a regular part of their game.

At the Motspur Park training ground a few weeks ago, a notice board was being fixed onto one of the walls in the canteen. Somebody who will remain nameless, famously said that it was for Jean Tigana to put up lots of diagrams. Diagrams of things like Barn Doors, Cow's Backsides...

It may help. But I suspect it won't be necessary for long. Against West Ham, Fulham had dozens of really good chances, and that level of scoring opportunity hasn't wavered since the start of the season. The only thing that you can say with any certainty is that before long, the Fulham forwards are going to start filling their boots, and somebody's going to be in for a right hammering.

With the inspirational Steed Malbranque acting as the spur for his forwards, that could be very soon. Newcastle, be afraid, be very afraid. The stats don't lie.