Harley exclusive

Monday 4 February 2002

Another Fulham Today exclusive from Ian McCulloch...

At a dull and grey Craven Cottage on Saturday, Fulham and Aston Villa contrived to put together a game that exactly matched the elements. In front of a crowd who became more subdued as the game wore on, and on a pitch that was patched in parts but still puddingy, much was promised but little transpired.

This was the second goalless draw that Villa have ground out since their former manager John Gregory resigned, but on their first half performance they should have been out of sight by the break, their profligacy in front of goal looking strangely familiar. Vassell and Boateng in particular looked very impressive as Villa demonstrated their Premiership pedigree.

Fulham showed character to come back in the second half and had the bulk of the play and possession without ever looking entirely convincing Several clear-cut opportunities were carved out and missed as the Whites took the game to their opponents.

After the game, left back Jon Harley was to be seen clutching an oversize bottle of champagne, his reward for being voted the sponsor's Man of the Match. Making a rare but welcome appearance in the First Team, Jon was clearly delighted to have had a run out. Pleased as he was to have been part of one of the Division's meanest defences as they tucked another clean sheet under their belts, he was still able to give an honest appraisal of the team's performance.

"The first half wasn't great," he said, "We improved in the second half but we just couldn't put the ball away. Obviously to win games you've got to do that, and it's something we've struggled with all season really.

"First half we tried playing 4-3-3 in an attacking formation, but it wasn't really working for us, so we changed to the usual 4-4-2 in the second half. It was better, but as I say, we just can't seem to score the goals that matter."

Barry Hayles had the best of the chances, but towards the end of the game Harley clearly had his sights set on a moment of glory, but saw his long range shot slice horribly wide.

"We had a few good chances and a few people were guilty of some misses. I was one of them unfortunately; what a terrible shot that was!" he laughed, "But it's something that's not quite going for us at the moment and everyone's working very hard to change that.

"I don't think confidence is lacking in the squad, I just think things are just not quite running for us at the moment. But there's no doubt that we'll turn things round."

The young defender was typically unassuming, as he spoke about himself and winning the Man of the Match award.

"I'm not sure who picked it, perhaps Stevie Wonder was at the game!" he joked, "But I'm happy, it was my first game for quite a while. I was reasonably pleased with my performance although I know there is still a lot more to come."

Did he feel that he had done enough to stay in the side?

"You'll have to ask the manager that one! Rufus has been on fire all season - all I can hope is that I'm creating a problem for the manager. I can play on the left of midfield and I have played there; I prefer left back, but to be honest I will play wherever I'm put at the moment, just to get a game."

With Rufus Brevett available again after his one-match suspension, manager Jean Tigana will have a difficult decision to make on Saturday with two in-form players vying for the same position. I suspect he wishes he had the same problems up front.