The Exile

Monday 2 September 2002

I woke at 3am on Sunday, unable to get the West Brom score out of my head. I know this is silly. As fans, we can't directly influence the result, but it still hurts, and I would do anything to change that scoreline and not have to keep staring at it in the Sunday paper.

And at the league table. If we had won at West Brom we would be 3rd. Instead, after Monday's match we could be 15th. Things can change very quickly this early in the season, and it's a pity we don't have a midweek match to get straight back into winning ways.

The West Brom result was a disappointment on several fronts. Firstly, I think most of us felt it was a game we should get something from. Secondly, after the euphoria of Tuesday night and the excitement of the Uefa Cup draw, we hoped the team would be on a high. Instead they seemed, from the reports I've read, to be playing below par. Thirdly, we had begun (as two seasons ago) to get used to not losing! And fourthly, of course, we failed to score for the first time since the hone game against Haka at the beginning of July.

There's the crux of the problem, neatly encapsulated in Saturday's scoreline. Look at the stats. In 11 games this season we have scored 17 goals. Discount the two penalties, and the other 15 have come 10 from midfielders and only 5 from strikers (Marlet 2, Saha, Hayles and Sava one each). Over 11 matches that is simply not a good enough return.

In 3 Premiership matches, the only goal scored by a striker from open play was Fancy Sava's magical equaliser at Boro. With the transfer window closed, we have to rely on the strikers we've got, and I saw the game at The Hawthorns, against a defence which had conceded 9 in 3 games, as a chance for one of them to make a mark.

But it is only one defeat, and we do have that game in hand. Our next league game is against the team currently topping the table, Tottenham. They beat us 3 times last season so it's more than time we turned them over.

I've never looked closely at the Uefa Cup competition before. It's a massive, sprawling affair involving nearly 150 teams from a vast range of countries, with 'Europe' being generously interpreted to include the likes of Turkey, Israel and Moldova. Eight of the teams don't yet know they're in this Cup, nor do they want to be (the 8 who finish 3rd in their groups after the first stage of the Champions League).

At present there are 96 teams involved. That comes down through two rounds to 24, then the 8 join to put it up to 32 for the final 5 stages. Got all that?

The draw has worked out ok for us, I think. After the away game we have 4 days before playing Chelsea - who are also involved in the Uefa Cup, though at home. The gap between the home leg and the Charlton match is the same as a normal Saturday-Tuesday break. It will, oddly, be Andy Melville's second trip to Croatia in a month, as he was there with Wales very recently.

I've had a couple of very interesting emails from a Man Utd fan living in Malta. Peter generously wrote to compliment us on beating Bologna. He follows Italian football and says the Bologna team were desperate to win the tie. He also thinks we can beat Hajduk Split, who are not the force they once were, it seems. Let us hope he is right.

The Italian sports press, Peter says, gave us much praise, and even the Bologna coach, Guidolin, admitted we were much the better team. All the more puzzling, then, that we bounce straight off that superb performance to lose to West Brom...

I've also had emails from Split. My contact there follows Fulham partly because, it seems, both teams play in white, so the away leg will see us in our new strip. He kindly says he is happy to help Fulham fans travelling to Croatia with any information, etc. If you want to take this up, his name is Zdeslav Misurac and he is at zdeslav.misurac@st.hinet.hr

Am I the only one to perceive a bias against Fulham in the 'quality' papers? I was amazed to buy The Times on Wednesday morning and find not one line about our game. OK, it was a Scottish edition, but there was huge coverage of Man U beating Hungarian no-hopers, full reports on the Arsenal and Spurs league games, and even a report on Palace's boring 0-0 draw! I emailed the paper to complain, but have had no response.

It's going to be a long 10 days waiting for Fulham's next match. Players will be jetting off for internationals, but I hope before they do they and the coaches can have a long, cold look at Saturday's game to try to analyse what went wrong. We are better than that score would suggest.
One thing did break the gloom while I was watching Sky Sports on Saturday afternoon, desperately hoping for news of a Fulham equaliser. They went over to Bradford for news of the home team's 3rd goal against Rotherham. It was a 20-yard screamer from...Gus Uhlenbeek! Now there's a man who always plays with a smile on his face. There was also a rare goal for Danny Cullip, little consolation as Brighton lost to Portsmouth, who are looking increasingly like a shrewdly assembled promotion outfit.

A last thought from Saturday. Has Steve Finnan ever been booked 3 games in a row before? Is he turning into the Roy Keane of Fulham? Please don't tell me he's writing a book!
I hope tonight I can forget the game at The Hawthorns and dream instead of our next hat-trick. Junichi's was the first, I think, since Bazza's treble against Watford on Boxing Day 2000. Another performance like that from a striker against Spurs would be just the job.

Roger is always pleased to hear from other fans. You can contact him at roger@smithwalk.demon.co.uk