The Exile

Monday 30 September 2002

Midway through the first half in Saturday, there was a weird announcement over the public address - something like 'Goodison Security Alert Activate'. It might have been better if we had all left the stadium at the point and abandoned the match at 0-0. As it was, a few minutes later there was another announcement 'Security All Clear'. Nobody had taken any notice anyway, but on the pitch things were not all clear - far from it.

Everton fans are rightly passionate, and it looked on Saturday as if they may have the makings of a decent team to support this season. That said, they were hardly extended by a below-par Fulham performance in which the defence was collectively as shaky as I can remember for a long time.

Steve Finnan made more unforced errors in one game than he normally does in a season, and the general feeling around me was that he perhaps wasn't 100% fit. I except Zat Knight from any criticism - he was superb and took the role of lead partner in central defence after Alain went off injured.

Everton's goals came at the worst time, just when it looked as if we might get through to the break on even terms, with a chance to regroup. The first was simplicity itself - a free-kick out on our left glanced neatly home by Kevin Campbell. Why can't we do that? The second came when Thomas Gravesen was allowed acres of space to stride forward and plant a terrific shot right into the corner, giving Ed no chance.

So in the second half we need a 'Tottenham', but instead the Fulham goal had a whole series of what looked like miraculous escapes. Everton hit the woodwork three times, missed open goals, there were scrambled clearances and Ed made several excellent saves, one while sitting down from the previous block.

At the other end, however, our attacks melted like summer snow when we hit a solid Everton rearguard in which new signing Joseph Yobo looked impressive. We got to the edge of the penalty area but no further, and any shots we had were either straight at Richard Wright or off target altogether.

Middlesbrough taught us never to give up hope (as if we would), but the last-minute excitement this time came not from Fulham goals but from an unseemly bout of handbagging involving most of the players on the pitch. I never understand why players totally uninvolved in an incident feel the need to run 40 yards to join in. It only leads to trouble.

A year ago at the Cottage a similar scuffle led to David Weir and Luis Boa Morte being sent off. This time referee Steve Dunn chose to stand back and let the dust settle before booking Andy Melville (pick any one from 16, maybe?). It was all rather unedifying and did nothing to help my mood as I left for home.



It's a long drive back from Liverpool to Glasgow when you've lost, and my disappointment turned (briefly and uncharacteristically) to anger when a stroppy woman in a filling station in Aintree refused to accept my Scottish £20 note in payment. She should know they are perfectly legal tender in England.

If only Leggy or Barry had taken one of the pair of chances that came our way early on after a great pass from Ina, things might have been so different. As it was, the three members of the JIFC sitting in front of me only had 55 minutes to watch their hero before he was subbed.

The young Japanese lady was asking us what the words were to the songs we were singing, but even when we told her I'm not sure she fully understood! Nonetheless, they are all very welcome to the Fulham family. They had the unusual sight of a midfield battle between Japanese (Ina) and Chinese (Li Tie) players, illustrating the multinational nature of the Premiership these days. Our best outfield player (Zat) was however English - food for thought?

There will need to be a substantial improvement for Thursday evening. I am flying down for the game and expecting us to cruise through into Round 2 of the Uefa Cup. We need to get back on the goal trail after two blanks. I have no criticism of the strikers' workrate, which is excellent, but the end product is just not there at present.

Our European progress is great, but at the moment, frankly, I am more interested in achieving settled league form, and I see next Sunday's game against Charlton as a 'must win'. Our next 3 Prem games are all at home, and we need 7 points from them to keep challenging for a top-6 place.

In terms of Sunday's game, Thursday's result is also important, as a win (or at least getting through) would lift the confidence again. Charlton are not playing well and it's a game we should win (but then I thought that about Everton). An odd stat is that all Charlton's 7 points have come away from home.

It is frustrating for us as fans when the team don't play well. It must be even more frustrating for the manager and coaches - and of course for the players themselves. Perhaps that's why some of them drifted off at the end of the match. Thanks then to Sylvain Legwinski who took the time to run over and give us a clap. We do appreciate it.

Let's hope Saturday was just a blip and that come Thursday we'll be right back on song. I'm looking forward to my first visit to Loftus Road for what should be a great night - given the right result, of course!

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