There’s only one place to start with this week’s column and that’s our victory over Queens Park Rangers in the West London derby. I wasn’t actually working last night for Sky but I went as a fan and really enjoyed it, particularly the first half performance. It was only marred by conceding just before half-time which really made a game of it, but I think that was some of the best football I’ve seen us play this season in the first half – I was really impressed.
It was especially pleasing considering how we played in the 2-1 defeat at their place earlier in the season. I think the boys owed the fans one, more than anything else, because of that performance at Loftus Road, so it was payback time. Like I say, it’s not just the goals in the first half and being 3-0 up at one stage, it was the way we were playing. They were passing the ball and looking really good, and I thought we looked much better than Queens Park Rangers. I thought that Rangers only played well when they had nothing to lose at 3-0 down. At the business stage of the game, Fulham were by far the better team, there’s no doubt about that. And the points total reflects that anyway!
It was of course disappointing to lose Steve Sidwell to a red card though, and I thought he was a little bit unfortunate because he caught the player with his left leg rather than the leg with which he was trying to make the tackle. The thing with Siddy is that he’ll always make the tackle, because he’s not one to pull out. So when that ball just got a yard away from him I was kind of wincing as I was worried that he wasn’t going to get there. But he’s so honest that he’ll want to compete for every ball. I think he was a bit unfortunate but you could see where the referee was coming from because he was lunging, but I would say it was more of a yellow than a red.
That’s five games unbeaten for us now and we’re comfortably in the top half, but it’d be nice to pick off a few more teams and get a little bit higher because although it’s looking quite decent with 39 points on the table, it’d be nice to climb even further. It’s good to see that the boys have performed when they had to. When you need to get results at the end of the season, it’s probably the hardest time to do so, so they’ve done well. I think that’s a sign of the experience within the squad. It was great to see Dimitar Berbatov’s interview after the game when Greg Whelan - who was doing the interviewing – said ‘that’s you probably safe now’ and Dimitar said ‘well we’ve always been safe so there was no panic anyway.’ So I think the message to the fans was ‘keep calm, we weren’t in trouble anyway!’
For every position higher you finish in the league, the greater the financial reward so that can be something to work for between now and the end of the campaign. It also gives fans bragging rights and if you can get more than halfway up the table then that’s a feat in itself. There are some clubs who think they’re ‘bigger’ than Fulham, even though they’re in the lower reaches of the table, and Fulham have been better than them, again. The likes of your Newcastles and Sunderlands – they think that they’re big clubs but Fulham have proved that you don’t need 50,000 through the gate to generate a good atmosphere or to play good football. If you’re not going to win things, which is really difficult these days when you’re competing with all the big clubs up there, I think you’ve got to give the fans entertainment. You want them to see their team play good stuff and that was one of those nights against QPR. The fans got their money’s worth.
Next up is a trip to St James’ Park and if Fulham can play their passing game then I can see us coming away with another three points. Newcastle are so desperate for the points as they need to get out of that relegation situation themselves. Obviously if they get some joy in the first 15 or 20 minutes and the crowd get behind them then it could prove a difficult fixture, but I think there’s enough in the Fulham armoury now to go there and get all the points.
Finally, I couldn’t finish this column without mentioning the great news regarding Brede Hangeland’s new contract. After Monday’s match everyone was talking about Berba and Mark Schwarzer, but I think Brede was excellent against QPR – he really had a good game and he really was a dominant force.
I think him signing his new deal will have given everyone around the Club a big boost because he’s a key player. As much as Berbatov’s a great striker with his silky smooth skills and everything, I think Brede is just as important to Fulham Football Club and I think that’s a great signing. It’s almost like a new signing because his contract was up in the summer. I think because of his tall, gangly stature, people underestimate how good he is on the ball - he always wants to start the moves off at the back. He takes responsibility and it was lovely to see that little back heel inside the penalty area on Monday evening. It reminded me of myself in my heyday! I thought I was the only Fulham centre back who could do that!