The Tony Gale Column

Tuesday 5 February 2013 13:00

I said in my last column that whichever team won out of Fulham and West Ham United would go onwards and upwards, so I think that win has pointed us in the right direction now.

Fulham deserved to beat West Ham, there was no doubt about it. I had loads of Fulham pals at the match and loads of West Ham pals and all my West Ham friends were magnanimous and admitted that Fulham played the better football and deserved to win on the evening.

You sensed the relief at the final whistle, without a doubt. Particularly afterwards when you’re in the bar and speaking to both sets of fans – the Fulham fans were up and really looking forward to the Manchester United game, but the West Ham fans were really down and worried that they were going to struggle. For us, for Fulham, it was such an important game after a poor performance against Man United in the Cup. I think what was really positive was the way that Fulham started the game – the first 20-25 minutes they flew out of the traps and played a lot quicker and that’s the way you’ve got to start a match, particularly at home as it allows you to put your print on the game.

Speaking of that United match in the FA Cup, we really didn’t show up and there’s not a lot you can say about it - it's one that we should just all try and forget about. I was actually watching from a bar in Tenerife – I went away for a four-day break and cut off my holiday thinking that maybe we’d turn up against Man United and nick a great little victory. That would have capped off a nice evening but, instead, it ruined my night!

So I was delighted to see us turn in a completely different performance when we met them again on Saturday. When United come to town – and I don’t know if Fulham fans will agree with me – I always think it’s the best fixture of the year because they are the biggest club in the Barclays Premier League, without a doubt. Everyone I’ve spoken to who went to the game said that Fulham were excellent and, having watched the whole game on the television, they were. Everything looked fine and it looked like a totally different team to the one that had played up at Old Trafford. Although we lost, it was an even better performance than the West Ham game – it was super. It was also nice to know that, although we didn’t get anything out of it, we can play without Dimitar Berbatov.

I talk a lot about Dimitar in this column but I want to touch on another player who has really impressed me this season; our new right-back. I would put Sascha Riether in the top four full-backs in the Premier League. He’s got a calculated game about him and, when he’s in possession of the ball, he plays the percentage game. But what I like about him the best is that he doesn’t demand people doubling up with him. When he’s one-on-one he usually comes out on top. He always had the beating of Matt Jarvis, who’s a good winger, against West Ham. One-on-one, he always gets a block in on the cross and that’s a rarity nowadays. A lot of full-backs stand off and just let people cross the ball but Sascha is a great cross-blocker.

We saw Martin Jol strengthen his squad at the end of the transfer window so it’s good to have some more bodies in there now. I’ve seen both Urby Emanuelson and Eyung Enoh when they were playing for Ajax in the UEFA Champions League and they’ve both played under Martin when he was coaching there so he’s shopped where he knew best. We’ve got to trust in Martin that he knows his players that he’s worked with before. I’ve seen quite a bit of Emmanuel Frimpong for Arsenal – he’s got the legs in midfield but I just think he needs to control his desire a little bit. He’s got a great willpower about his game and he gets about the pitch well, so I can see why Martin signed him because he wants legs in there. 

A trip to Norwich City is next up for us and I think they’re a dangerous side. I know we had a great victory over them earlier in the season but they’re a tough side at home. It’s a good atmosphere at Norwich and a lot of my friends who are Fulham fans are going up there on the train. It’ll be a hard game but I think it’s one we won’t lose. Chris Hughton was my old room partner at West Ham when he came towards the end of his career so I know him really well. I’m so pleased that they are where they are in the league because when he took over from Paul Lambert, everyone was saying that it was Lambert’s team and that they’d struggle but Chris has done alright. I think Norwich will be fine this season. I’ve been around the ground and if you experience the atmosphere of the different grounds around the country, it’s one of the better ones. They sell out all the time and their home form will keep them up.