We’ve had four Barclays Premier League matches since my last column – with mixed results to say the least! The first of which was Liverpool and that wasn’t the best game so it’s probably best not to talk a lot about that one! It was live on television so plenty of fans will have been watching and hoping to see a good performance which unfortunately we didn’t get.
After that we had a game that I commentated on against Southampton. I thought the Saints did pretty well when they visited but it was a match that we should have wrapped up earlier on. Dimitar Berbatov got his goal and then I thought we’d go on and win it but the longer we went without scoring again, the more Southampton crept into the game. I don’t think anybody could deny them their point, to be honest, albeit coming through a penalty. Although there were a few people saying it wasn’t a spot-kick, I’ve got to say that it was. Chris Baird just got a slight touch in the back and that caused him to over-balance and his arm went up instinctively. The referee didn’t have much option than to give it. It’s a shame, though, as that match was one of those ones where I thought we needed the three points.
Swansea City were next up and we put in a good performance but didn’t come away with a result. We went into the games against Southampton and Swansea – two matches in four days, both at home – and I thought that we needed four points from it. So when we only came out with one I was a bit worried because I thought it could be a defining point in the season; you can get up into mid-table and crack on a bit, or you’re going to slip down. But we were defeated by Swansea and, although we played some decent football on the day, I thought it was one of those that maybe meant we were going to go on the slide.
But the West Bromwich Albion game came next. I must say that, going into that game, West Brom were in good form and I feared the worst but it was three points that were much, much needed. We played well and played some decent football, especially in the first half, and then in the second period we did well to hold on. I’ve seen West Brom live many times this season and I was thinking that it was the one game out of the three that maybe we wouldn’t get anything out of. It was one of those ones where we rode our luck a bit at times but still played some decent football.
The FA Cup with Budweiser followed last week and, when you looked at that game, Blackpool didn’t have to do a lot to contain us. They were never really going to come at us but, when they did, they looked like scoring on the break a couple of times. I don’t think it was one of our best performances; it was a bit lacklustre except for maybe the last 10 minutes once we got the equaliser. It was a great volley by Giorgos Karagounis and maybe after that we could have gone on and won it.
That now means, of course, that we’ll be travelling to Bloomfield Road for the Replay, and that pitch might not suit our style of passing football. Blackpool will certainly know how to play that surface because they’ve played there often enough this season. It might be that Berbatov has to play a little bit further up front in this game and we have to look a little bit longer at times. I know he won’t like it but this might not be the game where we can get it down and use the ball quickly. It will be one of those where if Berba and Bryan Ruiz are up top, we’ve got to get the ball in quicker. The lads have played on poor pitches before but in the Premier League you don’t come across them that often. Every pitch in the Premier League is like a bowling green now but this one is certainly going to be different. So roll your sleeves up boys - that’s the message!
We’ve had a different goalkeeper for the last few matches, with David Stockdale coming in when Mark Schwarzer picked up an injury. David’s waited patiently for his chance because Mark’s not one of those goalies that gets injured very often and his consistency in his game doesn’t allow a reserve goalie to get in. I was gutted for Stocko when he made his mistake against Swansea, but he played ever so well against West Brom. I think he’s probably the best striker of the ball in the Premier League, I would say – him and Pepe Reina of Liverpool. They’re probably the best strikers of the ball and it’s so important to be able to go back to your goalie with a little bit of assurance. It was so unlike him to make that kicking mistake against Swansea so I was really pleased for him against West Brom.
Wigan Athletic are next up when they visit the Cottage on Saturday and they like to pass it around – like Swansea, who Roberto Martinez was in charge of before – and, having seen them quite often this season, they play some good football. I wouldn’t take them lightly, they’re a decent side and they tend to be one of those Premier League teams that you never know what they’re going to do. If they came to Fulham and won 2-0 or 3-0, people wouldn’t be surprised. If we beat them 2-0 or 3-0, people wouldn’t be surprised either, because they’re probably the most unpredictable team in the Premier League.
Having said that, I do fancy us at the weekend. It’s a game that we’ve got to be up for as I think there’s just been a bit of a lack of spark in our performances of late. We’re keeping the ball okay, but we’re not passing it quick enough. We’re patient, but I think, at times, we’re over-patient. If you’re going to have players like Ruiz and Berbatov – the players in and around the area that can do things – you have to get the ball into them quicker. I’m not talking about going long, I’m talking about passing that ball quicker. Our pitch is perfect so there’s no excuse. There seems to be too many square and backwards balls. They have to be more incisive into those two.
We might not be as high in the table as we’d like but we’re in a better position than a lot of other teams in the Premier League. That’s not me with my Fulham hat on, that’s me with my Sky hat having seen every team live this season. There are certainly teams worse than us but we don’t want to get into a mindset where we think the results are going to come and then, all of a sudden, find ourselves in trouble. I just think we need to inject a little bit more urgency and a bit more pace into our game.