I was commentating on the Chelsea game on Saturday and I thought we played well in the first half, but if there was a time to beat them it would have been in that opening 45 minutes. Obviously they’d travelled back from their game against Galatasaray in Turkey in midweek and we really needed to get into them. We did manage that, but a goal proved elusive and that’s the all important thing. If you’re going to win games like that then you’ve got to score when you’re on top, and we didn’t.
Felix Magath said after the game that we missed Brede Hangeland at the back after he went off injured and I’d have to agree with him. Unfortunately, Dan Burn made a couple of mistakes; a couple of offsides that we tried to play and Andre Schurrle ran off him to score. But we mustn’t blame Dan because he’s only a kid and we don’t want to attach too much fault on him because obviously when you do come into the team for the first dozen or so games, you make mistakes. It’s a harsh lesson to learn but Schurrle ran off from him a couple of times and then he lost the all important header to Fernando Torres which led to the third goal. However, I’m a big fan of Dan’s and there’s enough in his game to suggest that we’ve got a good player on our hands. It’s just that, in his position, mistakes are seized upon.
I thought Scott Parker and Steve Sidwell were outstanding in that game, though. They set the tone from the first minute that they weren’t going to allow Chelsea’s midfield or strikers to settle on the ball. They set that tone and that’s why we played ever so well in the first half. And they did it in the second half as well; I watched Match of the Day later and they were a little bit critical saying they ran out of steam. Far from it – we made defensive mistakes that cost us the game, against quality strikers. Those boys were never off the pace in that game, I thought they were excellent.
Next up is a trip to Wales at the weekend and Cardiff is a match I think we’ve got to win because the games are running away from us now. We probably need five wins and two draws out of the last 10 games. This is one where not only have we got to win it, but they’ve got to win it as well. That’s a good thing because they’ll have to come at us and I’ve seen enough of them to think that we can go and win this game.
I hope it’s a game where maybe our experience will shine through. We’ve got more players with Premier League know-how than they have. Cardiff keep making mistakes, although we’ve obviously made mistakes, too – we wouldn’t be at the bottom of the league otherwise – but hopefully our experienced players will show up in this big game and we can get the result that we need. We have to beat them – I don’t think a draw’s enough.
Magath has said that he’s optimistic Kostas Mitroglou will be able to feature in the match which is obviously a bonus, not least because they won’t know much about him. Cardiff will have had a few looks at the Champions League DVDs when he was playing for Olympiakos, but there’s nothing like having played against someone and knowing their game. He will be a bit of a, shall we say, surprise factor for their centre-backs and he’s also going to be hungry to do well, of course he is.
Equally as important is our next home game when Newcastle visit, and we’ve got to go for that one as well. It’s another match that I’m commentating on for Sky and I think Newcastle are a team that give you a chance because Alan Pardew’s a man who wants his side to attack teams, home or away. That should make for an open game but, again, we’ve got to take our chances.
If you compare our current position to that of the Great Escape season, we’re actually less points off the pace this time around, so survival is attainable. In 2008 we did it with good organisation and discipline under Roy Hodgson, and we nicked goals – that’s how I think Magath wants us to approach games. Every Fulham fan remembers that year and the great time that we had doing it. I think we’re lucky in that we’ve got fans who stick with us because there’s a hard core of our fans who have been through a lot worse times than this. But the next couple of games are so, so important, so let’s all get behind the team.
Just finally from me, some of you may have seen an obituary for Mark Snowsill in the Chelsea programme at the weekend. He was a good friend of mine and I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who attended his funeral. It was one of the best send-offs I’ve ever seen for a guy that I’ve known and it was great to see a lot of Fulham fans there. Also a big thank you to Gary Piper, Fulham’s Club Chaplain, whose service at the crematorium was excellent.