Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Spurs 5 Fulham 1

With his tenure at still less than a week in length, this was Ray Lewington’s second game as caretaker manager of Fulham, and it showcased further evidence of his attempts to rehabilitate his team as a passing side. However, a combination of attacking impotence and a porous defence, allowed Spurs to nullify his efforts with ease.

Line-Up and Formation Changes
The starting line-up revealed further divergence from his predecessor: Steven Davis found himself removed from the squad altogether, to be replaced by the popular Alexey Smertin, and Seol Ki-Hyeon returned once more, at the expense of Hameur Bouazza. Moritz Volz’s long absence through injury ended with a substitute berth.

Fulham began with a 4-5-1 formation, the midfield lining up left-to-right, as follows: Ki-Hyeon, Smertin, Murphy, Davies, Dempsey. Kamara was the lone striker.

For the first 10 minutes, Fulham were unable to secure any prolonged possession. Spurs passed the ball around slickly and speedily in tight spaces, with Malbranque pivotal.

Smertin Returns
Fulham gradually steadied, with Smertin soon demonstrating why his prolonged absence has been so mourned, tackling and harrying, ball-winning, and helping to construct the type of moves that have been absent for so long from Fulham’s play. His partner in midfield, Danny Murphy, was having his best game for the team so far, dominating the central area with his Russian colleague.

Despite a continuing improvement in passing and possession, Fulham were unable to create goal-scoring chances as they had done in the first 45 minutes of their previous game.

Offensively, they were unimaginative and impotent. Kamara had reverted to his skittish and frustrating persona, baffling and ineffectual. With Demspey pushed very wide by the 5-man formation, he was struggling to get involved. Ki-Hyeon managed a few half-hearted crosses, but still appears a strangely cold and detached figure.

Repeatedly, the final pass, or the final run, caused a carefully constructed move to break down, rendering Robinson as little more than a spectator.

Increasingly Exposed
Although Niemi was not required to make a save until a Berbatov header after 25 minutes, Spurs consistently found themselves with a free man on their left. This was predominantly Steed Malbranque. Consequently, Spurs started to create Fulham’s defence problems, and the former Fulham midfielder was the source of most of it. Repeatedly, attacking moves were formed down the Spurs left flank, with no remedial action taken, until the overwhelmed Baird was replaced at half-time by Volz. This proved too late, as a Malbranque shot rebounding off the post in the 27th minute was side-footed in by Keane. Huddlestone made it two with a fierce shot from the edge of the box just before the interval. Niemi was frozen as it passed him by.

Lewington’s half-time changes, as well as being timely, were at least encouraging in that they appeared designed to remedy overt shortcomings.

As well as the Baird-Volz exchange, Bouazza came on for the listless Ki-Hyeon. Demspey moved up to join Kamara for a reversion to 4-4-2.

Offensively, Fulham were still failing to click, with passes being made in anticipation of runs that were never made, and runs being made only for passes to be poorly placed.

However, on the hour Dempsey clattered in a Bouazza cross, after his initial shot was parried by Robinson.

A Brief Revival
The revival was painfully short-lived, with no time to build on the resurgence in confidence. Less than a minute later, Bocanegra looped a ball over Niemi’s head. From the corner, an unmarked Berbatov headed down to an unmarked Keane for a tap-in. The die was cast.

Shortly after, the injured Aaaron Hughes was replaced. David Healy joined Kamara in attack. Dempsey reverted to right midfield and Simon Davies shifted to right back, with Volz making his debut at centre back. With such a makeshift defence, the conceding of more goals seemed likely.

Fulham struggled on, but they were by now a simulacrum of a team, and were merely going through the motions. Kamara switched positions with Dempsey and now became virtually invisible. Healy was lightweight and increasingly appears out of his depth. On 70 minutes, Huddlestone, despite having already scored one goal from 20 yards, was allowed to repeat the feat.

The misery was finally complete when Volz, despite impressing in his comeback, received his second yellow card in the 87th minute. In stoppage time, Defoe exploited another twist of defensive confusion for an easy goal.

It can only be hoped that in the hours and days immediately following this game, that the search for a permanent manager has been shifted up another gear. Change is required, and soon. The principal concern is that whatever capabilities any incoming manager may wield, that the changes implemented by Lawrie Sanchez may be too entrenched to be undone in what remains of the season.

Niemi 6, Konchesky 6, Bocanegra 6, Hughes 6 (Healy 4), Baird 4 (Volz 6), Ki-Hyeon 4 (Bouazza 4), Smertin 7, Murphy 7, Davies 6, Dempsey 7, Kamara 3.

Substitutions: Volz for Baird, Bouazza for Ki-Hyeon (HT); Healy for Hughes (64th minute).

Substitutes Not Used: Warner, Kuqi.

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