Sunday, 3 February 2008

Fulham 2 Aston Villa 1

re·viv·al  (r-vvl)
a. The act or an instance of reviving.
b. The condition of being revived.
2. A restoration to use, acceptance, activity, or vigor after a period of obscurity or quiescence.

Synonyms: reactivation, rebirth, renaissance, renewal, resurgence, resurrection, resuscitation, revitalisation, revivification


“I copped one across the bugle, no problem.“

Indeed, a bruised protuberance proved no hindrance to Jimmy Bullard, as he underwrote a critical Fulham victory, and firmly announced his return to Premiership football following a 15-month absence through injury. Producing a display of astonishing application and insight, he also provided an assist for Simon Davies’ equaliser after the team had fallen behind through an Aaron Hughes own goal. Then, by virtue of an elegant free-kicked goal, he both secured an elusive win, and announced a glorious return from the wilderness.

Any flavour of victory would have been significant in the current circumstances, but this was a fully-deserved one, founded on industry and skill, against a high-flying team with a robust away record. The victory, and it’s execution, a renaissance revealing encouraging evidence of Roy Hodgson’s ongoing influence on the training ground.

It was also an indication of the manager’s knowledge of the European transfer market. This was his first post-transfer window game, and the efforts of the three new recruits that were included in the starting line-up highlighted, and helped to rectify, pre-Hodgson deficiencies.

Leon Andreasen, whilst not as eye-catching as a Bullard or a Murphy, was mobile and committed, and provided a much-needed aggressive edge to complement his colleagues’ more creative output.

Brede Hangeland appears to be the embodiment of the tall, dominant centre back that the Fulham defence has lacked for so long. He provides an overt physical presence, yet is assured and skilful enough to play his way out of trouble. He possesses the bearings of a future captain.

Erik Nevland, endearing in his pre-transfer desire to play for the club, suggested intelligence through his runs, displayed surprising pace and aerial aptitude, and as admirable a work ethic as his colleagues. His appearance and play suggesting a leaner and more mobile Heidar Helgusson.

In addition to these contributions, Simon Davies added a little bite and tenacity to his usual flair and energy, together with a skillfully taken goal. Dempsey, likewise, was not afraid to blend some aggression with his dexterity.

The whole tenor of Fulham’s play has improved. Players now look comfortable on the ball, and confident of their ability to execute short, quick passes. There are still a few too many misplaced balls, and the team could benefit from some of the sideways movement being replaced with more incisive, forward passing, but the improvement is clear.

The only apparent weak link in the arrangement was the beleaguered Chris Baird, whose position as fall guy du jour was cemented by his creation of the Bullard bruise. However, the rather crass booing of him by his own supporters during the team announcements cannot have done much for his self-confidence. It’s curious that he continues to be deployed at right back, considering Hodsgon’s public recognition that he is a centre back by trade, and the availability of Moritz Volz. It was therefore particularly encouraging that he steadied himself and delivered an assured second half.

With Agbonlahor effectively nullified (before Simon Davies finished the task just before half-time), the overriding threat for the home team was the ease with which the Villa players found Carew, albeit typically with his back to goal, and some 25 yards out. It’s a credit to the Fulham defence that these incidents rarely developed into realistic opportunities.

So, a revival certainly, if not yet a revolution. The contrast with the soulless anti-football of the Sanchez era could not be more stark. It is clear that there still a way to go both in terms of league survival, and team development, but the team now appear to be equipped with the necessary ingredients to realise an escape from the clutches of the Championship.

Niemi 7, Konchesky 6, Hughes 6, Hangeland 7, Baird 5, Davies 8, Murphy 8, Andreasen 7, Bullard 10, Dempsey 8 (Kamara n/a), Nevland 7 (McBride 6).

Substitutions: McBride for Nevland (70th minute); Kamara for Dempsey (79th minute).

Substitutes Not Used: Keller, Volz, Bocanegra.

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