Tilford Zebras player Tommy Fotak is currently in England. He watched the recent Fulham versus Liverpool game and sent these observations from Craven Cottage:
The day started well, with a full English Italian style from a local deli, washed down with the first nice coffee I've managed to find in London - no easy task. A quick walk through a market lane, a somewhat less quick train ride south, a pint at The Flute and Whistle before the twenty-minute walk to the ground.
Walking to Craven Cottage from Putney in autumn is simply stunning. Autumn leaves were falling like rain as we walked through the leafy common after having crossed the Thames, Liverpool supporters in full song singing one of their odes to Torres.
We queue, enter the ground and take our seats. We were sitting in the ‘home fans’ section as I was attending with season ticket-holders, one of whom is a former University player in Liam Monaco.
The game has already commenced by the time we are seated, but I take a moment to look around and take in the entire ground. I am immediately struck by its ability to express a relationship between contemporary times and a period from the past. I openly describe it as a 'cute little ground', much to the amusement of the man on my left.
The first thing I notice is the sound of the ball. The leather - if it is, indeed, still leather, or some other compound - sounds so soft, even when struck with ferocity. Degen and Kuyt are combining well down the right. Insua is attacking down the left, but doesn't seem to be able to get combination play happening with Benayoun, in part because the Israeli is incapable of playing one-touch football. Every time he gets the ball, he has to hold it at feet for a couple of touches in the hope there is someone to beat. Liverpool, after a sluggish start, are beginning to show some promise and are beginning to shade it in terms of possession.
I start to monitor Torres rather than the location of the ball to see what I can learn from him. What strikes me as interesting is his lack of movement off the ball. He's not jogging around trying to stretch the defence. He ambles into positions and waits, and then, as he anticipates that the ball may enter an area that he can impact, he explodes away leaving his marker for dead. So there is movement, but it is short, explosive bursts rather than constant. Liverpool conjure a chance down the right and Benayoun smacks the crossbar. Before people have a chance to digest the nearness of that attempt, Fulham have gone one up. Zamora had already been causing problems for the Liverpool defence. He may miss a host of chances, but his work-rate is high and his physical presence is causing several headaches. He is tall, strong, quick and skilful. If only he could finish! Farther forward than a striker, you could see, but even he could not miss this chance. Insua is somewhat at fault. From his position, he was the only one that could see and act on Zamora’s movement, but inexperience showed.
Conceding appears to urge Liverpool on and they begin to play some of their best stuff for the half. They equalise through yet another well-taken Torres chance. He could have had two by this stage.
Half time, and my observations so far are:
Mascherano is the best destroyer in the world at the moment. Brilliant tackling. The timing of some of them was exquisite.
Lucas is far better than people give him credit for.
Voronin is absolute rubbish - utter rubbish, and incredibly short.
Carragher is struggling with Zamora.
I’ve always rated Clint Dempsey but have a new level of respect for him now. He is incredibly intelligent.
Kuyt works hard, really, really hard. He runs and runs and runs. I am amazed by it.
We take the opportunity to stretch our legs and Liam and Chris want to show me a feature of Craven Cottage. Most grounds back on to estates, whether they be industrial or housing, but Craven Cottage sits on the Thames, so you can order your beer and relax by looking over London’s iconic river. We head back to our seats. As I sit, I notice a guy that I think is former New Town Eagle team mate Damien O'Brien. I have since confirmed that it was him.
The second half gets underway with not much changing. As the sun begins to set and the artificial light takes over, the tempo of the game increases and a fever envelops the stands as energy seems to close inward with the darkness. Zamora continues to cause headaches for the Liverpool defence. They really cannot deal with him and I am fearful that it will cost us again soon. I can’t remember the exact order of events from here, but Benitez withdraws Torres for Babel - why not Voronin?
Fulham have a shout for a penalty as Carragher appears to impede Zamora. From my angle, the ref got it right. Carragher was near enough to the ball to be deemed to have control of it and Zamora has his hands all over Carragher’s body. Still, the fear grows and persists that Zamora will win this day.
Mascherano continues to defy with his tackles. Lucas starts to enter a five-minute patch of complete rubbish. He is a lot better than given credit for, and I for one now quite rate him, but when he is bad, he is utter rubbish, and in this period he gave the ball away far too frequently.
Degen off. No complaints. Dempsey is too smart and too good. Zamora skins a defender, and his cross is palmed beyond the back post by Reina. It comes back in. A cheeky back-heel by Nevland and it’s 2-1 for Fulham. The crowd where we are go mental. Chris, my friend, apologises for being so happy. Zamora causes more problems for the out-of-sorts and seemingly inferior Carragher.
Red card. Carragher off. Again, no complaints. I’m actually surprised he lasted as long as he did because Zamora has had the better of him all day.
Liverpool attack down their right but Fulham clear. The ball deflects off a Liverpool player as Kuyt gives chase. He slides to prevent Fulham getting a throw-in but only succeeds in passing the ball to the advancing Dempsey, who collects it, moves forward, and exchanges clever passes with Nevland before coolly finishing into the net at the near post - wonderful and deserved goal.
Reina is furious with Kuyt, who has already retreated to the half-way line, but appreciates deep down that Kuyt was trying. Perhaps, when down to nine men and exposed to a potential counter, it’s better to let the ball go out and allow your players to get back behind it. I’m sure he’ll be reminded of that by Benitez during the week.
94th minute. Full-time. Fulham supporters are elated, and they should be. Hodgson has this side ticking over nicely. Other teams will come to Craven Cottage and struggle. Arsenal were very lucky. In Dempsey, they have an absolute gem. He is such a clever player. His timing and decision making in terms of when to go forward are exquisite. His nose for a pass is amazing and he has on-ball skill and the ability to beat a man or two and he has shown that he can score too.
Fulham deserve their win. Liverpool need to find a spark soon or their season will be over before they have a chance to throw it away at Christmas.