Pennant 17, Crouch 70.
Given it’s proximity to the Chelsea semi final this game, as it was last year, was always going to be a candidate for Rafa’s rotation.
It’s testament to his recent selection policy that the eight changes Rafa made should be regarded as the exception rather than the norm. Furthermore looking at yesterday’s side compared to the one fielded a year ago there is marked difference in strength and quality, an indication of progress and greater strength in depth?
I guess there is always an element of risk when you do this especially away from home against a side desperate for points. Add to this comments from mangers, such as Gary Megson and today Neil Warnock, still predictably brooding over last year, about fulfilling obligations and fielding strong sides and we have another story waiting to happen, like we really need it at the moment. We should not worry about that and the hypocrisy of managers such as Megson, who himself has fielded under strength sides this season. Anyway we won comfortably so this wasn’t an issue just as much these managers inability to get points from other games and having to rely on us doesn’t seem to be!
More importantly we are now eight clear of Everton with three games to go. The one point we need to effectively secure fourth place from games against Birmingham, Manchester City and Spurs should not be beyond us! As Rafa said
“I picked a team I believed could win the match. We now need just one more point to ensure fourth place in the league, even if Everton win all their remaining games. We can completely focus on the game against Chelsea now.”
The start was fairly even with, if anything, Fulham having the better of it. However, any momentum they had gained was halted when Lucas’ through ball was taken early by Pennant. His shot caught Keller, in the Fulham goal off guard and flew into the top corner. A welcome start, instilling confidence into the new line up, dealing a cruel, physiological blow to Fulham.
Fulham’s first chance came from a set piece where again we looked all at sea. Luckily Hangeland headed past the post. Later McBride had an excellent chance however not all Americans succeed in making a damaging impact on us and he fluffed his volley when he had time to bring it down and shoot or cross.
Fulham’s midfield play was pretty tidy but they never really looked like scoring. Perhaps their best chance was to exploit our weaknesses’ at set pieces by using Jimmy Bullard talents from free kicks? However, the defence kept the infringements to the minimum. Eventually the pressure we had finally paid off in the second half. Pennant put Crouch in the resulting “daisycutter” went through the hapless Keller’s legs to finish the game. Fulham had something of a “mini rally”, Danny Murphy had an opportunity to score against his old club was thwarted by Reina’s feet, but in reality it was all over and fourth place all but secured.
A good day’s work. Fulham certainly helped us by conceding far too much space and, to their credit, trying to play too much football when perhaps a bout of “up and at ‘em” might have been more appropriate. However, we were confident on the ball and always looked in control. Pennant looked lively and was unluckily to see his team mates not make more of his set up play. Crouch continued to make a stronger case for more regular inclusion. Our general play was good which is encouraging given the amount of changes that were made.
On the flip side Voronin looked woefully out of sorts and Mascherano took a few knocks was eventually substituted although Rafa has since confirmed he is OK. Finally it is ironic that it was an American’s mistakes (Casey Keller was born in Washington) that contributed to our victory!
So to Chelsea. Unlike them we have just three days to prepare. Three days, would it be too much to ask for those involved in the board room struggle, particularly Tom Hicks, to keep their problems to themselves for a while? Sadly judging from today’s papers it seems not. As Rafa said
“We’ve talked a lot about boardroom matters for a long time but for now I just want to speak about football, if that’s possible.”
Long may that philosophy continue!
Fulham: Keller, Stalteri, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky, Davies, Bullard, Murphy (Andreasen 78), Dempsey, Healy (Nevland 76), McBride (Kamara 81).
Subs Not Used: Warner, Bocanegra.
Liverpool: Reina, Finnan, Skrtel, Hyypia (Carragher 46), Riise, Pennant, Lucas, Mascherano (Alonso 72), Benayoun, Voronin (Aurelio 82), Crouch.
Subs Not Used: Itandje, Torres.