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Well, I finally made it to a Leeds match. OK, that's enough about the match, what about the rest of the day? Got dropped off by my (Fulham supporting) mates at Richmond station, made my way to Earl's Court, changed trains and got on the one saying "Wimbledon". This - silly me, why didn't I realise - meant it was going in the opposite direction from Wimbledon. So, after briefly venturing into Zone 1, I finally turned up at the White Horse at about 12:30. Lots of Leeds fans there, of all ages. I overheard someone address one bloke as Wiggy, who was recounting a tale of woe on the football pitch, and after about 15 minutes plucked up the courage to tap him on the shoulder, saying (very imaginative, this), "Are you Wiggy?" From then on, was introduced to too many people to remember their names (any more than about three, and I'm struggling). Along came a debonaire young man, complete with satchel and badger-grey fleece - of course, none other than Herr Thirkers (well, on Stotty's website, he looks about 90). After the traditional Yorkshire greeting (thanks for tipping me off, whichever lister it was), it was warm handshakes all round. Had a nice chat with Richard Naef (who immediately bought me a pint - thanks, mate) and one or two others. Bought a pint for Pete Southam - he was right about Fowler, you know! And still maintains that Dyer is on his way. (Perhaps if we gave Newcastle Kelly, McPhail, Duberry, Viduka, Olly, Harry, Seth and Smithy, we might get him for only £15mill. Anyway, I digress.)
I could only find one other person with a Putney Road end ticket (thank the Lord it didn't rain - that really would've crowned it) - our correspondant from Ohio, Brian (Lord of Guinness), so we watched the game together, keeping quiet, for fear of eviction (well, that's what the notices said). I did offer Brian a piggy back to see some of the action near our end, but he made do with standing on a higher step. Some amusing types in the stand - one old bloke in particular, very partisan, and spoke with one of those gravelly voices - "Ya dirty swine! Who was that?! Keane, wasn't it?" I didn't like to point out that it was Kelly, and that Keane was on the bench. (Mind you, these Irish boys do all look the same - big foreheads, don't you think?) As regards our performance.... well, it's already been posted here. Kelly and Seth gave the ball away half a dozen times between them in the first ten minutes. I know Kells ain't match fit, but.... is he actually the same player? What's gone wrong? Maybe he should've given up the fags, I don't know. Smith didn't know where he should be, or what he should do - not entirely his fault. Viduka occasionally got the ball, dribbled backwards and laid it off to our incredibly creative midfield, who passed it horizontally a couple of times, before passing it back to the defence, who usually lost it - utter rubbish. It was slightly better when Dacourt came on - at least he was going forward with the ball, which NO other midfielder was. Apart from Harry, who usually lost it. Nige pulled off two match-winning saves. Except that nobody could win the match for us. Fowler did OK, considering he's not played 90 minutes for about 3 months. He did some chasing back and tackling too - at least he looks committed to the cause. He could've stolen it near the end, too, in a goalmouth scramble, but his shot was saved.
As for Sunday - Very poor.
I am confirmed 4-4-2 fan, but not if you haven't got the players for it.
Why not play Kewell there. He roams anyway (like Bowyer). Put a player who holds his position more, in front of Harte
Could easily have played a 3 man midfield, with Keane wide right, Fowler up front and Kewell on the left.
Martyn 8 - 2 or 3 important saves, his presence was also a factor.
You'll have to excuse me if I make a few mistakes in this mail. After watching the (mis)match at Craven Cottage today, I'm afraid part of my cerebral cortex has fallen into a coma-like state in an attempt to stop me from going insane from the boredom and frustration.
To avoid anyone having to wade through this s****, I'll say up front that Fowler played well, showing enough to give us a bit of hope - IF he gets the service. And, boy, is that a Viduka's belly-sized if.
Fulham gave us a footballing lesson today, and only the solidity of Rio and the ever-improving Mills (playing in the centre) allowed us to earn an undeserved point. Tactically we were a shambles in midfield. We were nominally playing 4-4-2, but Kewell's licence to roam creates far more problems that it solves, especially away from home, where we kept leaving huge gaps for Fulham to waltz into. Trying to convert Smith into a right midfielder only compounded the issue, leaving a very rusty-looking Kelly horribly exposed. Our attacking attempts were as pathetic and one-dimensional as they were predictable. Just what the f*** do Kidd and co. get the team to practice at Thorp Arch? Passing it square until someone plays an unforced hospital pass, scrabbling it back and then lumping it down the line for someone to chase, if they can be arsed, from the evidence of today's game.
Negative scores on the changing room doors:
Martyn: -1. One of the blameless few.
Ref: -10. Another idiot unable to distinguish a fair challenge from a foul one.
O'Leary: -20. Ticker dan someting dat's really tick. For f***'s sake, PLAY A PROPER F***ING 4-4-2 AND STOP KEWELL FANNYING ABOUT.
The Cravenettes: +10. Best cheerleaders in the league, and with the skimpiest outfits too. I was standing up today in more ways than one.
Are we really one of the championship contenders?
P.S. I read in the paper that Fowler did not even have the chance to clear out his locker at Liverpool. Don't worry, Robbie, if you've any sense you'll be using it again soon.
P.P.S. Did I mention we were f***ing hopeless today?
"The only thing that did a job for Leeds United today was Viduka's gloves" - man pissing in toilet after game.
Craven Cottage: home of the Cottagers (presumably nothing to do with hanging around toilets); home of ten scantily clad girls prancing about in next to nothing; home of wooden stands; home of terracing. Yes, terracing. As the ground filled up it was like being in a timewarp. As the game went on it was like being in a timewarp. As if the surroundings were pulling them back twenty years, The Men-who-don't-hang-around-toilets sang chants such as "Come on ye whites" and "OhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhOHHHH, you're s*** ahhhhhhhh" as Nige took goal kicks. And also going back in time (although only back a few years), a bunch of teenage girlies dressed in few enough clothes on a cold day to make nipples erect enough to make the half blind old codger with two cataracts at the back of the stands notice and ask if he could hang his coat on 'em. They had a name (the girls., not the nipples). I think it was the Jail Bait-ettes. But I could be wrong about that. One of them wore shorts so tight her arse was all but hanging out. If the old bloke at the back wasn't blind before the game, after a suspicious visit to the bogs at half time, he almost certainly was.
On the way to the ground, from the underground, a pleasant Sunday afternoon stroll through the park, past the rectory and the beautiful church. Calling in at the Cottage Cafe (or summat like that) for a bacon butty in an establishment that had signs on the wall saying "You have two choices for dinner, you can take it or you can leave it." And, "This is not Burger King, you have it the way you're given it." Quaint.
Before the game we had a surreal warming up from the officials, who, on alternate trips up and down the line, got booed and then cheered. (The cheering would not last once the game kicked off, except for the ironic variety.) Then a gloryhunting, Harrods owning, big scarf wearing, tosspot wandered around the field, as some terrible record with him attempting to sing some s****house song revealing to us the remarkable fact that Fulham weren't Barcelona. No, really, Al?
"You'll never get a passport" we warned him. Bet he'd never heard that one before.
So there you have it, a quck whizz down to London and back.
Oh yeah, there was a game too.
Here's the report.
Sack of s****.
Details, you ask?
Formation? We guessed before kick off this...
Martyn Kelly Mills Rio Harte Batts Seth Harry Smith Viduka Fowler.
A "midfield" of Smith (right wing) Batts, Seth and Kewell (left wing) was how they nominally started. This lasted a few minutes 'til Kewell and Smith just went wherever they wanted leaving a midfield of, er, Batts and Seth.
Don't believe this s**** about Fulham walloping us 0-0. They created jack s*** in the way of clear chances. We created the same except for Kelly (bless him) who created *them* a chance by Garry Nevilling the ball to a Fulham player who passed to one of their fifteen forwards who walzed around everyone only for Kelly to rectify his own Neville-up and clear it off the line.
That was it really for the first half: at half time the Jail Bait-ettes came out again in trousers, but soon whipped 'em off and were wiggling their arses at all corners to some more 80s pop.
Second half more of the same 'til Ollie came on and aided Batts and Seth with Kewell going off. This evened things out a lot and we all wondered why on earth O'Leary thought he'd ever get away with two midfielders.
A real (proverbial!) kick in the bollocks for Dubes playing Mills at centre back. Mills and Rio handled everything comfortably. Kelly was typical Kelly gave the ball away and ran his heart out, nice to see him getting a game, but you soon see why DMIFB is first choice full back. Harte tackled well on the whole, but passed to the opposition most of the time. Batts was unsually stray in his passing; Seth hard in the tackle loose in the passing; Smith looked timid after being booked in the fiest few minutes; Harry strangely subbed after looking the most likely to create something; Pieman constantly muscled off the ball. Which leaves Fowler. Fowler had more shots on goal than the rest of the team put together. He nearly scrambled one between van der Sar's legs at the end. He'll do well for us, I'm sure.
Last year at Craven Cottage. If they still have the nickname Cottagers next year, watch your arse not the dancing girls'.
Scores on the doors:
Wooden Stand: 1888
Copy from Football Unlimited of 02/12/2001.
Fowler's modern English usage struggled to express itself here yesterday in a fast but featureless match which left Leeds United loping along behind Liverpool and Arsenal at the top of the Premiership and Fulham in the lower half of the table.
The £11m which David O'Leary has just invested in bringing Robbie Fowler from Anfield to Elland Road will surely bear more fruit than was evident in this game. Apart from a typical snap shot, saved 16 minutes from the end, Fowler's qualities were largely seen through the positions he took up and the runs he made.
The striker's lack of regular first-team football at Liverpool was all too apparent but he did finish more strongly than he began. "Robbie needs a good run of 10 or 12 games," O'Leary observed. "He has so many qualities that will make us a better team."
Copy from The Independent of 02/12/2001.
It was for dog-day afternoons like these, when his young team seem to have treacle in their veins and a fog in their minds, that David O'Leary bought Robbie Fowler. Leeds were already hard to beat, O'Leary's work ethic and preference for scrappers has seen to that. But while one defeat in 14 Premiership matches may be championship form, seven draws is not. Thus the £11m investment in Fowler whose brief is to turn one point into three when alternative inspiration is lacking.
This Fowler was unable to do yesterday, and it would have been unjust if he had given Fulham's manifest superiority. But he showed enough to suggest that, as often as not, he will fulfil his assignment.
Though starved of opportunity by Leeds's prosaic midfield he still managed to produce as many shots as anyone and, three minutes from time, nearly stole the match. Reacting first after Rio Ferdinand headed back Ian Harte's corner Fowler saw his near-post flick snag under the big left boot of Edwin van der Sar.
"Those sort of half-chances are what I have bought Robbie for," said O'Leary. "He is an excellent finisher and will be an excellent buy if we get him right. I think we can get the best out of him - and he'll make us better.
"We didn't have many good performances today, but I was delighted with him especially as he has only been with us two days. He needs a run of games, 10-12 of them, but his work-rate and movement off the ball was excellent. There were some times when I thought we could have played him in, but didn't give him the ball."
This was hardly surprising with David Batty and Seth Johnson in central midfield. With Stephen McPhail a long-term injury absentee the Leeds manager may need to invest again if he is to get the best of Fowler.
Most chairman will tell you that managers always claim they are "just two players short" and O'Leary's other vacancy was on the right flank. A hamstring injury has deprived Leeds of Lee Bowyer's energetic running and timely finishing, and the subsequent void underlines how much they need the on-going court case to go Bowyer's way. With Eirik Bakke also injured yesterday's solution was a re-deployment of Alan Smith, but it was not a success. The switch enabled him to indulge his spite in the tackle - he was booked for a crude challenge on Steed Malbranque - but not his goalpoaching. This was only seen once, when he shot too close to Van der Sar after Mark Viduka pulled the ball back.
Since Olivier Dacourt was left on the bench the selection may have been motivated by a desire to reassure Smith he was still in O'Leary's plans. Thus Robbie Keane became the odd man out, spending a cold afternoon on the bench. Fowler, fresh from his Anfield isolation, would have sympathised.
The point leaves Leeds in third, four behind Liverpool who have a game in hand. Just as pertinently for O'Leary they are four ahead of Manchester United. "Don't listen to Fergie. They are not out of it," he said. "We were 13th last January, but look what happened when we went on a run."
Fulham are one place better than that, but do not expect to emulate Leeds' late run into Europe. Though Jean Tigana has spent £30m he has gone for evolution rather than revolution and fielded seven of his First Division stalwarts. They passed the ball well and created the better chances, but failed to reap the rewards their approach play deserved. Like Arsenal they over-elaborate, a damaging fault against Leeds who get men back so quickly.
"They are the tightest defence in the Premiership and we needed better balls around the goal," said the Fulham manager. "I am happy with the way we played, but not with only one point. The team is progressing and I am very confident for the future but we need more."
Fulham's best chance came after 15 minutes. Johnson gave the ball away to Luis Boa Morte. He cut in, rolled it past Nigel Martyn and turned away to celebrate only to see Gary Kelly clear off the line. It was another 22 minutes before either keeper was tested, but Martyn was alert enough to deal with Louis Saha's low shot.
Fulham, raising their game, went close through an Alain Goma header soon after the break. John Collins, from a free-kick conceded by Batty, then brought a good save from Martyn before Andy Melville produced a centre-half's finish after Boa Morte's shot had deflected into his path.
Boa Morte continued to trouble Leeds, but with the defence well marshalled by Ferdinand the best chances were from set-pieces. With 22 minutes left a deep free-kick found Goma, rising high at the far post. Martyn, twisting athletically, proved equal to his header.
Fowler, from 25 yards, gave the grateful Van der Sar a chance to warm up for a busy finish in which he denied Smith and Fowler again. The final whistle was greeted by a chorus of "what a waste of money". This was a bit rich coming from supporters of a club which lavished £11m on Steve Marlet. Had the chants been directed, not at Fowler, but at those neutrals who stumped up to watch this match on pay-per-view, they would have been on firmer ground.
Fulham (4-4-2): Van der Sar 5; Finnan 5, Melville 5, Goma 6, Brevett 5; Boa Morte 6, Malbranque 6, Legwinski 6 (Davis 5, 73), Collins 6; Hayles 4, Saha 4. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Clark, Ouaddou, Stolcers.
Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn 6; Kelly 6, Mills 5, Ferdinand 6, Harte 5; Smith 3, Batty 4, Johnson 3, Kewell 4 (Dacourt 4, 69); Viduka 4, Fowler 5. Substitutes not used: Keane, Robinson (gk), Wilcox, Duberry.
Referee: G Poll (Tring) 7.
Bookings: Fulham: Legwinski. Leeds: Smith, Johnson.
Man of the match: Boa Morte.
Copy from Yorkshire Evening Post of 03/12/2001.
DAVID O'LEARY has been in this game long enough to know almost every trick in the football managers' gamesmanship manual.
So he was understandably unconvinced after hearing Sir Alex Ferguson's claim that Manchester United are out of the running for this season's Premiership title.
However, all managers will tell you that the secret of a successful team is to pick up points even when you are not playing well.
And O'Leary is surely a pupil in that school of thought as United earned another valuable point in their charge toward Champions League qualification - despite putting in their worst display of the season.
Talk of the title race rarely passes O'Leary's lips but he has admitted that his United side will be up there challenging - along with Fergie's boys.
"Don't kid yourselves when you hear Sir Alex Ferguson saying that the title race is over. I won't be kidded by him saying they are out of it," said O'Leary. "If they can get it right and string a few results together then they produce a great challenge.
"We've been getting better every year and people keep trying to tip us for it but if we do make it back into the Champions League then that is us doing very well this season. I have done nothing yet and I am trying to improve the club all the time.
"Of course we would like to win something as well on the way but you need a lot of luck to win something and we shall have to see if we get that."
The draw at Fulham now means that Leeds have won only one match in their last seven Premiership outings - drawing six and losing one.
It looks bad. However, when you consider three were against Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool, they played Aston Villa with 10 men and Sunderland without Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka, you can begin to realise that the run is perhaps not so bad.
Although O'Leary admits their performance yesterday could have seen another defeat on the cards.
"I think anybody who plays Fulham is going to have a tough game and I don't think you can go to Craven Cottage and just expect to win the game," he said.
"If you ask me if we played well in this match, then the answer is no. If you ask me am I delighted with the result, then yes. With that performance I am delighted to come away with a point.
"In general if anyone was watching the game they would know that we did not pass the ball well and we are supposed to be a passing team. Most of our problems were caused by ourselves when we gave the ball away."
Leeds were, at times, quite awful and if Sir Alex's words were meant to send the jitters through the title-chasing front-runners it certainly worked here.
Passes went astray, crosses frustratingly either hit the nearest defender or flew too high, and there was a sad lack of any real creativity going forward.
The fact that they came away from the capital with anything at all was once again down to the solid work of Rio Ferdinand and his defence, and the fact that Fulham couldn't break them down.
While all of the pre-match hype had been about the £11m signing of Robbie Fowler, it was the more established figure of Ferdinand who was once again the star of the show with a quite outstanding display. Is there any other kind of performance from this young man?
Fowler was handed his first Leeds start and formed a new strike partnership with Aussie Mark Viduka who was making his return after World Cup duty with Australia.
Fellow Socceroo Harry Kewell was also back, taking up his regular spot on the left side of midfield alongside the recalled Seth Johnson, David Batty and Alan Smith who was given a new role on the right side of midfield.
There were also changes in defence as O'Leary moved Danny Mills into the middle to replace the injured Dominic Matteo and brought in Gary Kelly to play on the right with Ferdinand and Ian Harte completing the back four.
The changes seemed to have an unsettling effect on the United side as they endured a quite awful opening 45 minutes. Indeed Fowler hardly had a kick as Fulham ran the midfield and, with their slick passing game, piled on the pressure without really testing Nigel Martyn.
It was not until the 14th minute when they had their first effort on target and it was almost a crucial one as Luis Boa Morte took advantage of a mix-up between Johnson and Harte to bear down on goal.
He slipped the ball under the grasping hand of Martyn only to see Kelly on hand to slide in and clear the ball from under his own crossbar. It was a quality piece of last-ditch defending from a man who looked eager to prove he could still play a major part in this Leeds United season.
Louis Saha saw a low trundler easily saved by Martyn and the closest Leeds came to breaking the deadlock was when Kewell hit a long ball to the far post and Fowler just failed to get a decent contact on the ball as it skidded out of play.
Any hopes that a stiff half-time talking to had shaken up the Leeds players were dismissed as Fulham once again came out looking the stronger team.
Martyn made the save of the match just before the hour when he dived across to his right to palm away a John Collins free-kick and then needed to be alert again as Alain Goma headed powerfully goalward.
United's best moments were centering around Fowler, but the debutant rarely got the space to fire a decent strike on goal. When he did get a clear sight on the target he could not trouble Dutch international keeper Edwin Van Der Sar who held onto his long-range drive.
Smith, who worked hard in his new role, had a good low strike saved in the 79th minute after good work by Viduk and then with time running out Fowler flicked a Ferdinand knock-down goalward only to see the big Dutch keeper sit on the ball.
Fittingly the final word came from Ferdinand as he made a perfectly timed tackle on Barry Hayles as Fulham threatened to snatch a late winner.
It was typical of the man who has brought so much class and quality to this United line-up. If Fowler can settle half as well as him then who knows, maybe Sir Alex will be proved right come May.