The Holy Grail
By Pete Fincham
Well, that was that then. The FA Cup for another year! How ever much you want teams to treat the FA Cup like the Holy Grail that we, the fans, still regard it to be, the absence of Manchester United in the tournament a few years ago really did start the degenerative process of something that used to be so great. Perhaps a telling moment as to Fulham's real attitude to the tournament came when I was talking to a couple of their fans, who advised me that in the last few minutes "The Daddy", Bouba Diop, would look to get himself booked to avoid the Derby game if Fulham were winning. Apparently, it would be preferable for him to miss the FA Cup game, the only thing this club has left to play for this season, than any league game.
Arguably, Watford could have been "sort of" justified in, as it seemed, a less than hundred percent approach to the game, with minds and bodies focusing on the Liverpool return leg. But few of the four thousand-strong yellow army that travelled to Putney could have predicted that the side would go out with so quiet a whimper. Fulham fans seemed to pre-empt this non event in advance, with only an additional seven thousand of them showing up, making it the lowest home attendance of the season by nearly five thousand.
On the drive home - Putney to the coast in seventy minutes was the highlight of a disappointing evening - I rang a couple of people to find out whether I was alone in being simply at a loss as to who to award "Man of the Match" to! Chamberlain was the only starting player to get a three-out-of-five and that was because he did nothing all night. No disrespect to Alec by any means; it was simply that nothing really happened in either goal mouth, save a couple of weak shots and the odd cross which beat the first man. The fact that Neil Ardley also gained a three and thus star man should be an indication of exactly how poor a performance this was. He threw a few fairly accurate crosses into the box and looked quite lively for a whole twenty-three minutes! That was the best performance we could muster.
Following on from a thrilling first game, Ardley and Gunnarsson were both rested ahead of the Wigan - roll out your stiffs - clash, with a view to playing a rested first choice team against Liverpool. Webber and Blizzard replaced those two, with the now familiar 4-5-1 formation employed.
A sloppy opening was punctured by a Lee Clark in-swinging free kick finding Zat Knight's head, which in turn found the roof of the net; but within minutes Fulham were ahead thanks to Moritz Volz's first goal for the club in sixty-one appearances. Mahon gifted possession to "The Daddy", who threaded a fine ball through to Darlington to clear. Unfortunately Darlington, playing like a shadow of the player who has lately been so much improved, chose to trip over the ball with Volz closing in, allowing the German a clear shot at goal which gave Chamberlain no chance and the hosts the lead. It really was quite chronic defending.
Within a few minutes Webber, memorable only for this moment, drifted through two meek challenges thirty-five yards out before firing an effort at van der Saar from twenty-five yards. For the remainder of the game, Webber's only drifting was rectal.
Bouazza looked the sole source of creativity within the side, but all too often his twists and turns failed to beat Volz at right back. And on the odd occasion the Frenchman beat the German, the cross failed to beat the first man, leaving a certain Icelandic frustrated that the only heading he would undertake all night would be defensive.
Half-time came and went with the knowledge that either something drastic would happen to change the game, or the FA Cup was not going to involve the Hornets until 2006. The two blokes at the back of the Fulham main stand carried on their "Lewington Out" chants, due to their dislike for the now Watford manager when he undertook the tricky task of managing their team nearly twenty years ago! While the prediction that "The Daddy" had his booking plan already grew more popular support.
Radzinski doubled the Fulham lead twenty minutes into the second half which, in truth, was the first thing that happened in the period. The Fulham website interprets it as a Cole pass, the Canadian turning Helguson before slotting home. You might be a Premiership (and to continue what seems to be the BSaD theme, not Premier, not a ship) outfit, but how difficult is it to differentiate between a skinny black defender and a marauding, blonde Icelandic forward at least fifty yards away from the incident? Especially when the slave who wrote this had access to instant TV replays! Either way, Alec Chamberlain stood no chance with the perfectly placed effort.
The triple substitution that followed was much needed, as the disappointing Devlin, accompanied by Blizzard and Bouazza, made way for Dyer, Ardley and Gunnarsson. Not a great deal changed other than Ardley put a few hopeful but accurate balls into the box - generally from free kicks given away by Volz or Bocanegra - while Bouba Diop planned how and when to pick up his card. With eight minutes to go, Chamberlain went to take a free kick thirty yards out from goal. Bouba Diop charged it down as if demented and unaware of the rules. If only he were unaware of the rules! Unfortunately for the Senegal midfielder, the ever-alert Andy D'Urso - still pilloried in my household for two controversial penalties at Loftus Road - had his back to the situation and by this point neither linesman even cared!
So a couple of moments later he tried again, this time to a Neal Ardley effort just outside the box. This time D'Urso was slightly more aware of his responsibilities to actually keep a track of things on the pitch. Diop had got his way and a free weekend of shopping at Borough market awaits the Bouba Diop family on Saturday week.
The final whistle came as blessed relief for the remaining fans in the ground.
Let's just hope that this effortless evening is not in vain next Tuesday. We will have to go some to get a result against Liverpool, but we've also got to make up for this dreadful evening as well.