Allow me start with some nuts and bolts. When I first embarked on writing tactics-flavored match reports, I planned to focus on mid-to-lower table clubs, like my initial report on Wigan v. WBA. This was because Michael Cox of Zonal Marking (a participant in a tactics interview accessed with a subscription to EPL Talk Pro) already profiles most of the big clubs. The Gaffer encouraged me to target big matches in order to interest readers. My focus on momentous matches grew as I saw positive feedback, and this tack has distracted me from my goal to profile every team in the Premier League. This relegation six-pointer gets me within one, West Ham United.
Blackburn Rovers visited the Cottagers on Saturday, in a match between two relegation candidates. This day, Fulham pulled through 3-2.
This was a game of evenly matched 4-4-2’s. Being the home side, Fulham tended to be the aggressors throughout the match, while Blackburn was content with countering upon the Cottagers and pushing up with a direct passing game. For the Rovers, it was pretty clear from their personnel that this would be a venture in bottling. Jermaine Jones and Steven N’Zonzi are defensive-minded midfielders, and coupled with a left back playing that flank, Martin Olsson, attack wasn’t the midfield’s primary role. Jones and N’Zonzi were bound to mark Murphy and Etuhu, respectively.
To an extent, it appeared that Clint Dempsey playing on the left would lead to Fulham playing more into that flank. The contrary was true, with Damien Duff, Moussa Dembele, and Chris Baird consistently breaking down Blackburn’s left side. The first goal came for Fulham at the 36th minute, when Dembele drew the attention of Samba and Givet just outside the area. A series of one-touch passes ended with Duff in the right side of the box covered by Olsson. Duff turned back, shot with his left foot, and guided the ball between Olsson’s legs and by Paul Robinson.
Blackburn leveled just before half, off a set piece. The ball jostled around, and eventually ended up on Grant Hanley’s foot. His shot glanced off of Brede Hangeland and into the net to square the score at 1.
The second half didn’t see much change in strategy for either team, if anything Blackburn buried themselves into the defensive half more at 1-1, trying to salvage a single point from the affair. Duff changed all of that, with another skillful left foot that left Robinson helpless to make it 2-1 Cottagers. Yet at the 65th minute, Blackburn wasn’t finished. Junior Hoilett benefited from poor defensive clearing to obtain the ball, head it away from his body, and volley it through Schwartzer.
In the final 20 minutes, both teams’ substitutions did little to change philosophy. Bobby Zamora entered for Murphy, the striker’s first appearance in months. Dembele came off for Gael Kakuta. This pushed Dempsey into the central midfield. In Rovers case, Givet gave way for midfielder Morton Gamst Pedersen, whose entry pushed Olsson to left back. Hoilett was replaced for Ruben Rochina.
The match was decided under controversial circumstances. In the right side of the area, an entry ball to Johnson was received, but Hanley clearly chopped him down and deserved to be penalized. Johnson regained control, and blasted a shot that was saved away by Robinson. On the ensuing corner kick, referee Mark Clattenburg immediately whistled a penalty on Hanley for holding a player in the area. Replays showed that there was contact, but it seemed a harsh decision. Zamora drove the penalty straight down the middle, behind the diving Robinson for the winning score.