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Fulham's Premiership Survival Battle Is Not Over Yet

Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis know of my undying hope for Fulham to stay in the Premiership. It seems like every couple weeks for the past two months, I’ve written a post saying that it’s unwise to write Fulham off, but then they go and screw up where they shouldn’t screw up and it looks like crow will become a new part of my diet at the end of the year.

I picked them to finish 13th this season and while that won’t happen, I would like to see my prediction somewhat vindicated by the Cottagers staying up. Their roster is full of Americans — Kasey Keller, Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra, Eddie Johnson, and the captain, Brian McBride — and as an American myself, I’m rooting for my fellow countrymen to get the job done each and every week. I also have a soft spot for them as an underdog, playing in the shadow of much bigger clubs in London in a small, old (but cozy and picturesque) stadium.

So yes, it’s no secret that I want Fulham to be successful.

I had a previous engagement on Saturday and wasn’t able to turn the Manchester City-Fulham game on until about the 55th minute, by which City was already up 2-0 through a couple of early goals. I watched for five or ten more minutes and wasn’t exactly thrilled by what I saw out of the West London club. At that point, I was resigned to Fulham losing, so I turned on the NFL Draft to check out who my Buffalo Bills were going to take in the 2nd Round.

I won’t lie to you. I wish I could say I was a diehard fan who watched the game until the very end, but I can’t. I wish I could say that I always knew Fulham would find a way back and get something out of that game, but again, that wouldn’t be the truth.

Watching the Everton-Aston Villa game the next afternoon, I was talking with my brother, an avid Liverpool fan, about useless strikers in the Premiership. He, of course, went on and on about Andriy Voronin and Dirk Kuyt earlier in the season. I then threw out Diomansy Kamara, who is usually a late game sub brought on by Roy Hodgson to have an immediate impact. That seems to never, ever, happen though; Kamara generally replaces David Healy and does very little when he comes into the game.

Then he told me Kamara scored twice on Saturday.

“Twice?!? Fulham lost 2-0, how’d he score twice??”

“They didn’t lose, they won 3-2.”

“No they didn’t! It was 2-0 when I turned the game off, how did they win??”

“Well, Danny Murphy put in his own rebound from a missed PK, and they got the winner from Kamara in stoppage time.”

As a Liverpool supporter, he had to mention Danny Murphy. He just had to.

When I saw the highlights on the Premier League Review Show last night, I was still stunned. Diomansy Kamara looked like a world-beater out there. He looked like a guy who had no business playing for a small club like Fulham. His two goals came from cool, cool finishes, and Murphy was composed enough to score from close range as well.

Manchester City seemed to have bossed the game, with Kasey Keller repeatedly coming up huge in net for Hodgson’s team. Then all of a sudden, boom, boom, boom, Fulham won the game and took the valuable three points.

Because of that incredible comeback, Fulham now has a chance to avoid relegation. They’re still in 19th place with 30 points, but they’re only three points away from safety and have a better goal differential than 17th-place Reading.

Next weekend, the Cottagers host Birmingham City, who are in 18th with 32 points and have lost a whopping 13 games away from home this season whilst winning just two. A victory for Fulham would potentially propel them ahead of Reading, not to mention Birmingham, because Steve Coppell’s side has a home game against Tottenham. I can’t see Reading winning that game, although a draw is very likely, but they could just as easily lose. If they don’t come away with anything and Fulham wins, Fulham would leap into 16th place heading into the last game of the season.

Now, I’ll admit, I think the Reading-Spurs game will end in a tie. That would put Reading on 34 points, one ahead of Bolton, who plays host to Sunderland next weekend. I can also see that game ending all square, so Bolton would be on 34 points as well. A Fulham victory would give the Cottagers 33 points with one game to go, and for Fulham, it’s a trip to Fratton Park against a Portsmouth team who have put all of their eggs in the FA Cup final basket. Bolton’s last game is at Chelsea, where they’ll get nothing, Reading’s is at Derby, who will be anxious to give their fans one last solid Premiership performance, and Birmingham is home to Blackburn, which has “draw” written all over it.

What does this all mean? Well, let’s say Fulham manages to get a draw at Portsmouth, Reading get beat at Derby, and Birmingham do pick up a point against Blackburn. Assuming Fulham does, in fact, take care of business and beat Birmingham, that would leave Fulham on 34 points, Reading on 34, Bolton on 34, and Birmingham on 33. Birmingham would be relegated, and it would come down to goal differential between the three tied teams. Fulham’s is currently three goals better than that of Reading, and five goals worse than that of Bolton. If it all stays the same, Reading would go down as well, leaving Fulham and Bolton in the Premiership.

Whatever happens, it’s going to be a great end to the Premiership season. I sincerely hope that Fulham can pull off the great escape and stay in England’s top flight, and yours truly will be cheering for them in each of their last two games.

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  1. Kartik

    April 29, 2008 at 8:01 am

    Ferd, not Fred. Typo, sorry!

  2. Kartik

    April 29, 2008 at 8:00 am

    Fred, I think it is a combination of issues. Firstly our best athletes don’t go into the sport. Our second and third tier of athletes don’t go into the sport either.

    Then other problems exist. Geography. The country is massive and the ability to “find” top young players and recruit them into the national academy is difficult.

    Geography plays a role also in preventing us from developing a distinguishing style of football. Some parts of the country are so brutally hot it resembles much of Central America, others are so cold during the winter it is impossible to play the sport (and thus why it is totally impractical for MLS to play on the same calendar as the PL) so this stifles us, unlike England which is monolithic from a geography point of view and they all play the game the same way on the same pitches at the same times of year.

    Then their is a matter of the US federation. The USSF is for the most part run by older elite white guys adverse to opening up the game to latins and inner cities. That’s why some of the best potential American players who are also eligible to play for Mexico choose Mexico, not to mention Mexico is always better than the US so you’ve got a better shot to go deep in the World cup but less of a shot to play. But maybe not, because a bias tends to exist against latino players in the US system.

    The federation is content to pocket cash as is SUM, the marketing arm of MLS by hosting friendlies in the US against attractive opponents like Brazil and Argentina. The US plays both of those nations here every couple years as a blatant cash grab and nothing else. SUM despite their ownership by MLS is more tied into Mexican Football and than the US and thus Mexico plays a bunch of friendlies in the US which further promote their product and tempt eligible American born players to play for them or their clubs all of whom are better from an atmosphere standpoint than MLS clubs.

    Donovan is our best player and it is not even close. Not even close to being close. Their isn’t a single other American who could even threaten to make a 23 man squad for England, Mexico, Holland or South Korea. I’m not even mentioning real top tier countries like Italy, France, Brazil or Argentina.

    This wasn’t always the case. In 2000 the US could have placed many players on both England and Mexico’s team. So in fact we have regressed and nobody seems to notice or care. We have allowed our league very quietly to become a place which Americans are no longer given a chance to develop. It depends on your priorities, and mine is the national team. If you want to see good club football, MLS certainly is improving but I am not willing like many Englishmen who rightfully complain about the PL’s malign impact on the England National Team to compromise our competitiveness internationally to have a decent league. I’m predicting right now that the US will either miss the 2010 or 2014 World Cup if this trend continues. CONCACAF despite its reputation is improving greatly. Right now I am real excited about the potential for Honduras and Haiti to emerge as competitors for the next qualifying cycle and Costa Rica and Panama should be strong also. So the US is in trouble and most of our fans either don’t care and simply watch Euro leagues and act as if their own country doesn’t exist or are too busy waiving the flag saying how good we are. (much like a political debate between right and left) It’s a highly polarized soccer community in the US and what I strive to do is bring some balance and realism to the debate if anyone really cares.

  3. Ferd

    April 28, 2008 at 9:14 pm


    Why do you think the USA is not producing world class players? I happen to agree with you for the most part and it baffles me that we have the resources to be able to compete with anyone on a youth level but then our youth never seem to become world class professionals. It is hard for me to believe that Landon Donovan is the best we have to offer!?
    I am also pulling for Fulham to avoid the drop based on their willingness to sign Americans but if they do stay up I would bet it has more to do with the play of Bullard then anyone else on that team.

  4. Ivan

    April 28, 2008 at 6:32 pm

    I’m not an American but i do think Kartik is a bit harsh. I understand there is a problem if the domestic league is not a base for domestic players. The USA case study is similar to Australia, both developing football countries. Arguably Australians have been exported overseas years before the US did (may be wrong) at the expense of the domestic league and despite our strong european contingent for years we failed many of a time to qualify for a world cup. The problem there however was the NT played two important year in Oceania every four years for the world cup. I also put that down to the lack of a plan at the grassroots.

    Going to Europe for a player should be the pinnacle (perhaps when a player has done all he can domestically, but arguable), obvious benefits of going overseas is to improve your trade and to test yourself at a higher level. The point is not exactly “impact” but surely playing or having the chance to play in the PL or championship week in week out is beneficial to a player. Take for example Tim Cahill, he went over plied his trade at Milwall and now he is a star for Everton. Lots of issues involved… many of a case where our young Australians move overseas 15-18 and join youth/reserve setups, with the new a-league we obviously want to keep the talent for our league to be strong but then again do we want to hamper the opportunities out there for our young players….

  5. Michael

    April 28, 2008 at 4:23 pm

    Yep, and I wrote a post on English Soccer Talk that I didn’t post here, I think Steve Bruce has done a terrific job this season and without him, Birmingham could be relegated. With him, Wigan is safe and Bruce knows exactly what to do to get results and he gets the most out of not that much talent.

    I wrote that back on the 15th.

  6. TheScout

    April 28, 2008 at 4:18 pm


    I mentioned it in one of Michael’s post about manager of the season. Steve Bruce deserves some platitudes for turning Wigan around in the second half. They’re playing better football and are not as painful to watch. I hope they invest wisely and challenge for a Top 10 spot next season.

  7. Kartik

    April 28, 2008 at 3:55 pm

    Actually Lonnie, you got me. Bradley may be the exception I was looking for. Still MLS right now is a problem. I’ve watched all but one or two MLS games played this season, and in very few games has an American besides Donovan (who we know is head and shoulders above every other American at least from a talent standpoint) really made a difference. If that is happening in our domestic league you can imagine how laughable clubs think signing Americans would be overseas.

    Bullard getting healthy has changed Fulham’s fortune.

    Another question for everyone. Am I alone in being pleased that Wigan is staying up? It certainly seems that way. I see them as Cinderella and show my Americanism that I root for such a clear underdog to stay up every year.

  8. TheScout

    April 28, 2008 at 3:44 pm


    I agree with what you’re saying about MLS and foreign players but I think you’re being a bit harsh on US players. I don’t think you need to have the “best” player on several different squads to build a strong national team. And in any case, what about Michael Bradley at Heerenveen? Would he not qualify as the best player on that squad? I know a lot of people see the Dutch league as a “lesser” league but largely I think that’s because other leagues have more money to splash around and not so much to do with the on-field product.

    I have to say that I have not been overly impressed with Dempsey in the matches I’ve seen. Eddie Johnson has not had an impact yet either but he was a mid-season transfer and I’m willing to wait and see on him.

    For me, Jimmy Bullard has easily been the best player on that squad this year. It’s too bad for Fulham that he was hurt for such a large block of the season. I had written Fulham off but they may just pull off an escape yet. Reading are sinking fast and they do not look likely to pick up much in the way of points before the end of the season.

  9. Kartik

    April 28, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    Keller is the only one that matters and he plays only when Niemi is hurt. The bottom line is that their isn’t a single American player anywhere on the planet who is the best player on their team in a FIFA sanctioned first division. (ironically if one exception exists it is the Galaxy where it seems Donovan may be better at this stage of his career than Beckham but that is obviously very debatable.)

    Even minnows like Jamaica, Austria, Qatar, and New Zealand don’t have that problem. MLS was supposed to be our league but now has been over run with foreigners, so don’t be shocked if the US fails to qualify for the next World Cup.

    As far as McBride, perhaps you are correct although I have a different opinion. but McBride has retired from international soccer so even if he is Fulham’s best player he doesn’t really count anymore.

    As I said if Fulham stays up it will because of Bullard, Davies, Kamara, Staltari and their non American contingent, not because of anyone we have sent over there, particularly our captain Bocanegra.

  10. Michael

    April 28, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    Can’t agree with you there. McBride has been Fulham’s best player when healthy this season, Dempsey has scored some important goals and has been the team’s hardest worker all year, especially when Bullard and McBride were injured, Keller has played very well at times, and Bocanegra has played his share of games for Fulham.

  11. Kartik

    April 28, 2008 at 2:17 pm

    The problem is the Americans have no impact on Fulham’s success and little impact elsewhere in Europe. In addition, American’s having less and less impact even in our own domestic league, MLS which is now dominated by foreigners. Landon Donovan is the only American who would certainly be placed among the 25 players in MLS, and even in England where cries of a foreign invasion have been loud, you don’t have that situation with the quality of Rooney, Owen, Lampard, Carragher and Gerrard.

    Americans are simply role players on European clubs even when in masse, and are becoming less and less relevant in our own domestic league. (it could be argued that not a single team in MLS has an American as its top player. That’s not the situation in England) So it will be surprising to me if the US doesn’t have a very tough time qualifying for the next world cup. The way I see it, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Panama all have stars that LEAD their teams. The US has no LEADERSHIP from a captain who never plays for his club team, to a nieve set of players. CONCACAF is improving while the US standing still. Fulham’s survival has no bearing on the US’ situation and the Americans on Fulham have ZERO impact on whether the London lcub stays up or not. That’s pretty obvious.

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