Fulham 0 Spurs 0
Not exactly your quintessential cup tie that. For all the talk about squad depletion and recalling of yoof players to make up the numbers, our starting line-up wasn't too shabby. Defoe on the bench, but the switch on the left-side (BAE slotting into left-back and Bale into left-midfield) was something I was keen to see and Modric in the middle is something that's always up for discussion - can it work? Crouch upfront with Pav and Niko on the right. Regardless of the kids on the bench keeping JD company, it's a line-up good enough to beat Fulham, or at least make the effort to do so.
So, how did this game end 0-0? Simply put, because it wasn't very good. There were moments for both sides. We dominated possession but Fulham had the shots on target. Palacios marshalled the midfield but Modric struggled to dictate or find the time to hurt the opposition. Perhaps this wasn't the perfect stage for him to play central, but then Harry was forced to do so thanks to our bare bone crisis. Had we another CM capable of fulfilling the role then perhaps Modric starting out on the left would have allowed him to roam, dink and cut inside in that wonderfully jinxing manner we love to watch. His passing was a little off-key too. Not the best of days. But perhaps not the best of pitches (although no excuse, he worked his magic up at Wigan a few weeks back).
First half was congested, untidy. No real FA Cup magic to behold, in fact no real evidence of this being an FA Cup tie full stop. Second half, better, but frustrating. For all the ball at our feet and defending when called upon to do so there was still moments when Zamora and company threatened. The threat thankfully always ended with a sigh of relief. Fulham not really causing us anything more than half a missed heart-beat. But you know how it is, we dominate, they break, they score and we rage. You could almost see it happening, compounded with what smelt like ominous irony (smells like sick) mainly because we lacked cutting edge up front. This game was made for the sucker-punch.
I guess with Fulham playing so deep and defensive, there wasn't enough about them to make us that nervous. Not really.
As for us; cutting edge, the lack of. How you haunt me week after week. I'm actually not going to knee-jerk and perhaps the more astute amongst you will reason why the Pav/Crouch combo failed to ignite today. IMO, it failed because it was just one of those games. I love the word 'fragmented' (to be copyrighted). And today it just felt like our forwards were snuffed out of it by the resolute tenacity of the Fulham defenders and the tactics of Hodgson. It was all a bit too fragmented.
I think Roy was quite clever. If this was a traditional cup tie and had Fulham gone out and attempted to give it some proper gallivanting play, we'd had beaten them. We have the better footballers. And they lacked the presence of a Murphy in the middle to make them truly tick creatively. So what Roy did (the git) was have his players work their socks off. And their more direct play pushing forward (not talking long ball but speed of attack) allowed them the opportunities to test us, so from their perspective they could contain us and counter. Good tactics.
The problem we had in countering this, is one open for debate. Pav didn't really have any goal-sniffing opps that he thrives off. No 'one second' to think moments. He disappeared in some of the build up play, sometimes struggling to bring the ball under control quickly. Could he have dug deeper? Can he dig deeper? Is it the right game to knee-jerk on his performance? No. Let this one be. Watch the difference in the replay. Although if a play fails to find another way into a game and a trend develops, we have a problem. Said player can only play effectively if the game suits him (Darren Bent anyone?)
Crouch was okay. Felt at times that we didn't really use him properly. Crossing was not great and there seemed to be the usual confusion with when exactly to aim for his head and when to play the ball forward to his feet. Towards the end (when JD came on for Pav) someone (sorry, forgot who) pumped the ball up to Defoe. I mean seriously, Crouch has gone off and we're still pumping it up forwards. This time to a midget. Giving him 60/40 against him to win it. Bit of common sense sometimes let's us down. I know this isn't exactly criminal, but sometimes a little bit more intelligence is required - especially in the final moments of a game.
edit: Crouch was in fact still on the pitch. Slight balls up there in my reporting. Soz. Evidently, one too many beers it would seem. I guess you might argue that even though he had not been subbed, he was invisible. Boom boom.
I'll add this - there were moments in the game when players made mistakes when a LEADER was blatantly required to shout at them. Sometimes it looks like discrepancies are accepted.
Perhaps its time for a new directive. Play the ball on the ground unless you're passing the ball up the field to someone's feet. There is a time and place to play the knock down via Crouch. But anyways, if we haven't worked it out yet, I can't see us working it out any time soon. It's what births the questions about how Crouch is more successful for England than he is for Spurs - and if its because Crouch is an out and out striker for England - then it means we've got the wrong player up front to aid the Spurs 'out and out' forward.
Bale was stupendous to watch. Powerful and silky. Our best creative outlet, but alas not enough on the day to craft out a chance. No fault of his. He had plenty of success but cut backs were limited. Gomes, confident in goal, helped as survive any potentially heart in mouth moments. In the end, tbh, I'm happy with the result. Neither side deserved to win it and had, let's say Fulham nicked it, I'd have been furious for what was such a lacklustre game to have allowed a winner to head towards Wembley for the semi-final. Mainly because I'd have looked at our players and questioned their belief and determination to force the issue and score. Losing games of this manner is far more frustrating then losing a ding dong cup tie.
Corluka almost scoring an own-goal and earlier in the game, BAE attempting to be smart in the box and losing the ball - two moments that had me screaming out WTF expletives. Crouchies header and Pav's attempted over-head kick not enough.
Far from over, mind. But Fulham have a mental fixture list in the next few weeks, so as long as we can recover some of our walking wounded and get through our games without any further damage - we should...should be able to get the right result at WHL (Wed 24th).
As important as 4th is, the FA Cup is something I'm desperate for us to win again. Been too long.