Harry promised me they wouldn't come out for the second half.
Harry has definitely got the hang of this football managership thingy. Proactive substitutions, not after an hour, but at half time; team re-arranged in order to maximise the attacking impact and to minimise the effect of injuries; skilful deployment of all available resources. Everything that didn't come off in the first half worked like a dream in the second. Excellent team and man managership all round.
Harry and Roy slugged it out like two old prize fighters. Both men should take credit for the improvement in the standing and performance of their clubs. We didn't play badly in the first half but they were well organised and kept it short with plenty of movement. Our attacks broke down in the final third and they frustrated us. We went too long too soon. We didn't cover quickly enough and Palacios was left exposed in midfield. The boy's good but there are limits.
Their goal came from one of our attacks that broke down. Modric was slow to get back and they passed their way through what was left of our midfield and scored a deserved goal well taken by Zamora and engineered cleverly by Duff.. Mind you this was their first goal at the fourth time of asking this season.
Harry must have said something choice to concentrate their minds at half time and showed them he meant business by taking off Kranjcar and Ekotto and putting on two returnees from the Infirmary. How wonderful to have got through a substantial injury crises and have players returning for the run in. Bentley scored within a minute from his first touch. Harry seems to have dismantled him from the top down and re-assembled him using the manufacturers original blueprints. £15 million? I think they've missed the boat on that one.
Bale, who I think is more effective from full back, though its good to have the option, replaced Ekotto and Huddlestone filled up the midfield. We upped the tempo, found our passing range and threatened to overwhelm a very rattled Fulham. When Corluka was injured Palacios went to full back, Gudjohnsen dropped deeper and Pavlyuchenko came on and inevitably scored a scorching volley from a narrow angle from a Bentley cross. Modric, statistically our most effective player again, now buzzing from the left, set up Gudjohsen for the third after, it is reported, a 23 pass movement started by Huddlestone.
Palacios lost his bearings on occasions but played in what is now becoming his customary circumspect manner and completed yet another 90 minutes without a yellow card. He doesn't need to tackle now as his reputation precedes him. He has had a set of printed cards made to hand out at the start of the match which read, 'I am Wilson Palacios. Don't even think about it'.
So its 'Hats off to Harry' as the old Del Shannon hit nearly said: for his positivity, his organisational efficiency and for knowing when to gamble. Elsewhere on an almost perfect night Villa drew and Man.City lost. We are now clear of all our challengers for fourth place. Fulham was our fifth straight win and we have Portsmouth on Saturday. After that it gets more difficult but two of our 'top four' games are at home and in current form we would hope to get something from them. Of our remaining eight games four are eminently winnable on our current form: Portsmouth, Sunderland Bolton, and Burnley. Simply winning all of those might be enough to clinch it. The other game away to City has yet to be arranged but could be the key to 4th place.
The injury to Bassong is not thought to be serious but Corluka could be out for three weeks. The best moment of the match was when Harry called Pavlyuchenko across during an injury break to relay some tactical instructions to the team. It wasn't clear whether this conversation was in Russian or English but Roman's face registering a mixture of surprise, delight, and incomprehension said it all.
Hats off to Harry too for his shrewd recruitment of Gudjohnsen and Kranjcar and his rehabilitation of Bale, Pavlyuchenko and Bentley. Bassong too has turned out better than we might have hoped. We just need Lennon, Defoe, Jenas and Ledley back now and we have a squad more than equal to the tasks ahead. Its amazing what we have achieved without so many first choice players but where Harry's going to fit them all in I have no idea.
Far from fearing that we will not make the grade if we should step up I am worried that we are becoming a little predictable: winning games we are expected to win; players playing to their full transfer value. Where will it all end.? Decades in the Champions' League; trophy cabinets full of silverware; Harry still manager into his seventies. Is that what you all really want? What about the uncertainties, the disappointments, the mounting tensions when we are a goal or even two up? You mean you would swap all that for glory and success. We might have to go over to W.Ham for our weekly despondency fix.
On Saturday we are at home to Portsmouth. Who knows what state of mind they will be in or how many first team players they still have or can afford to play. O'Hara possibly their best player is ineligible and they have injury problems of their own, Unlike us they have nothing in particular to play for and their away record and record at WHL is very poor.. We should win this easily especially with quality players returning, confidence high and a capacity crowd.
JimmyG2 official prediction: 3-0. Remember, I'm not always wrong.