Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Fulham's Cottage industry no match for the Manchester United steam-roller


Tommy Trinder, the late comedian and one-time Fulham chairman, must have called the club's fans some of the luckiest people in the world. By the end of their 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Manchester United most of us felt enormously privileged. United were through to an FA Cup semi-final against Everton and Fulham looked like lost tourists in the middle of Piccadilly Circus.

Undoubtedly Fulham remain one of the most endearing clubs in the Premier League, rather like one of those cute teddy bears in Hamley's shop window. Every so often they sit comfortably in the middle of the Premier League and then just topple over when nobody expects it.

Half way through this criminally one-sided FA Cup massacre, Fulham chairman Mohammad Al Fayed just slumped forward in his seat as if life had well and truly dealt him a poor hand. Perhaps he was more concerned about the profit margins at Harrods.

Al Fayed has had more than his fair share of heartache in recent years but it may not be very often that teams of Manchester United's stature come along and spoil his day.

Football, as we all know, is all about attitudes and platitudes, but when it comes to sheer class then United could probably give you chapter and verse. Once again United displayed all the game's most commendable values. There was, as ever, a marvellous sense of proportion and perspective about United's football that holds us totally mesmerised.

Wherever you looked, every red United shirt knew exactly where the other was. From the heart of their defence to the front line passes were zipped to feet with instinctive accuracy. Darren Fletcher. Michael Carrick and Patrice Evra moved around Craven Cottage like the bishops and knights on a chessboard. It was only when United scored an almost inevitable fourth goal that Fulham were in checkmate.

But it was the strength of Sir Alex Ferguson's new breed of ball players who caught the eye. Jonny Evans, Danny Welbeck and Richard Eckersley are the emerging kids who may turn into the next David Beckham, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes. Maybe not overnight, but Old Trafford is priming itself for another invasion of the country's best young talent.

For Fulham this was the day when more pressing issues seemed to pre-occupy them. They lie in the calm waters of the Premier League but they may have to get their priorities right. There is an unnerving brittleness and vulnerability about the Cottagers that does leave you feeling queasy. Their football is correct and proper but manager Roy Hodgson may have to keep his players' heads above water.

We all know that Fulham were once regarded as one of football's playful circus acts who loved to fall over. During the 1950s their midfield maestro Johnny Haynes, almost single-handedly at times, kept Craven Cottage fans on their feet. Haynes was the chief architect and engineer of everything that Fulham turned their hand to. There was Tosh Chamberlain, Jimmy Hill and Bobby Robson, men of honour and honesty.

But Fulham are still prone to pratfalls and moments of extreme amateurism. You can almost see the incompetence when things go horribly wrong. After years in the old Second Division and Third you can almost see the cracks. Craven Cottage still has an old fashioned Victorian feel and the neatly black and white painted balcony at one end of the ground is a quaint throwback to another age.

Throughout this savage 4-0 mauling by United's roaring lions, the midfield graft and industry of Danny Murphy and Simon Davies did show some initiative for Fulham. But for all the hard running and red-blooded endeavour of Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson, Fulham were rather like peasants at a country landowner's ball.

Manchester United are well and truly on course for a season of astonishing achievement. They will now look to an FA Cup semi-final against David Moyes' Everton confident in their own footballing knowledge.

Next for United are Jose Mourinho and Milan and the possibility of a clean sweep looks a splendid reality. Perhaps Tommy Trinder was right. We are indeed very lucky people!

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