Fulham versus Bolton is not traditionally a fixture which has people rushing to their tv controls but today's game was enthralling and revealed a lot about what the bottom of the Premiership will look like this season. Fulham don't need to worry- for Bolton this season is going to be a long hard campaign.
First lets turn to the match. Fulham dominated the contest completely. They were fantastic. A midfield four of Bullard, Murphy, Gera and Davies swapped positions continually with strikers Zamora and Johnson. Murphy staked a claim to play at the base of England's midfield with an intelligent display- looking like Carrick on a good day for United. But it was Zoltan Gera, bought from West Brom in the summer, who really impressed- his play was intelligent and he fitted into the triangles that Fulham were composing across the pitch with aplomb. Despite the fact that most of his career has been in the Championship in England, he looked every inch the Premiership player.
The movement was what exhilerated me. Three examples immediatly come to mind. Firstly was Zamora's combinations with Gera, twice in the first half the duo had Bolton really struggling- once it led to a goal. Gera would receive the ball halfway between the centre circle and the opposition goal, he would draw the fullback to him. He would then play the ball gently through to Zamora who would run towards the byeline. Zamora would have dragged his centre half out of position and Gera then ran into the box to be on the end of the ball when Bolton attempted to clear it- that brought a goal once and created chaos the other time they did it.
Zamora also combined well with Johnson. I was really impressed with Johnson today who I thought had a fantastic game. The thing about him was not just his pace- which neither Bolton centre back but particularly the lumbering Danny Shittu (a more aptly named player I have yet to find) could cope with- but his intelligence. So often Johnson would be played through by Zamora but would lack the avenue to actually shoot or set up someone else for a chance- but he was always looking to get corners- and frequently would run straight to the bye line and fire the ball against the shins of the Bolton defender. Once Johnson got through and Shittu pulled him down- unfortunately a poor referee failed to spot the foul (the referee today was really awful).
The other player who I think deserves commendation was Paul Konchesky. Now unlike Gera or any of the midfielders or strikers, Konchesky is not a great player- he doesn't have the passing of Murphy, the intelligence of Johnson or Zamora or Gera, the ability of Bullard or the skill of Davies. What he does have though is pace and willingness. Konchesky cannot cross to save his life but that didn't stop him running up and down the lefthand side all day- he looked like he could do it all week. For a display or pure effort, it deserves top marks- he was secure defensively as were Hangeland and Hughes. Indeed the only Fulham player who I was disappointed with was Pantsil the right back who looked like he panicked in defence (how unlike Danny Murphy who calmly at one point nutmegged a Bolton player inside his own penalty area).
Everything above could be planned for- and one of the goals Fulham scored was part of that plan- Gera hitting a loose ball that had originated from a Zamora cross strong into the corner. However the other goal was moment of genius. Bobby Zamora is underrated as an English striker- but today was a really good game and it strikes me that keep this up and he could look a very promising addition. His best moment is something I will remember for a long time- he got the ball surrounded by Bolton players- but managed in one movement, using the outside of his foot, to go past two players. Then took a touch and then hit the ball, with scientific precision, straight into the corner of the net. It was breathtaking- reminiscent of something that Edwardo or Thierry Henry might do.
For Bolton there weren't many highlights. Kevin Davies looked a handful- but was mercilessly isolated for most of the game. Bolton need two up front. Indeed when they had two up front they scored- perhaps a lucky goal but still a goal. The thing this really reinforced to me though was the difference between the two managers. Megson and Hodgson arrived at a similar point last season- both followed on from bad successors to good managers- both bought and sold a lot. But what Hodgson has constructed is a good footballing side with a very strong midfield- they could probably do with a new right back, they could probably do with another striker to come on for Johnson (Erik Nevland looked a handful on for Zamora) but overall they are alright. Bolton look lamentable- a long ball team with only one really standout player- Kevin Davies- who really need new midfielders and centre defenders- they will struggle this season unless they improve.
Fulham though I think deserve praise today- 2-1 flattered Bolton a lot. Fulham should have scored more and but for the referee might have done more damage- they were quite simply astounding and I was blown away. On this form not only Bullard but Murphy has a strong case for an England call up and on this form, Zamora and Johnson will cause people problems. I think they are a possibility for the UEFA Cup- and definitely will survive. Roy Hodgson is revealing his quality as a world class manager.
I'm afraid Gary Megson looked championship class and championship bound today.