I should have been confident about winning this match, WW having broken the Blackburn Rovers jinx at Ewood Park the previous week. However, as AV proved on Saturday, the Rovers are a push-over at the moment and this seemed to devalue our victory. Yesterday`s result therefore helped to add gloss to our performances this season.
For me, the actual countdown to the match started on Friday morning in the High Street when I noticed a guy in a Fulham shirt coming towards me. We talked about the Dnipro game, which he had attended, and our upcoming match. He was confident that his side would win.
So, it was with some apprehension that I donned my WW shirt on Sunday morning before walking into the village for a newspaper. The guy at the checkout was an Arsenal fan so I compounded his misery by telling him that he could not have Doyle at any price. Packing my new season ticket, I set off at 8.45 a.m.
I`ll say one thing for the new strip: it`s easy to spot at service stations. So, I chatted to four WW fans at Oxford and waved to a fifth, who was just getting into his car at Warwick. The prevailing opinion was that we hoped for a win but would settle for a draw.
This was my view when I spoke to the WW fan, who drew up alongside me when I got out of my car at West Park at 11.30 a.m. Quite rightly, he told me to have more confidence in the team. I reminded him of this when we found ourselves walking back together at the end of the match. By then, of course, my confidence had grown.
I was looking forward to a pint of Banks`s Bitter at The Varsity but, as it was closed, I had to settle for a Black Sheep and a BLT sandwich at the Royal London across the road. Having paid, I noticed that The Varsity had opened. Aarrgghh!! Oh well, I could still go over for a pint of BB there. Wrong! The barmaid told me that the pub was waiting for a delivery and would I like a Black Sheep instead? (Perhaps, it`s the proximity to Wales!) Grumbling, I ordered a pint of Banks`s Mild.
I arrived at my seat in the BW stand at 1.36 pm and looked across to the empty Stan Cullis stand, still wondering about club priorities. Kick-off was delayed because of congestion and for the tribute to Frank Munro. What a sad loss. I remember his playing days at WW with affection.
As for the game, WW ran out worthy winners. Apart from a couple of close calls and a frantic last ten minutes, even I could relax, secure in the knowledge that we were outplaying Fulham (and scoring goals). We completely dominated the first half and could have gone in to the break twice as many goals to the good. Fulham tried a little harder after the interval, their substitutions helping to improve their performance without seriously challenging our superiority.
The team has definitely moved up a level this season and all the parts are working better as an integrated whole (but with some reservation: see below). We are particularly good going forward and this provides us with numerous chances to score: look at the stats of the match. At the same time, we are less likely to leak goals at the back. Nonetheless, we really would benefit from the acquisition of a CB and a LB, if only as cover.
Having raised the controversial issue of Ward, let me acknowledge the tremendous progress he has made this season. He had a great game yesterday, nullifying the threat posed by Duff, no mean player. In the 78th. minute, moreover, he made two crucial tackles in the box, thereby preserving our clean sheet and, incidentally, reducing the tension of a one goal lead with ten minutes to go. He also added an extra dimension to the team going forward, linking up well with Jarvis.
Even if there is still some room for improvement, one feels that there will not be so many last minute slip-ups this time round. The defence is much more solid and better organised, that is, doing the job it is meant to do, namely defending. The players are less proficient in moving the ball out and yesterday, apart from Ward, were guilty of sloppy passing. Berra and Stearman were particularly guilty and Johnson was not without fault. I yearn to see Zubar at RB, because, like Ward, he is good at linking up with the players in front of him and going forward himself. If Zubes`s back is still causing him problems, I would prefer to see Foley occupying that position. He is a more reliable defender than Stearman and exhibits greater control with the ball at his feet.
We won the game in midfield with Henry approaching his best as an enforcer. This allowed JOH to orchestrate the attacks and to get forward to have a number of shots on goal. Jarvis had a good game and was involved in both goals. Hunt was superb again, popping up all over the pitch. It was his cross that set up Johnson`s header that led to Jarvis`s goal. Actually, we were all celebrating Johnson`s goal when it hit the post!
Upfront, the partnership between Fletcher and Doyle is flourishing. Doyle improved on his Blackburn performance and deservedly bagged a goal … the more difficult one of the two he should have scored. He is a priceless asset and the report of a Liverpool bid for him would have spoilt my day, had I not partaken of some fortified water by the time that I read the report. If Kenny Dalglish wants him, he is going to have to pay a lot more than the reported £10m. and shift my dead body out of the way first. Fletcher did not score but posed a constant threat. If one or two passes had been better flighted or weighted, he would have been on the score sheet. Thinking about the potency of our attacking force is helping to allay my built-in anxiety about all things WW.
I drove home in a state of euphoria, which traffic congestion on the M40 and the annoying Robbie Savage on 606 could not budge. However, I was worried that I would be late for my risotto at home, timed for 7.30 pm. At Oxford services I talked to a WW fan, who had his girl-friend in tow. If only my wife were as keen, it would mean fewer compensatory visits to garden centres and DIY stores. A phone call delayed the risotto and a bottle of white wine put her in a good mood. Settling down to watch Football First at 10.15 pm, glass of beer in hand, it was the end of a perfect day … leaving aside the possibility of the departure of Doyler of course.