long shots


Long shots: Fulham Love to Draw… (Week 15)

The Christmas season is in some ways a turning point in a footballing year. A good couple of weeks (crammed with games) can certainly be the difference between relegation and a relatively comfortably end of the season, and my five strugglers went in distinctly different directions over the holidays.

Fulham are looking more realistic survivors, for example, while Metz go from strength to strength compared to expectations. Elche and Arminia Bielefeld, though, have slipped into trouble. It’s back to normality this week instead of the big round ups. Here’s how it went down…

Fulham 18th, 1-1 away to Tottenham

Fulham drew their fifth game on the trot away to Tottenham, and it’s kind of working for them, as they slowly but surely close the gap in Burnley and Brighton ahead of them with games in hand, too.

In truth, Tottenham should really have been out of sight in this one, with Kane putting them ahead after numerous decent chances. Spurs have that very Mourinho habit of trying to sit on leads, though, and they did it again here. By the time Fulham got level with 15 to go, they deserved it. A 2-0 away win to QPR in the cup won’t do confidence any harm, either.


Long shots: Spezia Christmas round up (weeks 12-14)

I’ve loved watching Spezia. They have exactly the kind of pluck I was looking for when I started this project; an entertaining underdog from a small town looking to put it up to the likes of Juventus, Roma, Inter Milan and Napoli.

Before Christmas they were hovering in about their best case scenario for the season in my view: outside the drop zone, and ahead of a couple of proper Serie A big guns:

Spezia have kind of ground out results when it’s mattered so far this season, and while their Christmas wasn’t a great one, it ended with a real bang.

First up were Bologna, who are one of those kind of hovering teams in Serie A who are beatable but still solid. Spezia should really have won this one, with star man Nzola putting them two up with less than half an hour to go.

Spezia should have been out of sight, in truth, but Bologna fought back in a game they’d been utterly outplayed in, equalising with a lob from just short of the half way line (worth a watch!), before a great stop from a late penalty denied Bologna what would have been a daylight robbery of a win. 2-2.

Long shots: Elche CF Christmas round up (weeks 12-14)

So, five of these are incoming – as much as I’m enjoying the weekly write ups, I couldn’t bring myself to spend my Christmas trying to follow the day-by-day in five different European leagues, so one big bulk review per club in the aftermath it is.

I left Elche here:

Which is, let’s be honest, a hell of a start to the season for relegation favourites in what’s widely considered to be one of Europe’s toughest leagues. Since I left them, Elche have had five league games and two cup games (the second of which is, bizarrely, being played at 11am pretty much as I write this – I don’t know, either!). An exceptionally busy Christmas period that hasn’t gone well at all…

First off was a vibrant contest with Granada, in which both teams created penty of chances, though Granada certainly had the better of them, and deserved to come out one nil winners. Some of the saves in this game are really quite exceptional…

Long shots: a mixed bag before the break (week 9)

Week 9 of the season, and my oddball selection of sides have hit a relegation market, a collective 40 points, Sure, that’s not going to keep any one of them up individually, but it’s all going surprisingly well so far, with no sides at all in the drop zone.

That said, on some fronts the strain is starting to show. Here’s the latest ahead of the international break…

Bundesliga: Arminia Bielefeld (5/6 on to be relegated) 0-5 away to Union Berlin

A confession: Union Berlin are a side I have a real soft spot for, having seen them live before they were anywhere near the Bundesliga, and taken a liking to the political activism of their fans. I’ve committed myself to Arminia for the season, though, and this particular loss is a terrible sign.

Arminia had been on a bad run, but against good sides, which makes it somewhat excusable before now, but this was a real thrashing. Union were two up in a little over a quarter of an hour, and Bielefeld didn’t create anything in the whole game even worthy of the highlights reel.

They’re still outside the drop zone. Just, thanks to the three sides in the Bundesliga yet to grab even one win.

Long shots: a Fulham win, finally (week eight)

What’s been interesting about my season-long dabble with the teams that are supposed to be ‘the biggest losers’ so far is that none of them are looking all that bad. In fact, the one side that were really struggling, Fulham, took advantage of an easy-ish fixture this week to be the fifth team out of the five not to sit in the relegation zone in week 8, a surprising outcome this far into the season.

Of course, on balance, the sides are still losing more than they win, apart from Metz, a brilliant anomaly. Here’s how the latest week panned out…

Premier League: Fulham (evens to go down) 2-0 at home to West Brom

Unquestionably this week’s ‘headline’ insofar as these things have one, Fulham finally got their first league win of the season against West Brom, at the seventh attempt. It came before three other teams, which means they’re straight out of the drop zone.

I’ll admit I was worried for Fulham, even suggesting last week that they might be contenders for the lowest points total in premier league history. They certainly need to get results in games like this, and I still think a small total – perhaps 33-34 points – will be enough to stay up this year, but this was a top performance.

West Brom had their chances, but Fulham clearly found some bite, and while their first was scrappy, Ola Aina’s hammer into the corner was spectacular (to be honest, I’d never even heard of the man before this). They could have had another late on, too. Real cause for hope, I think, from a side that finally look like they’ve got something about them.

Oh, and the less said about that West Brom kit, the better.

Long shots: top half challengers (week seven)

I was expecting a season of watching clubs lose as part of this project, but in truth it’s been a lot better than that: two of the five clubs I’m following now sit in the top half of really competitive leagues, and the five are collectively averaging over a goal and over a point a game, an impressive stat for the odds on favourites for relegation in the five top leagues in Europe. It’s a shame about Fulham, though…

Here’s how week seven went…

La Liga: Elche CF (8/15 to go down), 2-1 at home to Valencia

Elche now have a spectacular 10 points from their opening five games, after losing their first game in La Liga, and this win was probably the best of the lot. Fernandes’ curling strike from distance put them ahead against Valencia, who are nothing like the side they once were.

The second goal was almost as good as Fidel lashed home from outside the box, and while Elche were hanging on towards the end, including a late clearance off the line to keep hold of the three points, they already look a very good bet to stay up this year.

The win puts them firmly in the top half of the table with games in hand, and above the likes of Barcelona, Sevilla and the Valencia team they saw off here.

Long Shots: Win, win, win! (week four)

Welcome to a winning week – we’re starting to upset the odds! As it stands, ust one of my five relegation favourites are in the drop zone, and this week we got first league wins of the seasons for Arminia Bielefled, Spezia Calcio and Elche CF. The long-shots are taking shape…

Bundesliga: Arminia Bielefeld (5/6 on to be relegated) 1-0 at home to FC Koln

What a start to the season for Bielefeld, one that, amazingly considering the holders won 8-0 on the opening day, puts them above Bayern in the latest Bundesliga table, and outside the European places on goals scored.

Of course, Arminia haven’t played anyone that good yet (they’ve even lucky enough to have an indifferent Werder Bremen next), but points mean prizes, and Koln, who haven’t won a league game since March, are likely to be one of the teams Arminia are ultimately fighting to finish above.

This was a game of not many chances, but a glorious cameo in the form of substitute Joan Simun Edmundsson, a lad from the Faroe Islands who became the first-ever player from that corner of the globe to play in the Bundesliga. He promptly marked the occasion with a brilliant takedown and finish from a ludicrously tight angle to win the game.

Koln should have taken at least a point, and looked pretty toothless up top, but who cares. One of my teams is flying unexpectedly high…