At the end of January we asked our readers to cast their vote for the Top 12th Man in their side and in the English Premier League. Nearly every side was represented in the nominations. These articles, one for each current Premier League club, comprise the end result of countless hours of reviewing each teams statistics. While the numbers were certainly important, we also examined the context in which those numbers were accumulated. After the publication of the 20 individual team nominations, we’ll have a single post that reveals the Top 12th Man, to date, for the Premier League in the 2011/12 season.
Fulham have recently enjoyed a stretch of matches that has seen the club bank 9 points in the previous six EPL matches, posting a 2-3-1 record in that span. The club have undoubtedly been led by Clint Dempsey, with 5 goals in those six matches, including a second-half hat trick against Newcastle in Fulham’s 5-2 win. Also contributing to the run of form was Damian Duff. The Irish winger has scored a goal and posted an assist in the last three, earning the full 90′ in each. On the year he has contributed sparsely. His most notable attribute is the volume of crosses that he sends into the box. This season he has played 914′ but managed to cross the ball 93 times in that span, connecting on 19% of those attempts. However Duff’s chances created – just 15 or 1/61′ – and his poor shooting accuracy and chance conversion would have made him the clear second choice for this honour behind Bobby Zamora.
The departure of Bobby Zamora saw Fulham lose of their best 12th Man. With Bryan Ruiz and Clint Dempsey lining up in the forward “2” of the 4-4-2 that Martin Jol utilized against West Bromwich in their midweek match, it is clear that Fulham have a lack of depth at forward. While Ruiz certainly has filled that role in the past, he is clearly being used as a winger, or tucked behind the most forward player, at his new club. For his own part, Martin Jol has said that the club are better off without the want-away Zamora as tension between the pair had been building for months:
“The talk of a rift wasn’t just over the past couple of weeks – it was over the last couple of months and probably since August,” Jol said. “Bobby wanted to move so we had to wait for a good offer and QPR made a good offer.
“It was only a matter of making a decision of whether to keep him or let him go. I had the opportunity to get somebody else, who is a bit younger in Pavel [Pogrebnyak].”
Now that Zamora has transferred to QPR, the Cottagers have lost a player that was contributing, just not contributing much aside from goals. Zamora’s passing completion was 75%, the third worst of any player with just Aaron Hughes (72%) coming in lower amoung outfield players. He was, however, contributing chances, having created 30 chances. Only Murphy (60), Dembele (31) and Dempsey (30) rated better that Zamora, with Bryan Ruiz the 5th best on the club with 26. Most notably, Zamora finishes chances well. Of his 23 shots, 13 found the target and 5 were goals. His 57% shooting accuracy and 22% chance conversion will be the benchmarks by which Pogrebnyak will be judged.
That leaves us with the question of the best player off the bench currently at Martin Jol’s disposal. Based on his last eight EPL matches, the only eight matches that he’s played this season, David Stockdale has proved to be exceptionally valuable. In those eight matches he has already recorded 44 saves. Mark Schwarzer has played 15 matches before injury derailed his season. He posted 6 cleans sheets in that time an recorded 53 saves.
With Schwarzer due back at the start of February it may be that Stockdale heads back to his place on the Fulham bench, but with no mistakes to his credit he may yet hold onto the #1 shirt. In his 15 matches this season Mark has committed 3 defensive errors. Each of those three errors led directly to a goal for the opposition. Stockdale has, to his credit, not committed a single defensive errors. While the incumbent #1 clearly has the advantage in terms of clean sheets, and as a result a slight edge in goals allowed per match, Stockdale has performed admirably off of the bench and earns our selection as Fulham’s Top 12th Man this season.
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