GUESS who was the first player booked when Fulham faced Stoke yesterday? Danny Murphy. That’s right: Danny Murphy. Bless you, Stuart Attwell. I do like a referee with a sense of humour.
Fulham’s captain hogged the sports headlines for a few days in early October, when he accused Stoke manager Tony Pulis, along with his Wolves and Blackburn counterparts, of sending out players too pumped up – resulting in their players committing dangerous challenges on opponents.
Murphy’s comments, at the Leaders In Football conference in London, did not go down well with Pulis, Mick McCarthy or Sam Allardyce. It was easy to understand, though, why the midfielder had picked out those three teams – as they had all been involved in some pretty physical stuff with Fulham during the opening weeks of the season.
It was the fall-out with Stoke that had the longest-lasting impact. Fulham manager Mark Hughes had been unable to contain his anger after Andy Wilkinson clattered into Moussa Dembele during a Carling Cup tie at the Britannia Stadium in September.
Hughes refused to shake Pulis’ hand after that game. This angered Stoke’s manager so much that he blanked his fellow Welshman altogether at the end of Fulham’s 2-0 Premier League win at the Britannia Stadium on December 28. The football world rolled its eyes.
The league fixture calendar was planned out months ago, but it couldn’t have done a better job of forcing the two managers to sort out their feud if it had been a no-nonsense headmaster shouting: “Hughes! Pulis! My office! Now!”
Fixtures dictated that Fulham and Stoke must face each other again, just three-and-a-half weeks after their last league meeting, and it left Hughes and Pulis with little option but to settle their differences, really.
I still thought it was funny that Murphy was the first man booked, though.
MOTD’s final match: Fulham 2 Stoke 0
Commentator: Jonathan Pearce
The Fulham captain saw yellow in the 25th minute for a foul on Dean Whitehead near the halfway line, seconds after Andy Johnson was left on the deck by an unpunished Robert Huth challenge. Murphy’s argument that Huth should have been penalised went unheeded by Attwell, who had one of his less controversial afternoons, as it turned out.
Attwell, whose career has had more talking points than a season’s worth of You Are The Ref cartoons, was right to send off Ryan Shawcross for a professional foul on Clint Dempsey early in the second half, although Pulis didn’t think so.
Dempsey, who had given Fulham a first-half lead, converted the resulting penalty, and that was that. Astonishingly for a side so prone to draws that they could be confused for Test cricketers, Fulham have drawn only one of their last six matches. More importantly, they had collected seven points from the last nine available, easing themselves away from relegation trouble.
More importantly still, Fulham have taken a clear two-point lead at the top of the Gubbometer, having become only the second side this season to appear last on Match of the Day two shows running. (Wolves were the first, in August.)
And even more importantly than that, Hughes and Pulis have made up. Before the game kicked off, the TV cameras picked them up shaking hands in front of the dugouts.
“We were just two daft Welshmen a couple of weeks ago,” Hughes said. Glad to hear it’s all sorted out. It would probably still be better if you didn’t meet again in the FA Cup this season, though.
1. Fulham: 8 (2L: 5, 3L: 1)
2. Wigan: 6 (2L: 3, 3L: 2)
3. Stoke: 5 (2L: 6, 3L: 4)
4. Bolton: 4 (2L: 2, 3L: 3)
5. Birmingham: 4 (2L: 2, 3L: 2)
6. West Brom: 3 (2L: 5, 3L: 1)
7. Everton: 3 (2L: 4, 3L: 3)
8. Blackburn: 3 (2L: 3, 3L: 7)
9. West Ham: 3 (2L: 2, 3L: 3)
10. Wolves: 3 (2L: 1, 3L: 3)
11. Sunderland: 2 (2L: 4, 3L: 1)
12. Newcastle: 2 (2L: 0, 3L: 2)
13. Blackpool: 1 (2L: 3, 3L: 3)
14. Tottenham: 1 (2L: 3, 3L: 2)
15. Aston Villa: 0 (2L: 2, 3L: 2)
16. Chelsea: 0 (2L: 2, 3L: 1)
17. Manchester City: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 2)
18. Manchester United: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 2)
19=. Arsenal: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
19=. Liverpool: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
2L=On second last (Blackpool 1 Sunderland 2)
3L=On third last (Newcastle 1 Tottenham 1)
(Teams are awarded one point every time they appear last on Match of the Day. Teams level on points are separated by the number of times they are on second last, then by the number of times they are on third last. Teams still level at the end of the season will be separated by the drawing of lots at a glittering ceremony in Wapping, hosted by Sepp Blatter, Andy Coulson, Tony Gubba and Gordon Taylor, with music from Lady Gaga featuring Beyonce.)