By Matthew Braine
American international Clint Dempsey ended 2008 with a bang, notching a double in a weighty London derby at Craven Cottage on Sunday. It took the winger just 10 minutes to make his mark, as a Simon Davies cross eluded everyone but Dempsey, who used a cheeky flick to put it past Petr Cech at the near post.
Chelsea’s Frank Lampard would equalize early in the second half and then give the Blues a lead when he masterfully unleashed a free kick strike in the 72nd minute. That dagger looked to spell a loss for Fulham, but with just minutes remaining in stoppage time, the Whites won their first and only corner of the match. Dempsey rose high and contorted his body, getting some great power behind the header, which sailed past Cech and into the net. Duece was certainly on the loose at that point as he took off his shirt knowing that the double, the first of his English career, was certainly a glorious end to a tightly contested match.
Dempsey has now tallied three goals in the last three games. After starting the campaign on the bench and looking as though his Premiership career was fading, the gritty American has battled his way back into the starting XI and is now an essential part of the attack.
Tim Howard, Everton
vs. Chelsea (Monday, 90 minutes, 1 save, 0 goals conceded)
vs. Middlesbrough (Friday, 90 minutes, 3 saves, 0 goals conceded)
vs. Sunderland (Sunday, 90 minutes, 2 saves, 0 goals conceded)
Although Clint Dempsey deserved first billing on this article, he had to singlehandedly battle Chelsea in order to top Tim Howard, who notched not one, not two, but three clean sheets this past week. Howard started the week by helping the Toffees earn a valuable draw against Chelsea, followed by victories against Boro and the Black Cats. Despite the Merseyside outfit being derailed by injuries and crippled at the striker position, they’ve managed to go unbeaten in their last four and now sit just three points behind Aston Villa and Arsenal for fourth place. Howard has been a rock between the posts recently, and has certainly come up big on the defensive end at the right time.
Up Next: Saturday, away to Macclesfield Town (FA Cup)
Brad Friedel, Aston Villa.
vs. Arsenal (Friday, 90 minutes, 1 save, 2 goals conceded)
Friedel was tagged twice, once on each side of halftime, but Zat Knight grabbed a late equalizer as Villa drew with Arsenal 2-2 on Boxing Day. The clash lived up to the build up with the London club jumping out to a 2-0 lead early in the second half courtesy of Denilson and Abou Diaby. However, a Gareth Barry penalty strike and Knights powerful equalizer spelled one point a piece. The Villains are in a deadlock for fourth place and have a game in hand going into Tuesday’s match against Hull City.
Up Next: Tuesday, away to Hull and Sunday, away to Gillingham (FA Cup)
Brad Guzan and Eric Lichaj, Aston Villa
It will be interesting to see if Guzan gets the start in the FA Cup game Sunday given the Villains league position. The option is certainly there but given the fact that they’re already eliminated from the Carling Cup, Martin O’Neil may want to put a bit more effort into the marquee cup competition. The Villa Reserves don’t suit up again until early January, keeping Lichaj on the shelf until then.
Clint Dempsey, Fulham
vs. Tottenham (Friday, 90 minutes)
vs. Chelsea (Sunday, 90 minutes, 2 goals, yellow card)
Dempsey uncorked a few quality shots on Boxing Day but Spurs played the Cottagers to a 0-0 draw at White Hart Lane. Sunday was obviously a different story for Dempsey.
Up Next: Saturday, away to Sheffield Wednesday (FA Cup)
Jonathan Spector, West Ham
vs. Portsmouth (Friday, DNP)
vs. Stoke City (Sunday, 1 minute)
On Friday, the Hammers battered Pompey 4-1 on the road. The London club followed up that victory with another on Sunday against Stoke City, winning 2-1. Spector made his triumphant return during the contest, playing all of one minute for the Hammers. Alas, it was encouraging just to see the defender back out there. He should resume his substitute spot / starter role going forward.
Up Next: Saturday, home to Barnsley (FA Cup)
Marcus Hahnemann and Bobby Convey, Reading
Hahnemann should be back shortly after the New Year but while he’s been down, goalkeeping replacement Adam Federici has certainly been making the headlines. His equalizing strike on Boxing Day against Cardiff was his most recent effort. After Michael Chopra gave the Bluebirds a 1-0 lead in the 89th minute, Federici was brought up for a corner and stunned the visitors with a goal. Reading earned another draw on Sunday, this time a 1-1 deadlock against Southampton. Convey is still MIA.
Eddie Johnson, Cardiff
Johnson was on the bench but not involved in the Boxing Day clash with Reading. The same can be said for Sunday’s contest when Cardiff defeated Plymouth 1-0 at home.
Jay DeMerit, Watford
DeMerit returned to the starting XI on Boxing Day but Watford went down 2-0 early and never recovered, ultimately falling 4-2. Sunday was a bit better as DeMerit helped anchor the defense as the visitors battled to a 0-0 draw against QPR.
Frank Simek, Sheffield Wednesday
Simek is still out after coming down with hamstring injury a few weeks ago. He should be back within the next two or three weeks. Without him, the Owls drew with Blackpool 1-1 on Friday and fell to Coventry City 2-0 Sunday.
Meanwhile Up In Scotland…
DaMarcus Beasley and Maurice Edu, Rangers
vs. Celtic (Both DNP)
Neither American was involved in the Old Firm clash on Saturday as Celtic won a close battle 1-0. Both Beasley and Edu have had a hard time earning playing time this season. Edu is getting some quality reps with the Reserves, but Beasley's time has lessened this season. Maybe 2009 will bring more opportunities for the crafty winger.
Matthew Braine's feature "Americans in the UK" appears every Monday on Goal.com. He can be reached at email@example.com