OK, we didn’t get the outrageous last-gasp winner from the free kick, which would have been sweet, but a clean sheet and a point was an outcome most of us would have taken before the game. And in the end we deserved that point. If anything it was Fulham deteriorating and running out of ideas towards the end, they were far less threatening in the second half than the first, which was a tribute to the effort put in by all in red on the pitch. At times it wasn’t beautiful, but it was admirable.
We set up with a sort of 4-4-1-1 with a flat back four ahead of Phillips of Matthews, Purrington, Lockyer and Pearce (who took the captain’s armband), with Sarr and Oshilaja dropping to the bench. The most welcome returning Cullen partnered the now indispensable Pratley, with Morgan and Doughty making up the midfield, while Oztumer was in the hole and Hemed operated pretty much as a lone forward. And a strong bench (when was the last time that could be said?) contained Taylor, Williams and Green.
And there was a lively start from us as first one low cross managed to evade a man in red then one from the other side was deflected almost into the net. Fulham did settle and began to dominate possession, as was always expected. And their movement up front did start to trouble us. On half-chances it was soon 2-1 as a desperate block came in and later 2-2 as a shot across goal just went wide of our far post. Throw in some blocks from Phillips and for us a storming run box-to-box from Doughty, which ended disappointingly as he seemed undecided over how to end the move, and you had a decent game. Just that as the half wore on you had the impression that Fulham were highly likely to score at some point, while we could – but were starting to find it hard to threaten them as the emphasis was on keeping our shape in front of Phillips.
The second half wasn’t much different, except that Fulham actually deteriorated, which must be a concern for their promotion hopes. They started getting sloppier in possession, less fluid going forward, and looking back on it now I can’t think of a real chance they created in the second half. We weren’t exactly peppering their goal either – there was another promising move which ended with Doughty shooting from a tight angle rather than squaring it - but going into the last 20 mins or so it felt like there was some swing in momentum as the changes were made.
First it was Williams coming on for Morgan, with Doughty switching to the right. Next up Taylor replaced Hemed, who as they say had put in a shift (I kept thinking of the Monty Python sketch, especially given today’s sad news, something for him along the lines of ‘Scraps? We used to dream of feeding off scraps’). Their central defenders were suddenly obliged to become rather more physical than before and with more effective pressing of the ball we were pushing them more towards rather hopeful long balls out of defence. The final change was Green coming on for Oztumer, who had found a decent position for a shot but rather fluffed it – and, while having played very well, did take what I have to say was the worst corner I’ve seen in my life.
There was one more opportunity as Doughty again worked the position but the cross was wayward, then the free kick at the death that came to nothing. So be it, we had our point and they had not scored, something I wouldn’t have bet on at evens at half-time.
So plenty of positive to take from the game I think. Perhaps uppermost is the evidence that neither the January transfer windows stuff nor the recent results has had any adverse impact on the determination and effort being put in. Couple that with the news that Lee Bowyer has signed a new contract and the point we’ve secured tonight can be seen as an important step along the way of stabilising and rebuilding the season.
One aside, we have now played West Brom twice and drawn twice, Fulham the same, and have played Leeds once and beaten them. If only we could play the top three every week.
Phillips – 8/10. Dealt with everything thrown at him, claimed crosses when he needed to, don’t care about the occasional poor kick out.
Matthews – 8/10. Unobtrusive but can’t remember him being caught out or slipping up.
Purrington – 7/10. I thought he started the game rather unsteadily, but as it progressed he got stronger and played his part.
Lockyer – 8/10. Solid performance with some very good tackles and blocks.
Pearce – 7/10. Overall fine but did think there were a couple of errors losing the ball which put us in a difficult position.
Doughty – 7/10. Caused them real problems and this could have been a match-winning display. But in three good positions, which he had worked for himself, he didn’t manage to make them count.
Cullen - 8/10. Deserves that mark for being able to put in the full 90 mins so soon. A very welcome return.
Pratley – 8/10. Excellent, some timely interceptions and very good reading of the game.
Morgan – 7/10. Didn’t stand out but helped us to keep our shape and played his part.
Hemed – 8/10. Never stopped looking and working for an opportunity and to try to disrupt their play.
Subs – Williams 8/10 (made things happen, no question we were more of a threat going forward after his entrance); Taylor 7/10 (took some strong challenges to welcome him back, still very much hope he stays); Green 7/10 (not much of an opportunity to shine, only on for perhaps 10 mins).