Today’s not about blame. It wasn’t my fault that everyone else congregating on the boat off the Embankment before the game didn’t want any of the bottle of syrah I’d purchased, obliging me to consume the lot; it wasn’t my fault that having been in the first two in the queue at The Valley for tickets for the game they decided to sell us ones working from the outside in, such that we were to watch proceedings closer to The Thames than the pitch; and the team wasn’t really to blame for a scoreline that really didn’t present an accurate picture of events. You might argue that it did, to the extent that Fulham demonstrated the difference in quality (and strength/physique) and ran out easy winners. But all games turn on moments and at 1-0 down during our purple patch in the second half we created the chance to level the score. It wasn’t easy and Wright-Phillips didn’t take it, but when that one went and Fulham scored again it was pretty much game over. Their two extra goals counted for nothing; we just have to make sure that with two key games coming up the defeat and scoreline count for nothing too.
It was a draw which offered a pleasant day out at a good price; but especially with hindsight a contest against a Championship team would have provided a better measure of where we are. I kept trying to remember (having passed on the recent Spurs cup tie) when was the last game I’d watched when we were so clearly the underdogs. Fulham, barring an unlikely slump into a relegation struggle, have nothing to play for apart from the Cup and were never going to take it lightly, as reflected in their team selection (and although I couldn’t bring myself to boo Murphy that’s the nicest I’m going to be about a club that I still view as responsible for two of our relegations in my lifetime). They will probably look back on the afternoon as something of a stroll – and undoubtedly it ended that way, with the substitution of Wiggins and Hollands a fair indication of our priorities once the game was beyond us. Just that nagging thought at the back of the mind that if we had levelled things when we were clearly on top the story would have been very different.
The team saw Taylor return in defence after his rest against Brentford, Green back from suspension, and Hamer taking his one-game ban; but otherwise no changes/surprises, with Pritchard keeping his place alongside Hollands in central midfield and Sir Chris opting to play his strongest available side. With 7,000 supporters making the trip across town this wasn’t the time for resting players. The opening minutes were nervy as Fulham passed it around and buzzed rather dangerously around our box; the priority was clearly to settle into the game and not concede. But concede we did, rather unfortunately. A ball through seemed to be overhit and on its way to Sullivan before it took a deflection, leaving him stranded and their guy able to nip in and score.
There’s seldom a positive slant to be put on letting in the early goal, but in this case there was the hope that it would induce some complacency on their part and the thought that if we could make it to the break without conceding again we could give it a proper go after the break. That proved to be the case. Fulham not surprisingly kept the ball better, had most of the play, and periodically looked dangerous, but if anything we had the half-chances, with one nod back from Kermorgant that might have been converted and one that went into the side-netting from wide left after some lacklustre defending on their part. At the break you felt that we hadn’t done ourselves justice in terms of playing as we can, even against higher quality opposition, but that we were still in the game and capable of raising it.
And raise it we did. The first 20 minutes of the second half saw us if not in control of the game at least having the upper hand. More contested balls were being won, the passing and movement were better, and there were signs that Green – who was finding more space - could deliver some telling balls in and that Kermorgant and Wright-Phillips had the ability to get in behind two ponderous central defenders. The chance came when Kermorgant managed to weight a flick on to BWP who got there ahead of the keeper but saw his shot blocked by the outrushing keeper. Shortly after Green had a shot turned over and from a corner another effort was blocked, while the linesman mysterious gave a foul against Wright-Phillips when it seemed he’d got beyond the defender and was held back. But the goal didn’t come and, forced to reassert themselves, Fulham killed off the game with a second. I don’t like to dwell on the opposition’s goals; suffice to say the ball was played across the box and their guy shot into the net, giving Sullivan no chance.
That was effectively game over. A third came from a penalty after Sullivan was adjudged to have brought down their guy and towards the end Fulham scored again. We didn’t deserve to be on the end of a 4-0 scoreline, but we live with it. I’ve already forgotten the game (if it had taken longer to get back I’ve no doubt I’d remember even less of their goals than I already have). As a measure of where we want to get back to it was a little sobering, but such thoughts are irrelevant. We’ve had a good day out and can take comfort from no distracting fixtures over the next few months. We all know we have two crucial games coming up next and if we play to the same level as we did today we’ll be fine. Some of our stuff was a marked improvement on Brentford, not least the much better hold-up play and overall involvement from Wright-Phillips. Sure, he needs one to go in off his backside, but that happens to all goalscorers; there’s no excuse for not maintaining today’s much better performance in the Sheffield games. What gives me confidence is the focus and determination we showed in the Huddersfield game; if that’s repeated I’ll be more than happy – and when it is we’re more than a match for anything else in this division, probably for a good deal of the Championship.
No player ratings today as there’s a major takeaway with my name on it; and I don’t want to judge us this season against anything other than what we need to compete against. But it’s another game where the mention in dispatches has to go to Solly. Outstanding.