After a lazy long holiday weekend and a balmy afternoon, and given our position in the league (before heading back to Lyon today my partner Suzanne asked me if we would go higher than 11th if we won, and it seemed we could go up a place if we won by an eight-goal margins, or drop a place if we lost by four), there was an unavoidable end-of-season feel ahead of tonight's game, intensified by the prospect of giving a decent welcome back to both Curbs and Scotty Parker and even the thought that having failed to deny Millwall the points the only decent thing to do was give some to Fulham, just to keep their heads above water for an obvious reason (except that, while having no ill-will whatsoever towards Fulham and not being one to bear a grudge, I struggle to draw a veil over that equaliser in the Premiership). Question was would the players feel the same, or give us a decent evening's entertainment.
In the event it was a reasonable enough game, albeit one that failed to turn into the goal-fest that looked possible in the first half, when both sides looked highly likely to notch more than one on the night. If anything the second half petered out rather tamely, which did tend to highlight the mystifying, and embarrassing, booing of Parker. I was ready to give him a standing ovation, he deserves no less. I hope he has better memories of The Valley than the late exchange with some fans after he nearly crocked himself in the boardings after a challenge by Fox.
The team was fairly predictable. With Solly unavailable, Gomez took his spot, with Ben Haim returning to partner Johnson, while Bulot came in for Eagles on the left side. Diarra, Cousins and Berg Gudmundsson completed the midfield, with Watt and Vetokele paired up front.
After a fairly even start, Fulham showed they had the ability to pull apart our defence, creating space between the two banks of four and getting joy especially down their right side, where Fox seemed to find himself without any protection. In the space of about 15 minutes they created four decent openings and, with Johnson and Ben Haim during that period seemingly chasing shadows, might have put the game beyond reach. The one they did score came from a fairly routine ball into the box which their tall centre-forward headed square and McCormack read faster than our centre-backs, stealing a march to head the ball over a stranded Henderson.
The space Fulham were finding/creating at that stage of the game threatened more, with Henderson called into action a few times. But at the other end it was becoming apparent why only Blackpool have conceded more goals than them this season. A bit of pressure applied and they were equally all at sea, especially when the ball was kept on the deck. The equaliser nevertheless had a tinge of controversy about it, even though I think the officials got it right (according to the offside rule as I understand it). Fox got in down the left and put in a low cross, which saw a clearly offside Bulot (I am informed) stretch to try to convert it only to fail to get a touch, with the ball running on to Gudmundsson, who had come through from a clearly onside position and who managed to divert it into the roof of the net. There may have been a case for Bulot having distracted their keeper and interfered with play, but said keeper was never going to claim the ball or get near Gudmundsson's effort.
That proved the catalyst for probably our best period of the game, when we should have added to our total. Watt produced one sublime turn to wrongfoot their defenders, only to just overhit the pass to Vetokele. But the next time they combined Watt prodded the ball forward for Igor, with Fulham again looking in vain to the linesman for a flag. He played it across the goal and Gudmundsson came onto it at the far post. There was a defender's leg coming towards him and the angle was a bit tight, but from only a couple of yards out he put it into the side-netting. It was a bad miss and, though it didn't look likely at the time, that was to be the best chance for the remainder of the game.
Just before the break a McCormack free-kick from outside the box produced a decent save from Henderson, who dived to his left to turn it away. And at the break it really was anyone's game.
The surprise was really that in the second half both teams failed to produce consistently the forward threat that had been evident in the first period. Perhaps both managers made adjustments to tighten things up, but for us Gudmundsson, who had run them ragged, featured less, while Vetokele seemed to be carrying an injury and struggled to get past their defenders when he had a yard of space. At the other end Fulham had their chances, but they were more the result of something falling in a crowded box - one clear opportunity was hoofed over the bar - than the movement they had shown before. There were shots and near misses at both ends, but nothing clear-cut.
After the hour Fulham made a double-substitution and shortly after Eagles came on for Bulot, who had shown a couple of deft touches but was largely peripheral. With about 10 minutes left Church came on for the tiring Vetokele but the game was really petering out to a rather tame draw when the referee decided to inject some possible late drama by awarding Fulham another soft free-kick outside the box. But McCormack curled it over the bar and that was pretty much it.
Over the 90+ minutes we may have just about shaded it, largely on the grounds that having equalised we had the best chance to win the game. But Fulham could point to that early period when defensively we looked disorganised and might have conceded more than one, as well as a couple of second-half shots. A draw was probably a fair result.
Henderson - 8/10. Couple of excellent saves, dealt well with any high balls in the box, and no chance with the goal (although he was off his line and perhaps made it easy for McCormack to see the opportunity to loop his header over him into the net).
Gomez - 7/10. Another assured performance, defensively sound after the collective failures of the early period and seems to have the ability to stroke in some delightful, testing crosses.
Fox - 6/10. Not sure it was entirely his fault that most of their threat in the first half came down his side, he seemed to be left on his own a fair bit and they exploited the space.
Ben Haim - 6/10. Along with Johnson got more to grips with their forwards after the first 20 mins, but during that time we were vulnerable.
Johnson - 6/10. Much the same, can't say why we were seemingly easily pulled apart early on.
Berg Gudmundsson - 8/10. Ran them ragged in the first half in particular, would have been a clear man-of-the-match had he converted his second chance (which he should have done).
Diarra - 7/10. Neat and tidy, did a job. Decent addition for next season.
Cousins - 7/10. Seemed to struggle a bit in the first half but more effective in the second, some timely interceptions.
Bulot - 6/10. Threatened a few times down the flank, but nothing telling came from them.
Watt - 7/10. Once again was able to produce almost out of nothing a few moments that almost turned the game, couple of shots that went narrowly wide.
Vetokele - 6/10. Didn't look fully fit to me tonight and without the extra bit of pace struggled.
Subs - Eagles (6/10: nothing dramatic and was caught in possession a couple of times); Church (6/10: no great impact on the game in the final 10 minutes or so).