Jack and Loz at the Cottage - Blog 266

Date: 22nd December 2023

Opposition: Burnley

Score: 0-2

Weather: mild

Atmosphere: flat

MOTM: after a spell on the sidelines Not Applicable was back with a vengeance

Pre match: Pret

Drinks: Riverside Studios

Dinner: Wagamama

It’s beginning to look at a lot like Fulham.

After a nightmare transfer window and a slow start to the season, the team had suddenly become history-makers, scoring goals like it was going out of fashion and taking the Club to a League Cup semi-final for the first time. Meanwhile, our zero to hero to zero striker made a stupid challenge and now we can’t score goals anymore. It would be hard to imagine a more Fulhamish few months.

The story of Fulham v Burnley didn’t begin at Craven Cottage on Saturday afternoon. It began at Newcastle last weekend with the said stupid challenge and resulting 3 match ban. What is it with Fulham strikers and red cards??? The narrative then picked up at Goodison on Tuesday in a match which frayed fans’ nerves and punished players’ bodies. From what we saw of the quarter-final, Everton fought ferociously. Perhaps because of their bellicose style of play it looked like they wanted it more and it would have been easy for a soft, southern, civilised opponent to fold. But Marco Silva - who until 2.59p.m. on Saturday was a certified genius- made sure that didn’t happen. And between the stylish savagery of Andreas Pereira, the ice cold professionalism of Bernd Leno and the effortless leadership of Tosin Adarabioyo Fulham battled their way into the next round.

Either Marco didn’t realise the effect extensive cross-country travel, playing 95 minutes on the ragged edge and a traumatic penalty shoot-out would have on his players, or those players - free-scoring semi-finalists - felt a touch of complacency at facing lowly Burnley. Or perhaps they all remembered they’d managed without a striker before and thought they could do so again. But whatever the thought-process (or lack thereof) Fulham looked jaded and hungover on Saturday before they’d come within touching distance of any Claret.

The less said about the Burnley match the better. The interchanging front 5 which devastated Forest and West Ham didn’t work without Raúl or Willian and because Harry Wilson chose not to participate in any attacking play. Tom Cairney looked old rather than experienced, Antonee worked hard but produced little and Tosin, who was the best footballer in the world on Tuesday night, looked very average. As Alastair McIntosh might have put it, there was no dynamic stretch football. Despite these disadvantages, we should have been out of sight by half time but Burnley’s keeper kept them in the game and kept his teammates’ spirits high.

We sometimes write, “there are few more exhilarating times for a fan than being in the Hammersmith End in the second half of a match when Fulham are chasing the game.” We will not be writing that today.

Never mind shattering goal scoring records from the 1960s as we’ve been doing recently, the second half on Saturday was probably the worst 45 minutes of football Fulham have played since 1879. Never mind the travesty of Parkerball, the Ranieri risk-free disaster or the Magath football of death, this was turgid, frustrating and increasingly desperate. The defence was bad. The midfield was bad. The attack was - where the hell were they???

Fulham couldn’t get hold of the ball, never mind the game. We let Burnley score 2 goals almost by mistake and offered nothing in response. As Alastair McIntosh might have put it, there was limited elasticity of demand for the ball. Having run out of ideas and steam we were crying out (literally in the Hammy End) for subs from the 46th minute but our so-called Genius seemed content to let the chaos continue. Even when he finally made some changes he didn’t replace Harry who was playing like a Welsh wet weekend.

The final whistle came as a release from our misery and brought to an end a match in which the only positives were that there were no red cards, no injuries and Ballo-Torre looked bright when he came on (eventually). With almost no exceptions, it felt like the players had already clocked off for Christmas - an ominous sign when they’ve got to play on Boxing Day too. As Alastair McIntosh might put it, it’s not helpful.

Targeted musings:-

- As we have hinted throughout this blog, we are disappointed with the Fulham board’s dismissive response to the attempts led by Fulham Supporters Trust’s to open a constructive dialogue on ticket pricing.

- Does the board not realise that protests are not meant to be helpful? They’re meant to draw attention to an issue some people would rather ignore, to provoke a response, to focus minds. So the fans’ protests are working.

- The oddest part of the statement was that the Club has apparently received (conveniently unattributed) expressions of support for its pricing policy. These could only have come from the Club’s accountant who doesn’t understand that at football clubs, passion, history, tradition and community are more important than spreadsheets.

- Fulham made history again on Saturday by hosting the first Premier League match officiated by a woman. As a woman in a male dominated industry, what you want is acceptance, to be judged on your merits as a professional. You will be scrutinised and misunderstood. You will have advantages that you must use subtly and which will be outweighed by the difficulties you will face. You must dodge knee-jerk reactions and rise above accusations of tokenism. What you absolutely do not want is any special treatment.

- So when Rebecca Welch heard the crowd singing “You don’t know what you’re doing” she would have known she had succeeded. She had become a Premier League ref - often derided and rarely praised - like any other. And that is exactly what she wants to be.

Before Newcastle, it felt like a dull, transitional season was transforming into a thrilling one and, despite some setbacks, that’s still the case. In 2024 Fulham will grace a League Cup semi-final, the FA Cup kicks off for us and there is all to play for in the League.

One other positive on Saturday is that it was Marco’s 117th match in charge of Fulham. He has now managed more games for us than any other club. No doubt his genius will return soon and we can watch the transfer window with interest and the rest of the season with anticipation.

Forget about Burnley, forget about Raúl’s red card. Enjoy Christmas, look forward to the rest of another season in the Premier League and remember, whatever happens we are Fulham Football Club, the best club in the world.