Date: 20th February 2021
Opposition: Sheffield United
Goal scorer: Ademola Lookman
MOTM: Lookman’s goal was both a victory for perseverance over frustration and a rare moment of artistry in a brutal encounter. A massive shout out to Andersen for his pin point long pass for the assist and his leadership under pressure
Dinner: Loz - prawn linguine and Cav’s Sav; Jack - veggie pasta and Pinot Grigio
For most people, the words ‘Great Escape’ in 2021 are going to mean finally getting to go on holiday again - cocktails by the pool, shopping in New York, culture in Paris, fish and chips on a windswept beach - but for Fulham fans it’s beginning to look like they might mean something else as well.
Even before Fulham crossed swords with Sheffield United at home on Saturday evening, it had been a good week for the Travelling Cottagers with the historic win at Everton and the somewhat historic draw at Burnley. But these good results would mean little if they weren’t backed up by victory over the Blades.
In other words, Saturday’s match was a Must Win Game.
Matches which mean so much are rarely easy on the eye. This one was scrappy and chaotic and desperate at times. The Fulham players had by far the best of the ball but were trying so hard to make things happen that they were misplacing passes and wasting shots. They dominated, but couldn’t break through.
We were pleased to see that Scott had refreshed the line up with the return of Frank and Antonee but that’d he’d retained the profitable four at the back formation. The defence was solid but not quite at its best - Antonee looked nervous and Tosin tentative although Andersen was as composed and commanding as ever and Aina was in the right place at the right time in both attack and defence (although he needs to stick to scoring with his tummy - his feet just aren’t as accurate).
Unsurprisingly, the battle ground of a midfield suited both Harrison Reed, mopping up the spoils and Frank, snatching the ball and charging forwards, humiliating anyone who got in his way with his sublime skills. For some reason, those skills don’t include shooting and his first Fulham goal looks some way away.
He wasn’t alone in the wayward shooting stakes. The players had clearly been ordered to shoot on sight but had misinterpreted the instruction to shoot wide, high or straight at the goalkeeper. Even Lookman continued with his tactic of taking the ball into the box then not knowing what to do with it while RLC (who made good use of his physicality again) morphed back into Ruben Offthe-Line.
It began to look like one of those matches where we had all the possession, all the territory, all the shots and nothing to show for it. United defended well but we didn’t make it difficult for them. Long shots didn’t work, corners didn’t work, passing the ball around in the box didn’t work (not that it ever does). Maja’s positioning and movement were good but the ball rarely reached him.
But Lookman, still on his quest for redemption, kept plugging away. His goal wasn’t quite a moment of individual brilliant because in some ways Andersen’s pass was even better than the shot but it was an exquisite strike and nothing less than he and the team deserved.
Of course, we all know that one Fulham goal isn’t always enough and United were as dangerous as a wounded animal and more than capable of snatching a goal at the death. It became more and more evident that a second Fulham goal wasn’t going to come and that the match could end in a disappointing draw. But Alphonse Areola, who could have spent most of the game booking his summer great escape, made sure it didn’t.
Lemina (who had only just come on) stupidly gave away a free kick in a perilous position. The Blades made the most of it and came within inches of scoring but Areola, as fearless as he is decisive, cleared the danger risking life and limb in the process. It is a mark of how little there was to talk about during the game that the “commentators” and “pundits” had to debate whether or not a goal keeper simply doing his job had given away a penalty. Areola got the ball and the fact that his momentum carried him into the Blades player is irrelevant. What was he supposed to do - shove the ball away then levitate?
The fourth official had apparently had an out of body experience during the match which meant he thought 7 minutes of time had been lost. 7 minutes! For watching Fulham fans it was like doing a 7 minute plank - painful and stress inducing. Things got nervy on the pitch with some random clearances and more less than clinical shots from Lemina and RLC but panic didn’t set in and the team held on.
Once again we saw how this group of players is willing to lay it all on the line to survive and how Scott Parker is motivating them to do so. Game management became something of a speciality of his during the Championship run in and he is drawing on that experience now as the matches become more difficult and ever more crucial. This was a Must Win Game and we won it, not with our usual grace and style, but with guts and team spirit.
- Lemina looked very dapper in his beanie hat. Scott’s not just coaching the team at football
- how did Frank get the first yellow card of the game when there had been some far worse challenges by the Blades before it?
- you could see how much the win meant to Scott in the one moment of passionate jubilation he allowed himself before immediately controlling it and going to commiserate with the United bench
This was not a decisive or an attractive win but it was a hugely important one. It has taken us to 3 points from safety on a wave of momentum which will sweep us into the harder matches to come. Scott and his team think they can survive. Nothing is yet certain and, inevitably, the fight will go down to the wire. But now we have a chance.
We are Fulham Football Club. And we Still Believe.