Jack and Loz at the Cottage - Blog 254

Date: the end of an era (19th August 2023)

Opposition: Brentford

Score: 0-3

Fulham goal scorer: he’s gone

Weather: warm and sunny

Atmosphere: disillusioned

MOTM: an early award for long-standing key player Not Applicable

Pre-match: Expectation Espresso in Pret

Post-match: Commiseration Cava with friends

This isn’t the blog we wanted to be writing today. Part of it is a blog we never wanted to write. But, despite what they say, history isn’t always written by the victors.

Perhaps Fulham fans’ optimism going into the Brentford match was misplaced. Perhaps there is no chance of last season’s top 10 finish being replicated, perhaps the win at Everton was purely down to luck. But we were back at Craven Cottage in the sunshine after too long away and full of anticipation for the afternoon and the season ahead. But, although we didn’t know it at the time, when the match kicked off we were already on the brink of a new and daunting world.

For the first 43 minutes, the sides were evenly matched. Fulham looked solid if uninspired. Tim Ream was, ironically as it turned out, always in the right place at the right time to make a clearance or challenge, Saša Lukić looked very neat and tidy on the ball, Antonee made an amazing goal-line clearance, Kenny looked pacy and threatening. But whilst there was hard work, there was no creativity and little pace. We pressed well, but never came close to scoring.

45 minutes is not very long to concentrate. Unless you’re Issa Diop who started thinking about his half time orange segment with 2 minutes to go. Despite the best efforts of Ream and Leno, Brentford were handed the easiest goal they will score this season on a Silva platter. This was hugely disappointing but Fulham had the whole of the second half to react to it. They could have come out after half time all guns blazing, they could have started creating chances, Raúl could have shown us what he can do, Marco could have made some early subs….

But none of this happened. Instead, we got worse. It was like the first day of term when no one knows each other properly. There was no linking up, no determination and no energy - the team looked like they were playing in the enervating heat of a desert nation and needing frequent water breaks….

Eventually, Marco realised we had suffered enough and thought about making some subs. Unfortunately, he didn’t think quickly enough because just as Tom Cairney and Willian were shin-padded up and ready to come on, a Brentford player brushed against Tim Ream, fell over and was awarded a penalty. Tim was sent off, Brentford scored and everything fell apart.

Suffice to say, Tom Cairney didn’t make it on to the pitch but looked up apologetically at the Hammy End. João Pahlinha is a great footballer but he’s not the man to turn to when you’re chasing the game. Willian did nothing. It was good to see Traore but what was he supposed to do from right back? The crowd appreciated Muniz hounding the Brentford defence but why didn’t we see Vini who impressed at the end of last season?

Recently, Fulham’s spine has been Leno, Ream, João and - ok, let’s mention him for the first time - Aleksandar Mitrovic. Without one of them, that spine has a slipped disc. Without two of them, it’s completely broken. Whilst the scoreline is punitive, Fulham have a lot of improving to do. By contrast, Brentford were average but effective, they weren’t clinical, but they didn’t need to be. And most notably, the loss of the striker who bet against them hasn’t diminished them.

It’s no excuse for their rustiness, but the Fulham players must have been distracted lately by a brooding presence on the periphery of the group. Coming, going, staying, training, resting, playing, moaning, agitating, demanding to go. And they would have known, long before we did, that he was gone. And it must have hurt them too.

Because this is a rejection, callously delivered. Mitro was our talisman. He wasn’t perfect but his good qualities outweighed his flaws. We seemed to have an understanding - we’d given him a home and his confidence back, we’d lavished him with adoration. He stuck by us through two relegations. We defended him through his 8 game ban. His names are the only two words most of us recognise in the Cyrillic alphabet. “We have a perfect marriage,” he said, only a few months ago, “Love on both sides.”

He could have had the statue.

Of course, relationships end. Players move on, sometimes amicably, occasionally not. But Louis Saha and Clint Dempsey, who left acrimoniously, went to bigger clubs chasing bigger prizes. Sess and Fab, whose departures disappointed us, had their heads turns by promises of glory. But Mitro has left for money, pure and simple.

He has gone to play in empty stadiums, in a rudimentary league backed by a regime sullied by sports washing and worse. He is 28 and he is retiring from serious football. Not only does he not want to play in the most competitive league in the world, he wants a season marred with a lengthy ban to be the last one we remember. As for the money, his salary at Fulham made him richer than the wildest dreams of any fan.

But the betrayal isn’t the fact he’s left, it’s the manner of his departure. He forced it, said Marco Silva, trying to hide his own strong emotions about the situation. Mitro was so desperate to leave that he made life difficult for his manager, uncomfortable for his teammates and stressful for the fans until the Club relented.

But now we will never have to watch him score against us and we will never again have to cringe as he misses a penalty. At some point his ankle is going to give up the ghost, and the Club got as much money for him as realistically possible.

So it’s time to move on but too early to say what the post-Mitro world will look like. The Club need to spend big sums of money quickly but wisely. The board needs to keep Marco happy and Marco needs to motivate the team back to last season’s level.

The future will be either very exciting. Or very scary.

Random musings:-

- On a happier occasion we would enjoyed writing about Fulham’s new set of twins. Whoever would have realised that Andreas and Harry were separated at birth?

- The bag checks were efficient and the checkers very cheerful. They did seem more concerned about putting the pink stickers on our bags then actually searching them though

- Aren’t there rules about how many people can be standing in the technical area? And don’t they apply to Brentford?

- Don’t get us started on the throw-in routine. Next stop, Strictly Come Dancing

- And isn’t their away kit a knock-off version of ours from last year?

- Not sure how valuable Mitro’s sell-on clause is going to be….

- One positive was Bassey getting some (enforced) minutes and knowing he’s going to play next week. He’s the future of our defence

- Marco’s looking a bit Silva around the edges these days. But an association with Fulham Football Club will do that to anyone….

Mitro has always been temperamental and melodramatic; a messy exit shouldn’t be a surprise. One day we’ll only remember the good times - the headers, the celebrations, how we felt when that 43rd goal went in….One day, having founded the Aleksandar Mitrovic Penalty Taking School, he’ll come back for his Forever Fulham award and we’ll sing his song and forgive his transgressions.

But not yet. It’s still too raw. That’s the thing about fire - it burns.

But this blog isn’t about Mitro, it’s about Fulham. There are two weeks of the window left and our next two league games are ones we’re not expected to win. Our season will start after that, with three points already on the board.

And then we will see what our players, and our manager, are made of.