Jack and Loz at the Cottage - Blog 259

Date: 2nd October 2023

Opposition: Chelsea

Score: 0-2

Weather: stormy

Atmosphere: ditto

MOTM: Not Applicable strikes again! But a shout out to Castange for keeping his composure in the first half and swinging in some decent crosses in the second. In uncertain times, Timothy’s consistency is very welcome.

Post-match drinks: also Not Applicable.

We ended our blog on the Norwich match with the words, “unbeaten in three, convincing in none”.

We said that expecting things to improve. Playing with conviction against your local rivals should be the minimum required of a professional footballer. Over and above that, there should be passion, desire, drive and ambition. Fulham fans don’t feel entitled to three points every week, but we deserve to watch decent performances. When players put on our white shirts, we expect them to fight for us.

Monday night got off to a bad start with a light show which doesn’t deserve the epithet. There were simply some lights. Let’s not waste money on that again.

Things then deteriorated rapidly when the match started because Fulham managed to make struggling Chelsea look….good. Their game plan was clear - overrun the midfield with speed and strength, press the defence high and hard and grab whatever spoils fell their way. They nearly scored twice before their first goal and the response of the Hammy End to both failed efforts was a lot more spirited than the team’s.

Because Fulham’s game plan was….well, even 24 hours later, we’re not sure. Sometimes we pressed too aggressively leaving gaps elsewhere; sometimes we didn’t bother to press at all. Our players looked dazed and confused on the ball and clueless off it. Whilst Chelsea were racing around like blue lighting, Fulham were moving like a glacier. The near misses weren’t wake-up calls; the team just ignored them and carried on blithely giving the ball away.

If the first goal can be put down to a defensive mix-up, the second can only be called an individual mistake. We’ve been dreading this moment for a while. We love Tim Ream. We admire his skill, his calmness, his loyalty and his leadership. But was that split second on the edge of the box, when that skill and calmness were lost to him, the beginning of the end of his long and distinguished Fulham career?

Fortunately, it was impossible for Fulham to get any worse after that and the first half ground on painfully and tediously. Every time Leno (he wasn’t Super on Monday) got the ball he waited for Some Moments before even trying to propel it forwards. Every time Diop looked to play a long ball, no one moved for him so he passed it to Ream instead. In the Chelsea goal, Banana Man was largely untroubled. João was isolated, Reed ineffective, Willian ambiguous, Andreas frustrating, Raùl invisible.

During a particularly cheerless half time, our one glimmer of hope was that Iwobi and Vini spent the entire break warming up. Surely that meant they were coming on at the start of the second half? Had Marco, who - let’s face it - had picked the starting line up and presumably instructed them to play in slow motion - seen the error of his ways and decided to throw a little pace and industry into the mix?

No. He hadn’t.

We had to sit through 5 more minutes of pointless play before Raùl and Harry were hooked off. And even then they didn’t take the quickest route!

As we’d all hoped, Iwobi flung himself into the match, charging forwards when he could and helping out the defence when he had too. We don’t think Vini is any better than Raùl but he looked more likely to score. The later introduction of TC added a dose of long overdue creativity and Lukić achieved more in 15 minutes than everyone else did in 95. Yes, he missed his chance but at least he had a shot on target.

When you’re scrabbling for positives so that a return from injury, an energetic substitute and the fact that your second choice right back knows how to put in a cross are highlights, you know it’s been a really bad game. But what makes the result even more galling is that Chelsea weren’t that good. We simply made life much too easy for them.

The team - and their manager - need to take a long hard look at themselves. Where was the inventiveness in front of goal? Where was the solid, reliable defence? Where was the high pressing, fast attacking expressive football which is supposed to be this side’s much vaunted identity? Where even were the grit and graft which are usually a trademark?

Yes, we’ve all suffered a loss but Mitro didn’t die, he walked out. We’re not mourning him, we’re moving on. We get that the team was built around him, we get that it’s hard to change the way you play, but these are professionals - they need to work hard and adapt. And Marco needs to stop thinking about his next job and focus on this one. He got the set up and the tactics wrong and his sensible substitutions didn’t redeem him. Never mind being a genius; he wasn’t the best manager at Craven Cottage on Monday night.

We wanted a thriller, we expected passion, we deserved effort. We got muddled thinking off the pitch and erratic play on it. Any half-hearted performance in a season where staying up is by no means guaranteed is risky, but against Chelsea - neighbours, rivals, enemies - it’s unforgivable.

Random musings:-

- The fluorescent Chelsea badge made it look like their players had snipers’ targets on their chests….

- ….and most of them looked like they’d been gunned down at some point in the second half as they used every technique to secure the points

- are they having some sort of historic bad hair competition in the dressing room? The 70s perm, the minuscule man bun…

- Maybe Andreas isn’t fully over his broken ankle?

- Was that weird announcement about Mr Bishop or a bishop? Was something thinking praying could have improved things?

- Overall this felt like a naive performance, as if we’d just been promoted. Whereas last season we played much better against a better Chelsea team

- On the subject of managers at Craven Cottage, Slav was in the house

- Some of our players removed their shirts at the end of the match. And yet, we didn’t care.

Monday’s match was worrying in many ways. We’ve had a mixed start to the season but, other than at Arsenal and Palace, we haven’t looked like the confident, resourceful side that we were last season. We haven’t built on a run of solid, if uninspired matches and in fact we seemed to have regressed back to a dark, dispiriting period when goals were hard to come by, the football was dire to watch and the threat of relegation loomed ever larger.

But the lack of passion in a match against Chelsea is the loudest alarm bell. On Monday night we were watching a Fulham team in which the fire has well and truly gone out.