Jack and Loz at the Cottage - Blog 263

Date: 27th November 2023

Opposition: Wolves

Score: 3-2

Fulham goal scorers: Iwobi, Willian (pen #1), Willian (pen #2)

Weather: not as cold as it might have been

Atmosphere: not as loud as it might have been

MOTM: we’ve been writing about Tom Cairney for a long time. Much like the Club itself, he’s had ups and downs; he’s led Fulham to some fantastic victories, he’s scored some wonderful goals, but his technical brilliance has been affected by injury, his quiet leadership overlooked by ignorant managers. But he’s always been there. Influential on the pitch, patient on the bench or just charming on the website. He’s often been our MOTM but we’ve rarely seen him play as well as he did on Monday night. Young Tom was mild-mannered, stylish and creative. Seasoned Tom is tough, battled-hardened and uncompromising. And the team is better for it.

Drinks and Dinner: the Blue Boat

Following an uncertain start to the season, a dangerous lack of goals and a dire series of recent results, Fulham fans spent the international break looking down the table and remembering how it feels to slide into relegation. With the January transfer window still a long way off and more tough matches to come, Monday’s encounter with Wolves had become a Must Win Game.

After two splendid seasons, Marco has recently learnt what Fulhamish means and his hair has become a lot more Silva in the process. But he picked an attacking line-up, or at least a line-up as attacking as can be without anyone who’s scored more than one goal all season. Worse than the dearth of firepower was the absence of João Palhinha - a man without whom we can’t seem to win.

But the team started like lightning. After narrowly failing to score in the first minute with a fast attack they repeated the trick a few minutes later and Antonee Robinson and Alex Iwobi combined to create something astonishing - a first half Fulham goal.

We then had most of the ball during the half but also made most of the mistakes. Harrison Reed transgressed more than once but largely made up for his waywardness with his industry and commitment, the usually unruffled Leno had a brainstorm which his teammates managed to cover and let’s not mention Robinson’s bad decisions and worse reactions.

Heads didn’t drop before the Wolves goal because, inexplicably, they’d already dropped before it but, largely thanks to Calvin Bassey and our indomitable captain, we made it to half time all square.

Until this season, the thought of Fulham taking two penalties in one half of football would have given fans nightmares. For reasons which we now cannot begin to understand, they were previously entrusted to the worst penalty taker in the team. And yet we didn’t complain, we just let him get on with it. It’s as if we were all under a collective delusion, Marco included.

There was controversy around all 3 penalties, although it was in inverse proportion to their dubiousness. Having awarded the softest penalty first, the ref felt obliged to give Wolves the second softest but then tried to ignore the stonewall one in extra time. So, for once, VAR was friend not foe but, as is often the case - we made our own luck. You can’t get bundled over in the box if you haven’t run into it with the ball.

The match didn’t showcase the quality of the talent in the best league in the world but there were some good performances. We’ve mentioned Tom already but we have to praise his tenacity and hardihood again as he rode tackle after crunching tackle whilst dictating the play and demanding the ball. We didn’t miss João as much as we might have done because Andreas threw himself into the game covering multiple positions and acres of ground. This was probably Bassey’s best game so far and we were impressed with his strength and speed. His skills are a bit rough and ready but we mustn’t forget he’s playing out of position.

Very few players have fitted into the team or the Club as quickly and smoothly as Timothy Castange. He’s more than a hardworking, solid understudy. With his endless running, defensive nouse and attacking edge, he’s challenging for top billing. We were delighted to see Kenny back on the bench but he’s going to have to fight hard to win back his crown. Our one criticism of Timmy is that he doesn’t combine seamlessly with Iwobi, but we’ll put that down to Iwobi feeling out on a limb and fading in and out after he scored.

Marco Silva can sometimes be a bit slow off the mark. When it comes to signing a new contract, for example, or making substitutions. But he always gets there in the end and on Monday night he got both the timing and selection of his subs almost perfect. Harry Wilson flew onto the pitch bringing new energy, added pace and extra drive; Lukic shored up the midfield just as his teammates were tiring and Tosin was back like he’d never been away. Calm, solid and most of all very, very tall, he was excellent when he came on. Marco might not like playing five at the back but the defensive formation was exactly what was needed to see the game out.

Which brings us to the one sub we could have done without. Carlos Vinicius did nothing except almost get sent off. The sooner Raùl can play 90 minutes and/or Muniz is back from injury the better because Carlos is going to head butt his way to a red card one of these days. We used to have another player who did that sort of thing and because we loved him we let him get away with it. And look how that ended up.

Wolves fans might feel the door was slammed in their faces but over 100+ minutes we were the better side and the unlikely but close result was the right one.

What’s odd is that we played and won a scrappy hard-fought match without our fiercest warrior; and having spent many disappointing matches thinking we’d have won with our former penalty taker on the pitch, this is one match we would have lost. Maybe we’re moving on.

Random musings: -

- Is there a rule that Andreas has to have a fellow blond? That can be the only reason for what Antonee has done

- The half time tribute to Terry Venables was nice but not as good as the Club can do

- Tom and Willian’s combined ages for winning and scoring the first penalty is 67 which has got to be some sort of record

- Why all the short corners and wasted free kicks?

- We hate to say it, but that game really felt like the beginning of the end of Tim Ream as Bassey cleared the danger again and again and Tosin swept back in. But we know better than to count Tim out

- The Cottage looked very festive swathed in stylish garlands

- Gloves were in abundance on both sides

- Although it’s amazing to have a penalty taker who can….er, score penalties, Willian’s hop skip and hesitation technique is slightly terrifying

- Loz collected her new Willian shirt before the match and she will now have to buy a different player’s shirt before each match until the end of the season.

So this was a Must Win Game and we won it. And we didn’t do it with pretty passes and stylish football but with grit and guts. We’ve clawed our way back to mid table, we’ve got players coming back from injury and a manager with money to spend in January.

Let’s not write this season off just yet.