Jack and Loz Away from the Cottage - Blog 278

Date: 14th April 2024

Opposition: West Ham

Venue: the London Stadium

Score: 0-2

Goal scorer: Andreas, Pereira

Weather: fine

Atmosphere: brilliant

MOTM: in an erratic season marked by inconsistent performances, Andreas Pereira has been one of Fulham’s most capricious players. We’ve made excuses for him - long broken ankle, a traumatic end to his Serbian bromance - but it’s been frustrating that we’ve only caught glimpses of the qualities we know he possesses. But on Sunday, Andreas was in a class of his own showing off not only his creativity and work rate but his goal scoring prowess

Pre-match: the Stratford Kitchen

Post-match: Caffe Concerto

The last time we went to the London Stadium was in 2012 to watch the Olympians and Paralympians inspire the world with their skill, determination and courage. The world has changed since then, so has the stadium and so has Fulham Football Club. Earlier in the day of our last visit we watched Fulham lose to West Ham at Upton Park. We didn’t know it then but our time as a Premier League fixture was coming to an end. The wilderness years at the bottom of the Championship would soon be upon us followed by the constant stress of successive promotions and relegations.

Fulham’s victory on Sunday was an important milestone - we are now mathematically safe and guaranteed a third year in the top flight. We are a Premier League fixture once more. Sunday’s dominant and entertaining performance underlined that this hasn’t happened by accident; we haven’t got lucky. We are where we deserve to be.

Back to the stadium. The atmosphere on those hot summer nights in 2012 was electric. London was the centre of the universe and the flame burned bright. As a football ground, it’s not quite the same but we’ve been to far worse. In the upper tier you’re a long way from the action but the pitch looked fantastic and the pole-vaulter’s eye view means you can appreciate the tactical battles unfolding even if the detail is hazy.

The match was preceded by the belching of bubble machines while the words to West Ham’s favourite song had to be displayed on the big screen - never a good look.

West Ham are having a busy week (Fulham were the prawns in a Bayer Leverkusen sandwich) but they started the game with pace and intent and had they been better at shooting we would have fallen at the first hurdle and been 2 goals down after 8 minutes. But then something unusual happened: Fulham scored a goal against the run of play. In the first concerted attack we’d been able to make Iwobi arched the ball forward like a javelin, West Ham struggled to deal with it and Andreas was in the right place and, more importantly, had a cool enough head to capitalise on the mistake and slot the ball home.

We’d like to say, after that We Never Looked Back but we can’t say that because we not only looked back but passed back a lot too. Whilst this was an exciting game a lot of the excitement was generated by errors, particularly Fulham giving the ball away whenever they had the chance. It was end to end stuff with the players linking like a well-drilled relay team, but attack after promising attack fell apart with a poor final pass or a wayward shot.

While Fulham were squandering chances so were the Hammers and whilst our defence was frantic at times it was always organised. Calvin Bassey was as solid as a shot put, anticipating danger and dealing with it. After his traditional shaky start, Tosin grew into the game while Castange and Robinson were channelling the spirits of Olympic sprinters. Bernd Leno was Super and will be proud of his clean sheet but he’s had busier days.

The second half was more of the same, interspersed with subs and injuries. West Ham had more of the ball but Fulham had the best of the play. Our lack of possession meant Joao was in his element, throwing himself around and winning the ball back. The bundle of fun and energy that is the reigning Premier League Player of the Month is so assured in front of goal that he tried to score with a back heel and his hold-up play is now as good as his predecessor’s. Willian looked ageless and effortlessly smooth, Iwobi put a shift in and was involved in both goals but, as great as everyone else was, this was the Andreas Pereria show. He revelled in his more advanced role and the early goal gave him the confidence to shoot on sight whenever he could. The second goal was the reward the team deserved for all the beautiful attacking moves which had gone before but been wasted. Alex and Andreas combined so precisely that there could be no mistake.

This was a very enjoyable away game. The only negative is that we should have had scored more goals and perhaps we would have done had Andreas stayed on for longer. West Ham looked tired but they’re a good side and it took clever tactics, resilient play and the togetherness of the team to beat them in such style.

Random musings:-

- You don’t notice the pitch used to have a running track around it other than in the gap between the dugouts and the technical areas. A manager could easily do the length of a middle distance run pacing between one and the other

- Marco was therefore in splendid isolation when the first goal went in and he turned to raise a jubilant fist to the away fans before getting swamped by the players

- The big screen doesn’t work. When they were showing the action it was a second behind what was happening on the pitch and the adverts were naff and distracting

- The spare balls on podiums around the pitch, however, worked well

- The atmosphere outside the ground had a festival feel to it with plenty of kiosks selling beer and street food

- The atmosphere in the home end of the ground, however, was very subdued and then everyone left very early

- Marco has got over his triple sub thing and went for the double double instead which worked much better

- On the subject of doubles, this is the first time we’ve done the double over West Ham since 1966

- Two searches and someone still managed to get a flare in…..

- We were honoured to join in the applause for the late Dylan Tombides

- It’s good to know that George Earthy has recovered from his head injury. That’s the only time we’ve seen a player carted off the pitch on a vehicle

- The Fulham choir was in very good voice belting out all our old favourites and “We’re Only Hear for the Waitrose.”

- Boa, Rodrigo and Andreas celebrating with the fans at the end was lovely.

As satisfying as the win feels it’s hard not to wonder about what might have been if the players had produced that kind of performance more often. The top 10 is back in our sights but how much higher could we have jumped up the table if we hadn’t thrown points away?

As everyone knows, a football season is a marathon not a sprint and Fulham, like those long-distance runners in 2012, are on the home straight. But there’s still just about time for a few more twists and turns before we reach the finish line.