Jack and Loz Away from the Cottage - Blog 257

Date: 23rd September 2023

Venue: Selhurst Park

Score: 0-0

Fulham goal scorer: will start scoring very soon!

Weather: a pleasant September day

Atmosphere: very good in the away section

MOTM: Antonee Robinson is moving from Fulham Scapegoat to Fulham Fan Favourite. And he’s moving quickly, because that’s what he does. Before all the transfer window drama and heartache, Antonee quietly and confidently signed a new contract and efficiently got on with the job. He isn’t always the best at defending, or the best at crossing but he always gives 100% on the pitch and always at (approximately) 100mph. On Saturday, he was fantastic in both defence and attack, always exactly where he needed to be and he sprinted past his defensive rivals to claim our MOTM award.

Pre-match: we had some Chateau Selhurst Rose from the away end bar. It tasted like alcoholic Ribena

Post-match: Rail House Cafe in Victoria

There are gripping 0-0 draws and snoozefest 0-0 draws. Saturday’s 0-0 draw at Selhurst Park fell somewhere in the midfield between the two - a fast-paced, hard-fought 0-0 draw which was probably the right result.

We arrived in South London (which feels half a world rather than half an hour away from the leafy, sleepy streets of SW6) expecting a close match. Roy Hodgson knows better than anyone how not to lose a football match and, whilst he still has a fondness for Fulham, he would never let sentimentality get in the way of exploiting an opponent’s weakness. Marco, meanwhile, made his regard for Roy clear during the week but his respect for his elder and (in terms of success with Fulham) better didn’t affect his tactics.

We must begin the match report section of this blog with a disclaimer. The view from the away block at Selhurst Park is compromised at the best of times and, because most of our neighbours were men and further, because some men are unnecessarily tall, we didn’t see all of the game. We hasten to add that this imperfect vantage point didn’t spoil our enjoyment of the afternoon.

Fulham started the game strongly and edged the first half. The team was industrious and disciplined, willing to keep possession and try to build attacks. As we’ve already mentioned, Antonee’s pace was threatening down the left and he combined well with Willian who was easily having his best game of the season.

But, as good as Antonee was, you can’t reference him without mentioning Castange in the next breath. After acquitting himself well at left back last week, Timothy switched effortlessly to the right and played even better. A player who can challenge both full-backs so effectively after such a short time with the squad is very refreshing and even more promising. At times he was over-eager, shooting when he should have passed but he made some dangerous runs which weren’t spotted by his teammates and he’ll only improve the more he integrates.

Our overall play was good, particularly the long angled passes out of defence but clear cut chances were few and weren’t capitalised on. Raùl, Andreas and Willian all tested the goalkeeper but came off worse and Andreas wasted our only two corners by playing them short (why? Why? WHY?). At the other end, the defence was impervious. Palace have some good attackers but you wouldn’t have known it. Ream and Leno were as intelligent and impenetrable as ever and Diop was our runner up for MOTM - solid in literally every way.

But the well-drilled Palace defence was equally firm. At half time it wasn’t Even Stevens but, in honour of 2 fifths of our excellent defence, Even Tims.

During half time we were “entertained” by the Crystals and amused by a penalty shootout which was won decisively by some young Fulham fans who celebrated in a style their heroes would have loved to emulate.

The second half was the opposite of the first in that Palace were the slightly better team and at times we were in danger of being overwhelmed. But Leno & Co stood strong and João was in dispossession mode. Some more attempts on goal went awry and we gave the ball away too much. Whilst it’s a welcome reversal of fortune to bring on subs who can actually change a game (Iwobi was a live wire once again and Harry was a challenge for tired defenders) they didn’t influence the scoreline and the match ended in stalemate with two good, obsessively organised sides cancelling each other out.

That’s the end of the match but it isn’t the end of the story. Inevitably, after such a close game, fans have to ask - would we have won it with a different striker? With the team now so competent and competitive in all departments except one (and perhaps the most important one) the failure to replace our Old Flame could well come back to haunt us by season’s end.

Or will it? Raúl did everything right on Saturday except put the ball in the back of the net. Leading the line in a team built around a different man with a different striker’s profile is a hard task for anyone, never mind someone who suffered a knock not just to his confidence, but to his head. Raùl is getting better every game linking the play, holding the ball up, getting in good positions. He and his teammates don’t quite understand each other yet (hence our best chance of the second half was wasted) but they’re all trying hard. He may not have Vini’s knack of being in the right place at the right time but he’s an all round better player. He may not have his predecessor’s ability to create a goal out of nothing but that predecessor had a habit of missing chances too.

Marco’s plan seems to be to give Raúl a run in the starting 11, and it’s got to be a decent number of games. We’re expecting him to start against Norwich and we’re expecting him to score his first competitive Fulham goal soon. And what a moment that will be.

Random musings:-

- Fulham fans were honoured to join in a minute’s applause on the 33rd minute in memory of Palace fan Josh Bashford

- The scoreline means that Super Bernd now has more clean sheets than any other keeper in the league. 2 of the 3 have been away from home

- We were in the heart of the choir and it was like performing a scratch Messiah at the Albert Hall, so perfect were the renditions of all our favourite songs.

- A new entry into the playlist is “Silva’s right, the refs are shite” which might have been written for Saturday’s officials. The ref started the game dishing out cards to anyone that moved including João for intercepting a ball which bounced off the ref himself and Tim for protesting about a wrongly awarded corner. He then switched to a complete free for all when he let all fouls go before adopting a more balanced stance in the second half.

- There was a delicious irony in singing “Have you ever beaten Juve?” to a club managed by a man who did so on a night when we were there

- The side-on view is unusual for us but really made us appreciate just how fast Antonee is when he puts the after burners on

- We have previously mentioned that it would be acceptable for João to remove his shirt again. He obliged.

This was an enjoyable awayday even if it wasn’t a memorable match. Fulham sit 9th in the table (and top of the West London Super League) on 8 points. This is a very good return but it feels like we’ve hardly got started yet. The newbies haven’t settled in, there have been injuries and off-pitch issues.

We’ve got a feeling the goals are coming and that this season might be just as exciting as the last one….