Jack and Loz at the Cottage - Blog 260

Date: 7th October 2023

Opposition: Sheffield United

Score: 3-1

Fulham goal scorers: Bobby Decordova-Reid, Tom Cairney (yes, it really was him not an OG), Willian

Weather: balmy

Atmosphere: sizzling

MOTM: the cream will always rise to the top. It’s taken a while for Willian to hit his groove this season but on Saturday he was back to his magical best - smooth skills, fancy footwork and an unexpected turn of pace. He baffled the Blades with his quality on the ball and confounded them with his use of space off it. His superb goal completed a truly transcendent performance.

Pre-match: Pret

Post-match: we went to the Live Fulhamish podcast at the Half Moon in Putney.

Following the series of unfortunate events which led to Fulham losing to Chelsea in the week (events including the manager picking the wrong players and said players starting the game half asleep), the Sheffield United match became not just a Must Win Game, but a Must Perform Game. In particular, it was a Must Score Goals Game.

Goals have been in very short supply this season. Prior to Saturday, we had won 4 matches in total, 3 by one goal and 1 by way of a penalty shoot-out. Whilst there have been some solid defensive performances, our lack of authority in front of goal has become concerning.

Marco can be stubborn about changing his line-up but he finally admitted to himself that Iwobi needs to start games and a Fulham team is always better when Bobby Reid is in it. He started Vinicius rather than Raùl thus ensuring that the striker debate rumbles on, as it will probably do until the end of the season, and quite possibly to the end of time.

Unlike against Chelsea, Fulham started the match with energy and purpose. We won our first corner within 15 seconds and had our first shot within 2 minutes. The Fulham press was back - forcing mistakes and creating opportunities. The Blades struggled to get the ball out of their own half and weren’t sure what to do with it when they did. For most of the opening period, it was one way traffic. But although we tested and toyed with our opponents, we couldn’t score - Bobby, Andreas and Willian all squandered good chances. Thus giving them all something to make up for later….

It’s impossible to go any further without mentioning the horrible injury to Chris Basham in front of the Hammy End mid way through the first half. At one point, he was being tended to by 14 medics but none of them were on the scene as quickly as Tim Ream who provided care, company and reassurance until (and after) the professionals took over. How lucky we are to have this leader and gentleman at our Club.

Both sides moved on admirably after the enforced break. The Blades got on with the job and Fulham got on with playing some scintillating football. It was a dazzling display, reminiscent of our Championship winning season when opponents couldn’t live with our quality. Robinson was racing around flinging in crosses, Iwobi was busy in every attacking space, Diop turned into prime Pahlinha and Willian turned into prime Willian.

And Carlos Vinicius was holding the ball up and linking play like somebody that we used to know.

We still hadn’t scored but as the very long first half came to an end, Fulham fans knew that a goal was coming, that football as sparkling as that would not go unrewarded.

And we were right. Fulham finally made the difference with a fast break on 53 minutes. Vini did brilliantly to win a wrestling match with a Blades player, Andreas did even better to send a perfectly weighted pass skimming across the pitch and Bobby did best of all with a composed, neat finish. Of course, because we are Fulham we gave United a goal even more literally than we do usually but watching the team bounce back from that with more devastatingly good football and two more goals was as reassuring as it was entertaining.

Play was fast and precise and the team fluid and flexible - everyone switching places, touching the ball then moving on. After a quiet first half, João turned back in to prime João to make sure the Blades barely got a stiff of the ball, Willian conjured up more sorcery on the left while Harry Wilson was unleashed down the right. Harrison Reed isn’t the first name you link with the term “impact sub” but his hustle and bustle were exactly what was needed while the New Improved Rodrigo Muniz menaced the Blades defence, got flung into the crowd, leapt out of it like a salmon and really should have scored another goal.

So we won our Must Win match and got the performance we’d all been waiting for. Everyone played well, almost everything was perfect - we only conceded because of the injury to Diop. But, as good as it was to score 3 goals, there should have been more. Harry hit the post, Diop missed a header and Muniz and Castange got into a tangle rather than onto the scoresheet. Striker debate aside, it’s worth noting that all 3 goals were scored by old favourites and all by direct routes; faffing around at the front has become our new faffing around at the back and it’s equally frustrating.

Random musings:-

- The minute’s applause in memory of Freddie Haynes, tragically taken much too soon, was faultlessly observed

- It was good to see the return of players taking the knee as part of the No Room for Racism campaign

- Like all Fulham fans, we wish Chris Basham a full recovery and a speedy return to the pitch

- We didn’t like the way all the press photographers had their massive lenses pointed at him as he suffered. Vultures.

- On the subject of injuries, Diop limping off is worrying but Bassey looked very good when he came on

- We’ve hardly mentioned him so far but how good is Timothy Castange? So smooth, so composed. So….Belgian. He’s already an integral part of the team and Tete wont be waltzing back into his place on Marco’s dance card

- Back to the striker debate: Raùl looked bashful warming up and needs to know that the fans do like and appreciate him….

- ….and another player reminded us on Saturday that striker is one of the many positions on his CV. BDR at STR anyone?

- Meanwhile, it looks like Vini has a bit of a temper like somebody that we used to know too….

- The ref was decent and coped well with the injury stoppage.

- To have 3 goals at the Hammy End was a huge treat. Thanks to Tom for celebrating right in front of us. (And we’ll forgive Bobby and Willian for going the other way!)

This result leaves us going into the international break in 12th place on 11 points, exactly where we need to be. But, as good as this game was, there are far tougher matches to come.

We end with more on Tim Ream who has now played an incredible 300 games for the club we all love. Of course, he isn’t just a kind man who looks out for stricken opponents, he’s a diligent defender, a humble professional, an inspiring leader and he’s Fulham through and through. After the Chelsea match we wondered if his playing days were coming to an end but now we apologise for doubting him. On Saturday, he was as influential, intelligent and commanding as ever and there are many more games in him yet.

Our proud, understated, friendly, family club could not have a better man leading the way.