Jack and Loz at The Cottage - Blog 256

Date: 16th September 2023

Opposition: Luton Town

Score: 1-0

Goal scorer: Carlos Vinicius

Weather: last days of summer

Atmosphere: excellent

MOTM: we could have given this award to Vini for the goal, or to Leno for the clean sheet, or to João for a fitting launch to his redemption arc but our Man of the Match was Tim Ream who flew high captaining the national team of a country of 350 million people in his home town last week but whose feet are firmly on the ground and whose mind is always focused on the task at hand. After a summer of betrayals and disrespect, it’s worth remembering that there are a few good men at Fulham and Tim is a leader we can all look up to.

Pre match: Pret

Post match: Riverside Studios and the Blue Boat

If a week is a long time in politics, three weeks is an eternity in football. The last time we were at the Cottage Kenny Tete’s new boots kicked us into the third round of the Carabao Cup, João Pahlinha bashed the badge on his chest and the last days of the transfer window looked like an exciting rather than a terrifying prospect.

But less than 48 hours after the badge bashing a soap opera began starring João “Toys Out of the Pram” Pahlinha, his brother Gonçalo (the footballing equivalent of a used car salesman), Luis Boa Morte’s Instagram account and Tony “We Tried Really Hard to Find a Replacement Honest” Khan. This was an unedifying saga for all concerned. If Bayern wanted João so badly why didn’t they offer a lot more money for him a lot earlier in the window? Why couldn’t João and his less talented, less good looking brother see that? Why did Fulham let João travel to Germany rather than just making it clear he wasn’t for sale at that time?

Fast forward two weeks of disillusionment for the fans and suddenly João signs a new contract ensuring, hopefully, another 8 months of tough tackling rather than another 4 months of sour sulking. We say “suddenly” but actually Joao’s rehabilitation had already begun with his picture being used to promote the Luton game and his goal against Arsenal being announced as Goal of the Month. We’re fairly sure if UN inspectors had been present when the votes were counted they wouldn’t have found the election free and fair.

However, the contract announcement, Joao’s hesitant but sincere interview, peace breaking out on Portuguese Fulham social media and more reassurances from Marco “A Release Clause is Just Something We Laugh At” Silva, coupled with the equally good announcement about Harrison Reed’s contract, meant that Fulham fans couldn’t wait to get back to the Cottage on Saturday.

Of course, the last time we played Luton we scored 7 goals and secured the Championship title. No one imagined the score would come anywhere close to that this time but Fulham fans were quietly confident.

And that confidence seemed justified to start with. For most of the first half, all the action was at the Putney End. Fulham forced the play in and around the box, we had corners, free kicks and possession. So much possession that we didn’t know what to do with it. This was Luton’s game plan and they executed it well. Fulham didn’t help themselves by playing so slowly that a team of orange clad snails could have had 11 men (er…snails) behind the ball at all times.

Also, whilst Issa Diop made more passes than the entire Luton team, they were all to Tim Ream. The ball always went sideways, never forwards. We couldn’t break Luton down. When we had the glimmer of a chance we often wasted it - that’s you and the short corners, Andreas, and you and your unicycle kick, Raùl - interesting to look at but completely pointless!

Luton would have been the more satisfied team at half time. Their plan to grind out a draw was working and they’d had a few counterattacks. One was well dealt with by Castange who looked competent on his debut, one was run out of play by Andreas but two resulted in shots, one of which hit the post. Some of their play was a bit Championship and whilst we descended to their level, we didn’t deal with it as well as we should have done. Fulham were living dangerously and needed to wake up.

We’d like to say… And that’s exactly what happened in the second half! But it isn’t. The second half started with more of the same turgid attack and unheeded alarm calls. To their credit, the Fulham players found the situation less frustrating than the fans and kept plugging (and in Diop’s case passing) away. Moments of quality were few and far between but João was as good as his word, dispossessing Luton players at will, throwing himself into tackles and - a clearer indicator that normal service is resumed than any other - nearly getting a yellow card.

We’d heard that Luton tend to tail off after about 70 minutes and, interestingly, Marco must have heard that too because that’s when he started making subs.

And, finally, things improved.

We’re believers in the idea that you shouldn’t change a team to fit your system, you should change the system to play to the strengths of the team members. But this doesn’t always work in football and Raùl is a case in point. He’s clearly a good player and he’s clearly working hard but he doesn’t look threatening. Perhaps it’s just a case of him getting used to his teammates and vice versa but until that happens where are the goals going to come from?

Most fans have been wondering why we haven’t seen anything of Vini recently (Was Tom Cairney’s windscreen not the only one to get damaged perhaps…..?) The scorer of the winner against Chelsea is always going to be a Fulham favourite but Vini deputised ably for our Old Flame last season, scored on the US tour and deserved his chance.

And, by God, did he grab it.

Five minutes after coming on to a rapturous chorus of his song, Vini combined with his compatriots and scored another key goal. Andreas laid the ball off, Willian, who looks like he’s feeling his age this season, produced one of his moments of magic and Vini pounced.

We’d like to say that Fulham took advantage of Luton’s disarray and scored again but, although Iwobi looked dynamic and exciting, and Bobby skilful and intelligent, Fulham ended up clinging on to the one goal lead. This was the right result and three points well won but it wasn’t a convincing or reassuring performance.

Random musings:-

- The tribute to the late Mohamed Al-Fayed was good but perhaps a little too understated for such a flamboyant character

- He taught us how to twirl a scarf though and the home crowd honoured him in a style he would have appreciated

- The less said about the away fans idea of honour during the one minute’s silence the better

- If Calvin Bassey wants to warm up by the corner flag again, that would be very acceptable

- During the second half, Luton took two throw-ins with two different balls simultaneously

- One of Diop’s back passes was basically a shot on target for Luton

- Because Harry and Andreas are twins they had to come off at the same time

- It was great to see Konch at half time, and also Ed and his Kicks for Cancer campaign

- And it was lovely when the Fulham crèche put in an appearance at full time. We won’t say who we thought was cutest!

This win leaves us sitting pretty in mid table but it doesn’t feel comfortable there. There’s a lot of room to improve, and a lot of work to be done.

This was Marco’s 100th match as Fulham manager. Sadly, we doubt there will be 100 more. This season feels like the Marco Silva Farewell Tour in which he plays the great stadiums of England, sometimes from the dugout and sometimes from the stands but always conducting the thrilling football he has brought to Fulham. We must enjoy it while it lasts secure in the knowledge that he will leave the Club, and the team, in a better place than he found them.