Jack and Loz at the Cottage - Blog 273

Date: 10th February 2024

Opposition: Bournemouth

Score: 3-1

Fulham goal scorers: Bobby, Muniz, Muniz

Weather: after the rainbow faded, the sky changed from indigo through umber and crimson until the Cottage was basking in golden light

Atmosphere: excellent

MOTM: as the likes of Stefan Johansen and, more appropriately, our former Brazilian player Bairdinho will testify, Fulham fans love a player who proves us wrong. Before last Saturday, the best thing anyone could say about Rodrigo Muniz was that he was a nice guy who tried hard. He was good at making a nuisance of himself and he was quite good at pressing. And that was it. Now, suddenly, we have Muniz 2.0 - the reinvented Premier League goal scoring upgrade. Against Bournemouth, he didn’t just score 2 goals, he did everything a centre forward should do and more. It’s very early days, but we might just have another outstanding striker on our hands…

Lunch: Pret

Apertol Spritzes: Riverside Studios

Dinner: Sagar (veggie Indian on King Street, highly recommended)

Fulham have been consistently inconsistent since approximately 1879 but this season we have taken our contrariness to new levels. You simply don’t know which Fulham is going to turn up to any match. Will it be 5-0 Fulham who scored 10 goals in 2 games and have taken 4 points off Arsenal? Or Crap Fulham who haven’t scored in 10 games and have given 4 points to Burnley?

We approached the Bournemouth match, therefore, unsure whether to be hopeful or worried. It helped that, in the words of people who get paid to write this kind of thing, Fulham had been handed an injury boost. Harry Wilson (shoulder), Issa Diop (some leg part or other) and Adama Traore (happened so long ago we can’t remember what it was) were all fit to play.

The afternoon began with a dignified and moving Celebration Day tribute to Fulham fans who have passed away. But there was no finer tribute to them than the quality of the football the team played in the first half.

It was probably our best period this season. Sublime skill, exquisite attacking moves, every player at their absolute best. We have to begin with Bobby Reid who isn’t the best winger in the Premier League or, indeed, the best winger at Fulham but who is the personification of hard work earning just rewards. Fulham started strongly and were looking good but the first goal came out of nowhere, or rather out of Bobby being in the right place at the right time to capitalise on a defensive mistake. His finish was as good as his poacher’s reaction.

We’ve talked about Muniz before but we have to talk about him again because it would be wrong not to reiterate what a mature, complete striker’s performance that was. Winning battles with defenders, holding the ball up, bringing others into the game. And scoring 2 goals! You can’t ask for more. And yet you get more! Dancing, slightly mad interviews in English and buckets full of emotion. After scoring his first Premier League goal last weekend, he’s now scored his first at the Putney End and his first at the Hammy too - a kind of perfect hat trick.

We now have to stop talking about Rodrigo Muniz and talk about some other Brazilians - the self-styled bromance which is Willian and Tom Cairney. Of course, Willian has always been a class act and we know how lucky we are to have him gracing our white shirt. But Willian isn’t just a good footballer. He’s so elite that he makes everyone around him better, none more so than his new bestie and our long term favourite TC.

Whilst Tom’s qualities have always been recognised at Fulham, in his twilight years he’s finally beginning to win admiring glances from further afield. His ability to control a midfield and to make the most of his time on the ball is superior to most. This was an assured, calm demonstration of skill combined with experience. “I wish I was Brazilian,” he said wistfully after the match. But based on that performance, his family celebrates Carnival not Burns Night.

And the plaudits don’t end there. Joao Palhinha’s tackles per minute ratio was back to its record breaking best - our favourite was the kung fu bunny hop by the side line; Tim Ream doesn’t just read the game anymore, he predicts it, and is there any player better at long passes anywhere in the world….? And Timothy Castagne has gone from understated to world class in the space of two weeks.

So it felt like we were watching 5-0 Fulham again - playing completely dominant, expressive, enjoyable football. The only thing Willian did wrong was fluff his shot and the disparity in levels was such that a three goal lead at half time would have been justified. But in the back of everyone’s minds was what happened at Burnley where we were also 2-0 up at half time….

….and when we conceded early in the second half every Fulham fan feared what came next.

But we’d underestimated the team who had learnt from last week’s mistake. There were 2 minutes between Bournemouth’s scrambled goal and Willian’s arcing cross and Muniz’s precise finish. The cross was so good that nature decided to emulate it a few minutes later….

If the first half showed one part of the team’s game, the second showed another - tenacity and resilience. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t even very entertaining but under heavy bombardment from Bournemouth the defence didn’t panic, stood firm and (one way or another) dealt with everything flung their way.

As so often in a good performance, things unravelled a bit with the subs. We were excited to see Broja, who acquitted himself well, and Harrison made an impact but what was the formation supposed to be when Adama and Ballo-Torre came on - it looked like the team became a pack of dogs chasing after the ball?

But overall the game management was good and the two goal cushion, once reestablished, didn’t feel seriously threatened. With tougher fixtures coming up, this was a big win, and the result was a fitting honour to the memories of those we have lost.

Random musings:-

- The officials were dressed in Sin Bin Blue

- Bournemouth were dressed as Watford

- Thank you to the travelling fans for wholeheartedly joining in with the minute’s applause

- Bournemouth are very good at corners. And they don’t do short ones. Take note Andreas!

- (that’ll be Andreas whose dyed his hair silva again)

- On the subject of hair, was that what the medical team were checking after Tom had been smacked in the head?

- All Fulham fans are delighted for Muniz but think how his success must feel to the manager who plucked him out of Brazil and devoted hours, years in fact, to coaching him, knowing all along that he had what it took to make it in the Premier League

- It was nice to see John Cutbush and his super-proud grandson at half time

- The pitch was very slippery. At one point the players were going down like abandoned lime bikes. But the sprinklers came on at half time anyway

- Adama has clearly spent all his time off in the gym

- Josh King didn’t realise the Hammy End were applauding him as he warmed up

- We liked Broja’s nice pink boots and the fact that he did more in 20 minutes than a previous Chelsea loanee did in a whole season, but from a distance, seeing him in the number 9 shirt in the dying sunlight was like seeing a ghost….

It’s amazing how a Fulham win can change the mood, outlook and expectations of fans. Suddenly, things are looking up again. We have an in-form striker and another just waiting to show us what he can do. We have players back from injury and our (hopefully victorious) Super Eagles about to land. We have 29 points and the top 10 in our sights.

And we have the most beautiful ground in the world, enhanced on Saturday by a rainbow and spectacular cloudscape. But in the first half, Fulham’s football was even better than nature’s technicolour display.