Jack and Loz at the Cottage - Blog 276

Date: 16th March 2024

Opposition: Tottenham Hotspur

Score: 3-0

Goal scorers: Muniz, Lukic, Muniz

Weather: springlike

Atmosphere: euphoric

MOTM: misunderstood, misjudged and much-maligned, Antonee “Scape-Goat” Robinson has never been far from criticism since his arrival at Fulham. Yet he’s never been far from goal involvements either, he has the best record for interceptions in pretty much the whole world and he doesn’t just run tirelessly up and down the left wing, he does it effectively and at 100mph. His no-nonsense approach doesn’t end on the pitch. In the anxiety-inducing uncertainty of last summer, Antonee signed his contract extension early and then got on with his job. He’s always had potential, he’s often shown glimmers of brilliance but on Saturday Antonee came of age with a phenomenal performance. Indomitable in defence, relentless in attack. The scape goat has become the GOAT.

Pre-match drinks: the Craft Beer Co

Post match celebratory drinks: Riverside Studios

Post match celebratory dinner (and more celebratory drinks): Wagamama

Don’t believe the media who say Spurs had injuries and an off-day. Don’t look at the stats which tell you the game was balanced and Fulham must have scored 3 flukey goals. Don’t watch the match highlights which make it look like there were 2 teams in it.

Saturday’s London demolition derby was a masterclass from, as Marco would say, the first minute of the game to the last. The plan was perfect but, let’s face it, we’ve had perfect plans before and they’ve gone awry. We’ve even had well-executed plans before but something - the final ball, the wasteful shot, the casual defence - has let the planning down.

But on Saturday, the only thing which went wrong was that a 3-0 victory didn’t feel enough. It should have been more.

For Fulham fans, and neutrals, the first half was very entertaining. It was end to end stuff. Our passing was quick and precise. The short passes were good, the long passes were better. Muniz was already dancing into dangerous positions, Lukic had already taken control of the midfield; Antonee was already the best player on the pitch. Fulham were both unpredictable but organised. Spurs pressed well, but this is all they could do and that doesn’t really work when you’re on a football pitch and not at the dry cleaners.

But all too often and as recently as…..last weekend, we’ve done everything right in the build-up but faltered in front of goal. As half time approached, it began to feel like this could be another of those games - we hadn’t capitalised on our chances and we’d end up ruing missed opportunities. But, in case haven’t mentioned this already, Antonee Robinson was having the game of his life. He swooped in an inch perfect cross, Muniz gave his marker the slip and delivered his trademark neat finish followed by his trademark samba celebration.

One bullet point on Marco’s plan must have been, “Don’t fall asleep at the start of the second half.” You’d think he must say that every week but on Saturday the players listened and started the second half with even more intensity than they started the first. In fact we have no time to describe how well they started it because the second goal came almost immediately. We were literally just saying how brilliantly Lukic was playing when he literally scored.

The volleyed cross from Castange was so good that Lukic only had to touch the ball to divert it into the goal but he did it so unexpectedly well that both Muniz and Willian who were waiting for the cross couldn’t quite believe it and took a moment to start celebrating. Lukic had no such hesitation and it was special to see how much scoring his first Fulham goal meant.

We’re finally realising what Lukic can do and it’s comforting to have a new favourite Serb. People who are paid to write this kind of stuff describe the way he and Palhinha were playing together as a double pivot but we just think that having two attack-minded defensive midfielders means one can go forward and one can stay back, the midfield is perfectly balanced and the opposition never know where the danger is going to come from.

And that’s a microcosm of the problems Fulham’s opponents have to deal with when the whole squad is fit and Marco’s little silva-grey cells are firing. When Lukic’s compatriot was our striker, an opponent knew that if they marked him out of the game, we’d struggle to score. But now our goals can come from anywhere. The third goal was a good example of that - Calvin Bassey, not content with an excellent defensive performance tried his hand - er, foot - at shooting and although it didn’t quite work out Muniz was (of course) in the right place at the right time to get some body part or other on the ball and get it over the line.

By then, the Spurs players just wanted the nightmare to end. Their subs had done something we’ve never seen before and warmed up in front of the Hammy End rather than the Riverside but whatever this strange tactic was, it didn’t work and when their slightly weird, overly-avuncular manager sent them on they did nothing. It wasn’t just that we made Spurs look like they’d run out of ideas, they looked like they’d had no ideas to begin with. They simply could not live with Fulham’s dominance.

This is where the plan faded out despite Marco’s energetic reminders from the sideline. We could and should have had more. You know the offside decision for Joao’s goal must have been marginal because it doesn’t feature in many highlight reels but a 4th goal would have been deserved and a bit more composure from Harry or pressing from the other subs and we could have had it.

But preserving the clean sheet was even more important and proud captain Leno and the defence never looked like conceding.

This was one of our best performances of the season - possibly the very best when you consider who the opposition was and how we bettered them in every area of the pitch and behind the scenes too. The timing of the first two goals - one just before half time and one just after - was as good as the goals themselves.

Whilst Antonee was an easy choice for MOTM, Lukic ran him close, Willian’s skill and grace confounded Spurs and Muniz goes from strength to strength. And it’s not just about organisation, preparation and drilling - as the players celebrated together and applauded each other on and off the pitch, you could see that team spirit plays a big part in their success.

Random musings:-

- It was great to see Raúl again and he played well. Did he really need the gloves though?

- Bassey and Tosin are so good together that it feels like we’ve got a new Thames Barrier. We really hope Tosin signs on the dotted line soon

- Whilst our players make long passes look easy, the fans in the half time competition proved they’re not!

- Whilst we agreed with the sentiment of the Spurs fans’ Save Our Seniors sign, it collapsed. Like their team

- Other than that, they were the quietest away fans we’ve had at Our Cottage this season

- The Hammy End was particularly pleased with weasley Maddison’s poor performance (“You’re just a s**t Tom Cairney”) and no doubt Kenny Tete was as well

- This is a good point at which to mention that this is, of course, the second time we’ve beaten Spurs this season

- Rodrigo Muniz now has 7 goals in 7 matches. He is the most in-form striker in the Premier League as well as the most endearing.

This season is winding up to be almost as exciting as the last two. Popular players, dynamic performances and goals galore.

We’re stuck in inglorious 12th but now only 5 points off 8th. As we approach some easier games with our players injury-free and our form gathering pace it might be time to start dreaming again. We know it’s too soon, we know the squad’s not deep enough but on the eve of the anniversary of our greatest European victory, no Fulham fan is going to turn down the chance of another night like that.