Jack and Loz at the Cottage for the Cup Semi-Final - Blog 270

Date: 24th January 2024

Competition: Carabao Cup Semi-Final second leg

Opposition: Liverpool

Score: 1-1 (2-3 on aggregate)

Fulham goal scorer: Issa Diop

Weather: warming up nicely

Atmosphere: crescendoing spectacularly

MOTM: as no one was perfect our best player was an amalgam of the footballing technique of Willian, the impact of Harry Wilson, the goal scoring skills of Issa Diop (err…) and the battling of Antonee Robinson in the second half

Drinks and dinner: the Blue Boat

Craven Cottage is a small, traditional football ground brimming with history. It’s seen the good days of Fulham Football Club, the bad days and almost the end of days. Unlike modern identikit stadia, the Cottage is never just a bland backdrop to drama, it’s a part of the story. And at night, under the lights, the Cottage comes alive.

Because Fulham don’t host huge cup matches every year, it was impossible for fans anticipating the second leg against Liverpool not to compare it with the comeback against Juve and the triumph against Hamburg. In particular, to remember the atmosphere we created on those two evenings nearly 14 years ago. Juve’s Cannavaro blamed the Cottage crowd for the events leading to his red card saying he had never known an atmosphere like it. And Fulham fans know that 25,000 people singing Stand Up If You Still Believe helped manifest the winning goal.

So when it comes to big matches, the Cottage was made for nights like these.

The evening began with a fanfare of flags and fire. The stage was set, the Fulham faithful were hopeful. But the team played the occasion, not the game.

Liverpool are one of the best teams in Europe. They are on target to win so many things this season that, when interviewed, Jurgen Klopp couldn’t remember what they all were. For mid-table Fulham with missing players and a lack of firepower there was no way we could outplay them, we had to outfight them instead.

We started well - if only João’s effort had been on target! - but our passing was too tentative and the players were overwhelmed by the weight (or price might be a better way to put it) of the Liverpool super high press. We knew we had to hang on it there, grow into the game and try to snatch a goal. The absolutely worst thing that could happen would be to concede early on. That really would be diast -


Because the entire Hammy End was standing and because some men are, frankly, excessively tall, we missed Liverpool’s goal but everyone says it was a deflection and it was all Castange’s fault.

The reason why we started the match a goal down is that when Liverpool scored at Anfield the players couldn’t regroup quickly enough and so immediately conceded a second. It’s a testament to their spirit and organisation that this didn’t happen again. In fact, after the 11th minute, the defence put in a solid, occasionally inspired, performance for the rest of the match. Nothing lifted the crowd more in the first half than Tosin’s last-ditch block while Diop and Leno were taming the dangerous Liverpool attack.

Our problems were elsewhere. Our midfield was overrun and Raúl was either isolated or being throttled by a defender. The game was played at a frantic place and we had no time on the ball. This didn’t help the players’ decision-making abilities and they gave the ball away constantly. Our attacks were rare and usually wasted. Whilst we had a couple of free kicks and Andreas swung the ball in well, it never fell for a Fulham player.

All in all, the first half fell short of what we’d hoped in terms of football and atmosphere. The players weren’t at their best and the fans were standing up, but we didn’t believe.

But 45 minutes is a long time in football and we were down but not out. There was a storm of Liverpool action at the start of the second half but we weathered it and finally - as if we’d realised there was nothing to lose - we secured a toe-hold in the game. Tom Cairney had a bit more time in the ball, the tireless and excellent Willian began making his class count, Antonee and João started throwing themselves into every tackle and Bobby kept scrapping away.

What is it with Andreas and the woodwork? Should Mrs Pereria be jealous? Will he be posting pics of himself with the posts and crossbar next? His latest dalliance came at the end of a rare but threatening attack. The force he unleashed on the ball would have defied any goalie had he only managed to direct it past his reason to be.

For the crowd, the ferocious failed attempt was galvanising. We were seeing better passing, better possession, better build-up. We were seeing what our team can do even in the face of the toughest opposition. And Craven Cottage’s unique and potent atmosphere was beginning to brew.

Bobby had given his all and was subbed off for Harry. This was Marco’s best move on the night and one of Harry’s best performances of the season. At the same time, Klopp sent on a couple of world class players but we were too busy clapping Bobby as he came past the Hammy End to notice who they were.

Harry’s impact was like a wrecking-ball on Liverpool’s usually impenetrable defence. He was fast, fearless, decisive, everywhere. The team found a new dynamic and an increased tempo. Liverpool began to look confused - a Fulham bombardment wasn’t supposed to happen.

Issa Diop was an unlikely scorer. It turns out he can be more effective in the opposition box than his own. He was clearly keen to make up for his mistake against Chelsea but that doesn’t really explain him suddenly turning into a goal hanging striker just waiting to get on the end of a well-timed cross. But that’s what he did. If his finish was a little unorthodox (err…) his postioning and duping his defender were perfect.

And now it was game on. Here was the fast and furious Fulham attack, the battling spirit, the unstoppable desire. This was just another semi-final for Liverpool but for the Fulham players it was a chance to make history and they were fighting all the way to Wembley. For a short but exhilarating time we had Liverpool so close to the ropes that they were almost over the edge. They were in total disarray, hoofing the ball into the crowd in panic as the black and white attack swamped them repeatedly. In the stands we were still standing and now we were singing it again - the reprise the song deserved. Stand Up If You Still Believe. And we did.

But our momentum stalled with the second round of subs. Bringing Kenny on was overdue but taking off both Tom and Andreas when we were so close to a second goal felt like a mistake. Klopp sent on a couple more superstars at the same time but we were too busy wondering what Muniz was doing on the pitch to notice who they were.

But in fact, all Liverpool’s big names were good for at the end was gamesmanship. Their goalie got a yellow card for time wasting, at one point they tried (and failed) to keep the ball in the corner. Nothing shows how close we came to cupsetting them than the desperation with which they clung on to their fragile lead.

So our incredible cup run came to an end which felt almost inevitable from the Moment the semi final draw was made. But there is so much to be proud of and Liverpool should know that they got lucky. We fought to the end. To lose by one goal after going toe to toe with one of the best teams in Europe over 180 minutes is a great achievement.

We are disappointed but not disheartened. There is so much more to come.

Random Musings:-

- The last time there were flags at the Cottage, Loz nearly decapitated someone. Things went better this time

- Jurgen Klopp coordinated his trainers with his teeth. This is not a look to aspire to

- It’s easy to criticise Marco’s subs but when you look behind him at the bench you see that in the absence of Iwobi (AFCON) and Adama (MIA) the attacking end is almost empty

- We were robbed of extra time. The subs alone took longer than 4 minutes

- The ref was ok but not great. He casually waved away a couple of penalty shouts that he would have thought about much harder had they occured at the other end

- Harvey Elliot played up to his role as pantomime villain by ostentatiously placing the ball outside the quadrant when he took a corner

- We’ve seen pictures and reports of the potentially dangerous crush outside the ground before and after kick-off. The Club tell fans to arrive early but people have jobs and transport issues. The problem is Stevenage Road is never going to get any wider and the listed turnstiles are never going to get any slicker. The Club needs to find a way to manage the queues better

- Obviously the bag checks don’t help and, given the flares that appeared at the Putney End, they don’t work anyway.

So after all the talk of Derby and Hamburg we ended up with a semi-final more like the one against Reading. But remember what happened then - the following season we won the final and were promoted. This time we don’t even have to wait until next year for another go - our next Cup match is on Saturday!

We also have to remember that two years ago we were in the Championship. Now we’re an established Premier League side that reached a Cup quarter-final last year and a semi-final this year. We have a group of players who are hard-working, committed to the Club and brilliant at football. And we have a manager who really is a genius.

As ever with Fulham the journey won’t always be fun or easy but the good times will keep coming. And we will never stop believing.