Jack and Loz at the Cottage - Blog 277

Date: 6th April 2024

Opposition: Newcastle United

Score: 0-1

Weather: Marco’s Big Black Coat has gone back into the wardrobe. Spring has officially arrived!

Atmosphere: frustrated

MOTM: Fulham’s best player was Tom Cairney who controlled the midfield and directed the pace and rhythm of the game. Unfortunately, his success at doing this was most evident when he wasn’t doing it anymore….

Pre-match: Pret

Post-match: Riverside Studios

How many Fulham teams are there? There’s Home Fulham and Away Fulham, there’s First Half Fulham and Second Half Fulham, there’s Fulham With Their Sights on Europe and Fulham with Their Sights on the Beach. On Saturday there was Fulham Before the Triple Sub and then there was Rubbish Fulham. And let’s not even mention Harry Wilson before he crashed into the hoarding and Harry Wilson afterwards…

Following the disappointing game against Sheffield United and the dire one against Nottingham Forest, the least Fulham fans expected from our team on Saturday afternoon was a performance. And, in the first half, we got one. Of the various sides our shape shifting squad can morph into, we got our Favourite Fulham. The one with all the passes, the one that moves the ball from one end of the pitch to the other quicker than you can say “Antonee Robinson”. The one with the swooping interceptions, the sweeping long passes and the switches of play. The anticipation, the teamwork; the Fulham who delight in what they do and draw us into the game so it feels like we’re part of the action, not just spectators.

We’ve mentioned Tom’s commanding role already but there were no weak links. The full-backs were pacy crossing machines, the defence was solid but always looking to go forward. Iwobi was bulldozing around the pitch, blasting past anyone who got in his way, Willian was weaving his magic, Muniz was like an eager but combative puppy and both Joao and Andreas were back to their best in terms of corners and sliding tackles. Even though Leno had little to do, he did it well.

But despite this entertaining and dominant performance, the key element of a football match was missing. Antonee, Tom, Willian (twice), Joao, and Andreas (several times) all saw shots saved, blocked or skimming wide before Muniz wasted the best chance of all by passing the ball neatly to the goalkeeper.

And as enjoyable as the first half was, and as much as the team had delivered the performance we’d been hoping for, the halftime score felt ominous.

In the first half, Newcastle had been largely anonymous. In the second half, they adopted the unusual tactic of being a sports team operating like a team of people who work in an office. They sat down on the job, they had drinks breaks, they had team meetings. When you want to watch people play football rather than do office work, this was very annoying. But it was also very effective. The regular (and clearly planned) breaks in play disrupted Fulham and allowed Newcastle to regroup. Either they employ the most injury prone players on the planet or they were cheating. Either way, their physio was their MOTM with no less than 8 key involvements.

Meanwhile, Marco decided to deploy his new favourite tactic: the triple sub. It’s easy to be critical about this because it didn’t pay off but, given that the starting 11 just couldn’t break through the office workers’ defence, it was a gamble worth taking. However, subbing off Tom who was running the show, Andreas who’s our most creative player and Willian who’s……Willian may not have been the wisest throw of the dice.

The midfield was immediately lost, the defence was overrun, Newcastle suddenly became fit and rampant and scored an inevitable goal. Panicking Fulham learnt nothing from the let-off when the first goal was ruled out and immediately let Newcastle score another one.

Unable to make another triple sub, Marco made a double one and this one went a bit better. As always, Broja made the most of his minutes and Raùl looked focused and hungry. But Adama was having one of those games where he runs around a lot but doesn’t do much else, Lukić wasn’t at his best, moving Iwobi into the middle didn’t work and the less said about Harry Wilson the better.

Fulham finished the game strongly, but having played with intensity and finesse in the first half we were playing with intensity but desperation now. Antonee’s crosses were all going straight to Newcastle players, Castange had forgotten how to put crosses in and Harry, after his encounter with the hoarding, had forgotten how to play football altogether. Newcastle’s defending was rustic but effective and their time-wasting saw the game out without Fulham coming close to equalising.

We have read this script so many times before. Fulham win the stats, they win the artistic impression prize but they lose the game. Chances are wasted, shots are missed, the opponent’s life is made easy. On Saturday, Fulham were profligate while Newcastle were clinical to the point of being cynical.

We narrowly lost a tight a game but the manner of the defeat was disappointing. We love watching it, but there are no points for playing entertaining football.

Random musings:-

- Credit where it’s due - the ref was excellent

- It was great listening to Gary Piper at half time, a very worth recipient of the Forever Fulham award

- Back to Newcastle’s sit-in tactics and the leg therapy session in the Hammersmith goal in (fake) injury time was so farcical that everyone involved should be embarrassed

- One of the adverts which flashes up on the hoardings was for fly fishing. Perhaps it distracted Muniz

- We hope triple subs aren’t going to become a thing.

It’s become commonplace, and easy, to say Fulham are inconsistent. But this misses the point that the variance in performance levels of the team as a whole and individuals within in it is so dramatic that this trait has defined our season and yet delivered us to more or less where we’re supposed to be.

If any of the players was capable of consistent brilliance (or, in Willian’s case, still capable of it) they wouldn’t be playing for Fulham. The most recent example of the team as a whole being consistently brilliant was when we won the Championship, a league we don’t want to be in.

We’ve wanted to be a solid mid table Premier League side for over a decade. Our vagaries in performance have propelled us here and we must enjoy our status while it lasts. But, on that note, there are still plenty of games left this season where more points can be won and Top Ten Fulham needs to reassert itself quickly. Because at the moment, despite our bicycle kicks, it feels like we’re backpedaling.