Jack and Loz Not at St Andrews - Blog 187

Date: 15th September 2021

Opposition: Birmingham City

Score: 1-4

Fulham goal scorers: Odoi, 🔥(pen), Wilson, 🔥

MOTM: Birmingham could have thrown everything up to and including the kitchen sink into Fulham’s 18 yard box on Wednesday night and Tosin would have headed it away. Although his promise was tinged with hesitancy in the Premier League, Tosin is maturing into a strong, solid and skilful defender

Dinner: Loz - dolmades and olives; Jack - veggie pasta

On Saturday, Marco Silva made his first Fulham mistake. At Blackpool, he picked a team who were too jaded and jet-lagged to deal with the Tangerines’ ambition, enthusiasm and fruitiness. Previously stellar Fulham looked very ordinary indeed and were toppled from top spot in the table.

Fans were nervous, therefore, about our next match being against Birmingham, a tall, tough side who had [note the use of the past tense there] the best defence in the league. Having been found out by Blackpool, we had lost the fear factor that being unbeaten provides and wily Lee Bowyer would be looking to capitalise on any weaknesses.

Marco mixed things up (which, Frankly, he should have done on Saturday) by bringing Harry Wilson back from injury and Joe Bryan back from the wilderness. Nathaniel Chalobah earned his first start.

It was a strange game. There was almost no fast, fluid, free-flowing football. There was very little action in midfield. Instead, there was a series of vignettes at either end of the pitch during which either Birmingham would launch an attack which ended in a Tosin header or a Gazzaniga save, or Fulham would launch an attack which ended in a Harry Wilson shot or a Fulham goal.

In and around this there were some set pieces, some long throws and and some savage fouling. Meanwhile, Fulham gave the ball away too much, everyone slipped over on the greasy surface and the referee tried to bring the outer reality into sync with his inner reality and failed.

Whilst all this made for an unattractive match it was, in its own way, refreshing. Birmingham didn’t want us to play our fast passing game so they scuffed up the pitch, played a high line and employed those darker arts of football which swirl in the murky world of the middle of the Championship table. But it didn’t matter. Joe Bryan countered those dark arts with some things he learned at public school. Jean-Michel Seri countered them with some things he learned from Stefan Johansen. Harry Wilson didn’t need to counter them because he was faster and better than everyone else on the pitch.

In short, in a scrappy, bruising match Fulham gave as good as they got. This was the eponymous ugly win - we didn’t play particularly well, we looked unbalanced and disjointed but we rocked up to a decent team’s ground, scored four goals and walked away whistling.

Leading the tune was, of course, Aleksandar Mitrovic, one day short of his 27th birthday and loving life again after the travesty of last season. He looks trimmer, fitter, faster, firerier (which is not, in fact, a word) and completely engaged in the club and the campaign. On Wednesday, the choppy play suited him and we saw him at his best - setting up his teammates, tracking back, defending set pieces as well as scoring. We all know Mitro’s history with penalties but, for now at least, he’s put it behind him and the low, left-sided bullet shot was one of the best spot-kicks we’ve ever seen him take.

His second goal was even better and something we’ve rarely seen from him before - the drive into the box, the quick exchange with Seri and then the unstoppable shot. Mitro has scored a lot of goals in his career but he hasn’t made that many for himself and if this is going to be a regular occurrence, they may as well engrave Fulham’s name on the league trophy now.

We’ve mentioned Harry Wilson before but that won’t stop us mentioning him again because he quickly reminded us how much we missed him on Saturday. Harry is fast, skilful, creative and always looking to score. His teammates’ role in the match was more often than not a competition to see whose pass could set him free. As a counterpoint to Mitro’s brute force, Harry’s razor sharp trickery is inspirational. Birmingham won’t be the last team to discover they have no way to deal with the potency of this attack.

This was a good debut for Chalobah who combines the flair of Frank with the strength of Onomah and whose turn for the penalty would have made a Strictly Come Dancing judge pull out a 10. Denis, meanwhile, was favouring ballet with his trademark arching leap for the ball leading to the first goal.

The man who is going to divide Fulham fans this season is Gazzaniga who has waltzed into the side robbing Rodak of his place. Leaving this crime aside, Paulo’s performance is worthy of debate. He is a fantastic shot stopper but his distribution, which is surely the easier part of a goalkeeper’s job, is seriously suspect and we haven’t seen such dangerous faffing around at the back since the heyday of the Triangle of Doom. We think he will retain the fuchsia shirt and rightly so after the second half but some tips on how to kick the ball to a Fulham player would be useful.

We wanted a reaction to the loss at Blackpool and we got one. Birmingham’s late penalty aside, this was an excellent away performance and one which will leave future opponents suitably terrified. Needless to say, somewhere around Harry Wilson’s goal Birmingham lost their defensive record and Fulham won it. This Fulham side really is shaping up to be the perfect team.

Random musings:-

- does the Trillion in the stadium name refer to the number of empty seats?

- how many towels did the long throw guy have around the ground?

- we would have liked to have seen Muniz but hopefully he will make his home debut on Saturday

- whilst Scott Parker used to look like he was directing traffic on the touch line, Marco looks like he’s conducting an orchestra….

We are back on top of the league. West Brom and Bournemouth are snapping at our heels and they won’t make it easy for us to stay there. But on Wednesday we saw a new Fulham. Effective from corners, lethal on the counter, relentlessly attacking. Edgy, resolute, ruthless.

Take us on at your own risk.