Jack and Loz at the Cottage - Blog 264

Date: 6th December 2023

Opposition: Nottingham Forest

Score: 5-0

Fulham goal scorers: Iwobi, Raùl, the back of Raùl’s heel, Iwobi, Cairney

Weather: chilly but dry

Atmosphere: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (would recommend)

MOTM: on any other night, Andreas Pereria’s performance of driving ambition combined with effortless skill would have made him a shoo-in for Man of the Match. But Andreas was outshone by Raùl Jimenez’s performance of hard-won courage combined with flamboyant technique. And then there’s the narrative arc: from doubt to redemption, from second choice to the spotlight. Raùl is proof that you should never count anyone out, that hard work pays off, and that with the right people around you, you can achieve anything.

Dinner: the Blue Boat

It’s official. Fulham have turned a corner. And not just from the goal-drought which was the start of this season.

In the words of the noted (and appropriately named) football pundit, Portugal, The Man, “I’m a rebel just for kicks, I been feeling it since 1966”.

Yes. Fulham have scored 3 or more goals in 3 consecutive top flight matches for the first time since 1966.

Whilst this is an amazing statistic in many ways, it is actually the astronomical improvement between the start of this season and now which is the most incredible fact. Another stat worth noting is that we scored 10 goals in the first 12 games of the season, and we’ve scored 11 in the last 3. We’re not just back to where we were last season. In terms of dominance and possession, we’re back to when we won the Championship; in terms of being an assured, confident Premier League club, we’re back to 2009.

And, in terms of being a free-scoring, rip-roaring, anything-but-boring team, it turns out we’re back to 1966.

Of course, Wednesday’s performance didn’t come out of nowhere. It was preceded by the battling win over Wolves and the sparkling play and disappointing result against Liverpool. No one else will go to Anfield and score 3 goals this season.

So we went into the Forest match feeling if not quietly confident (we are Fulham fans after all) but in a state of mild expectation. This was supported rather than undermined by Marco’s team selection - an example of judicious rotation with, most notably, Tosin returning to the starting line-up in place of the tired Tim Ream.

Fulham didn’t start quite so fast as we did against Wolves but we had the better of the opening exchanges in which the ball was swept around the Putney End for long periods and Andreas came excruciatingly close to the goal with a free a kick. The break-through arrived from what was a more of a dance step than a shot on goal from Iwobi but what was even more stylish was that the strike came at the end of a long string of passes involving most of the team, notably TC and Willian.

If Iwobi’s finish was good, Raùl’s a few minutes later was even better - a strong and decisive smash into the top of the net. We could think of a few strikers who would have put a ball on a trajectory like that straight over the bar [who could we possibly be thinking of here?]. But as good as the goal was it was overshadowed by both Raùl’s and the crowd’s reaction. His goal at Villa was an uncelebrated consolation. His Fulham first goal at Craven Cottage elicited relief and joy from all of us in equal measure. We knew he could do it. And now he had.

But that goal, and that celebration were nothing compared to what came next.

Not long into the second half Raùl found himself alone in enemy territory. (Next time you watch the third goal again, note how many defenders are around him). Andreas played a perfectly weighted floated ball in, Raùl collected it on his chest, brushed off a few pesky Forest players, waltzed around the keeper and





At the Hammersmith End.

The crowd went mad. The players joined in. And suddenly we have a world class striker in our team.

He didn’t score like that because he wanted to, or to show off. He scored like that because he had to. That’s who our striker is.

After that, understandably, Forest felt they couldn’t compete and stopped playing football. There have been times in the last 57 years when Fulham teams have been too sympathetic to a weakened opponent and done something overly generous like give them a couple of goals. But 2023 Fulham, like 1966 Fulham, are ruthless.

The interchanges between the forwards were simply sumptuous. To a chorus of olés, Raùl, Willian, Tom Cairney, Iwobi and Andreas swished, switched and swapped the ball around the increasingly frustrated Forest defenders.

Eventually, Marco got bored of watching the starting line-up and decided he’d like to see some other players mesmerise the opposition and create chances. Harry was very good when he came on, setting up Iwobi’s second, and Ballo-Torre was electric - he seems to be some kind of corner winning machine. Antonee was terrific (again) but Ballo has a kind of raw energy which is very exciting to watch.

Just when we were beginning to think we might have to settle for 4 goals (and, being Fulham fans, to feel that we’d probably done enough to relax into the win) Andreas, who was still playing at full pelt, snatched a misplaced pass and played Tom through on goal. It’s often the case that when a player goes one-on-one with the goalie, the goal shrinks to the size of the man and the player shoots straight at him [who could we possibly be thinking about here?] But when Tom lined up his shot the goal seemed to grow bigger and we had no doubt at all that he was going to score. And he did.

We began by praising Raùl and glossing over Andreas’s achievements. With a hat trick of assists, our blond Brazilian is back to his best. Even better, he, Tom and Iwobi played together like they’d been doing it for years. Iwobi was unplayable down the right, twisting and turning out of tackles, bursting into space, making things happen. On the other side, Willian seems to have found some extra pace from somewhere and used it to good effect. As for Tom, what can we say that we haven’t said before? Only that 299 games in he looks better than ever, no less skilful than his South American teammates and more commanding than any of them. And that celebration with the Hammy End was really something special.

But the efficacy and grace of the attack is only half the story and the clean sheet is as important as the goals. At the back, Tosin and Bassey looked like an assured partnership. Tosin controlled while Bassey marauded. Robinson continued where he left off against Liverpool and Castange, so understated you almost miss him in the crowd of outstanding performers, was as reliable as ever. João was busy in the first half but had little to do in the second while Leno was only working part time.

Critics will say Forest were poor but that was only because we made them look that way. No one scores 5 goals in a Premier League match by accident. Fulham played gratuitously good football. Every individual was on top form but more importantly, whether they’d played nearly 300 games or less than 30 they combined into a cohesive team, all playing for the Club, the fans, each other. And the genius who is their manager.

Random musings:-

- Leno danced along to his song during the break in play in the first half (he’ll call it keeping warm, but it wasn’t)

- Why was the Hammy End roof leaking when it hadn’t rained all day?

- Why does no one spot Castange’s forward runs?

- The ref had a really good game

- We noticed Neco Williams when he was warming up but not when he was on the pitch

- Ola Aina wasn’t great either

- Notwithstanding that he’s a genius, why did Marco take Raùl off when he was on a hat trick? Ditto Iwobi?

- How many of Raùl’s predessors could have pulled off that goal? [who could we possibly be talking about here?]

Even 24 hours later we’re still quivering in disbelief at that perfect game and the speed and suddenness of the team’s improvement. Confidence is contagious and anything feels like it might be possible. The result was great for our goal difference and we’re looking up the table not down. The only question is, how far up can we go?

On Sunday, our unlikely bogey team, West Ham await. But we will look them in the eye and meet them toe to toe as equals. Because we’ve sent a message to them and the rest of the mid table teams - look out, Fulham are coming through.