When the fixture list came out for this game before the start of the season it was always likely to be vital in deciding who would be relegated at the end of the campaign. The fact that it was only Cardiff who went into this game with any chance of staying up, highlights that despite a recent upturn in form this has been a shambolic season for Fulham with so much promise ultimately squandered.
With relegation seeming likely for most of the season and confirmed embarrassingly early, the performances and results in the last three games have been both encouraging and frustrating in equal measure. Saturday’s game was a chance for us all to indulge in a sense of schadenfreude that football fans experience more regularly than most and ultimately help Scott Parker’s case to be given the role full time following the job interview that has been the ending to this season.
Having watched us wilt under pressure for the majority of the season nobody knew how everyone around the club would act in the final five games, with players considering their futures and no one sure of who would be managing the team come August. But the reaction has been both surprising and impressive as the players have massively stepped up and finally provided some mature performances over the course of an entire game and Scott Parker has evidently infused some balance into a group of players that had previously looked lost under both Slav and Ranieri. Matches against teams striving only to improve their position in mid-table in our last two outings meant that Saturday’s game was always going to have a different feeling about it given the desperation of Cardiff’s pursuit of Brighton.
The first half off the game passed off without any real event aside from a Mitrovic chance that was comfortably kept out by Neil Etheridge and the nasty looking head injury for Denis Odoi after a clash with Maxime Le Marchand that stopped play for just under 10 minutes. However, Cardiff played with nowhere near the intensity and intent that a team in their situation requires. Their sole strategy in the first 80 minutes of the match to sit deep, sacrifice possession and then attempt to kick the ball near the touchline in the hope we conceded a throw-in bordered on laughable. Football is all about playing to your strengths as a unit and there are a variety of different ways to do that but Cardiff didn’t look like a team that were giving themselves a chance to win. The final ten minutes when they actually put some pressure on us showed how flimsy our defending can still be and Sergio Rico certainly won us the three points with a string of fine saves.
In contrast, the flow of the game for us was fairly similar to what some of the last two seasons were like in the Championship, dominating the ball but not creating the clear cut chances to finish off a side that seemed content with a point. The game appeared to be drifting toward a 0-0 after the decent chances we did manage to create were wasted by Mitro and Joe Bryan but then Ryan Babel whipped one into the top corner to make the judgement on goal of the season more difficult. Babel has been brilliant since his arrival and it really is a shame that he won’t be around next season after the level of quality he’s shown. The chorus of ‘you’re going down with the Fulham” had been coming all game but it showed the match had some meaning for us too and it’s always enjoyable to drag another team down with you.
Ultimately, another three points and another clean sheet enhances the likelihood that Parker will be given the job full time and it certainly appears to be the opinion of the players. While it would be more enjoyable to have someone like Parker in charge rather than another Ranieri, there is a question of how many of the players in the current squad will be around next season as it will surely be pretty different from the team we put out on Saturday. The main thing though is that it has actually been fun to be a fan again after the relentless negativity of this season, let’s hope this time next year we’ll be coming up to the end of a far better season.