I sit at my computer endeavouring to make some sense of what went on in South Wales on Saturday and fire up my Fulham playlist on iTunes which I made in the fortnight leading up to the Play-Off Final in May to feed me some positive vibes. 5 months have passed since one of the finest days in our history, during which time our excitement levels went through the roof at the astronomical money that was spent to bring the squad up to Premier League standard. But as the weeks go by in the 2018/19 season, the points on offer disintegrate before our very eyes week by week, the ball continues to fly inexplicably into the back of our net over and over again and we are left wondering- what the bloody hell is going on?!
Current form would be so much easier to stomach if we knew that our players just weren’t good enough, but that simply isn’t the case. We have discussed at length on the Fulham Focus Podcast in the past few weeks that it is the manner in which we are losing that is unacceptable. Kevin McDonald apologised to the travelling supporters after the game citing that we “didn’t work hard enough off the ball” and “to not have a desire to win and work hard is not acceptable”. I think we can all agree with this but at what point do us as supporters decide that we have heard the same sorry excuses too many times? There is only so much hot air we are prepared to accept and if things don’t turn around on the pitch imminently, I believe we will see a change in the atmosphere which has so far afforded the players and Manager plenty of patience. ‘We will work hard to find the solution’ is another classic line churned out after a defeat only for us to then be served up another diabolical defensive horror show the following week where working hard does not appear to have been on the agenda at all!
Cardiff away was the classic 6 pointer. We all know how important it was and how losing was simply not an option. I felt optimistic going into the weekend because we have superior players, a superior style and with Cardiff still looking for their first win, I was in the glass-half-full camp of ‘it will be alright on the night’ and one way or another, we will win at all costs. Sadly the players got a different memo which must have stated ‘business as usual lads’.
Nervously awaiting the lineup, I was disappointed but not shocked to see that 7 of the 11 picked by Slav had started the Play-Off Final. The chant ‘what a waste of money’ springs to mind! Where are these big players who we had so much anticipated excitement as the pound signs flashed up on Sky Sports News over the summer? In essence, the line up was extremely Championship heavy and the performance also followed suit.
The defence was shuffled about for the 9th consecutive time this season as a solution to our diabolical defending is sought and the decision to do so once again cost us dearly despite Andre Schurrle firing home a superb opening goal. We had the lead for 4 minutes before Callum Chambers was caught completely out of position (which was bizarrely as a right back) and the home side equalised. The same player was then lucky to stay on the pitch for a foul which lead to a free-kick that was fluffed by Cardiff but still found its way into the back of the net via mistakes firstly from Schurrle and then Ream. Chambers was subsequently moved to centre back before being substituted at halftime in the latest chapter of his dismal loan spell at Fulham so far.
Individual mistakes continue to cost us and the third goal (Bettinelli) and fourth goal (Ream) were both a result of such, and whilst its easy to wag the finger at the individuals, the fact is that we have shipped 25 goals in 9 matches (2.77 goals per game) and thus we have to look at the style the Manager is employing. Possession football is great when its working but to have 60% possession, 9 shots with just 4 on target compared to Cardiff who had 22 efforts on goal, 5 on target and 4 in the net, something is fundamentally wrong with what we are doing with the ball when we have got it.
I love Slav and nobody wants him to succeed more than I do at the Club. He has been notoriously slow to start and in the past 2 seasons, we have turned slow starts around into promotion pushes. But can we rely on history to repeat itself to remove us from a relegation battle this time? It’s an old cliché but the margins in football are so fine between success and failure and whilst many of us believe that we are close to having an excellent team, if the potential isn’t turned into points then we will certainly be looking for a new Manager before too long. The number one aim this season is to protect our Premier League status at all costs – it’s a cut-throat results-based industry with no room for sentiment these days.
One would hope that the Khan’s have learnt from their rookie mistakes during their first season at the Club which led to relegation. The top things that need addressing at the moment are: 1) Players work rate and attitude, 2) Defensive frailties. These are both down to the Manager to fix immediately. If they aren’t fixed then number 3 comes into play; 3) ‘Operation find a Manager to get us out of the shit’!
We have another two 6 pointers coming up at home to Bournemouth and then away to Huddersfield and for me, we need to win both. Maybe it will take a scrappy win to get our season back on track and I’d take the points over a performance at the moment. But we then need to start seeing progress instead of regression each week. Its been pointed out that week on week things are getting worse rather than better and I have to agree with that, even being an eternal optimist.
He has been unlucky with injuries this season but I also think he has been tactically naïve and he has made mistakes with team selection. That being said, I think Slav’s job is safe for the moment. I said on the podcast a few weeks ago that I think the job is his for the season. But if we keep shipping goals en-masse each week then it would be suicidal for the Chairman to not think about changing things. He deserves a fair crack of the whip as an untested Manager at this level but all the while he tinkers with the unsettled defence instead of making a decision and sticking to it, then we are going to keep having these problems. I just hope that we as supporters remain patient and remember that without this man, we wouldn’t even be a Premier League Club!
Finally, I have just finished reading Fulham legend, the late Sir Bobby Robson’s autobiography (which by the way is absolutely brilliant) and he quoted his former Ipswich Town Chairman John Cobbald; “You have to love the game more than the prize. The game is more important than the prize because, without the game, there is no prize anyway”. This struck a chord with me but only because right now, I find such sound advice quite difficult to swallow. Losing with grace and dignity is one thing but to have to do it every week makes the game very difficult to love, or even like sometimes! A couple of wins will change the landscape entirely. Here’s hoping- stay behind the team and keep the faith!