After the dust had settled following the euphoria of our playoff triumph last May I think we all realised the Premier League would present an enormous challenge this season. Having said that I was cautiously optimistic that we might not only survive but be reasonably comfortable in mid-table. Slavisa Jokanovic had got us playing in a style that could thrive in the top flight provided we made the right additions last summer.
We now know how that theory panned out and not only has Jokanovic gone, but ‘no risk’ Ranieri too as our season has gone from bad to worse. Scott Parker has had a baptism of fire and the fifth successive defeat of his reign in our last outing at Watford not only confirmed our relegation but lent fuel to the argument that you can’t polish a turd.
When you’ve had a season as bad as ours it brings out the worst in people and while negativity is understandable the personal abuse of some of the club’s hierarchy is in my book, a bridge too far. The beautiful video posted by Fulham Focus last week was a timely reminder to keep things in perspective. Success, or in this season’s case, failure are transient beings. In our rich history, we’ve fallen before; it makes the moments when we come out on top all the sweeter.
I, therefore, took my usual walk through Bishop’s Park, not in a trough of despair but still proud to follow our unique and special club. Although it’s too late to save ourselves these last five fixtures are still of interest as we prepare for a return to the Championship. Having said that I wasn’t filled with optimism as our opponents arrived in their best run of form of the season whilst the Watford game was our 9th successive defeat.
Scott Parker did resist the temptation to make wholesale changes. His one concession to the future was to give Harvey Elliott a place on the substitutes bench just 9 days after his 16th birthday. In one sense now we’re down it would be nice to give youngsters like him, Steven Sessegnon and Matt O’Riley a chance before the season ends but the Premier League is an unforgiving environment and we don’t want confidence shattered before they start. Magath chucked loads of kids in at the start of our first season in the Championship last time we went down, and after our dreadful start to that campaign, many were never seen of again in a Fulham shirt.
Whatever my reservations were about the line up I was pleasantly surprised from the off. We started on the front foot and Aleksandar Mitrovic seemed to be involved in every early chance as he was back to his bustling best. At the other end, we seemed reasonably secure although I was more than slightly perturbed when Maxime Le Marchand did a poor man’s impression of the legendary Bobby Moore by dribbling his way out of our six-yard box which seemed to owe more to accident than design. My major beef in the first half was the disinterest of referee Lee Probert. He’s always come across as rather too pleased with himself for my liking and casually ignored two standard bookings, one for a lunge through the back of Mitro and another for a pullback on Anguissa which was so glaring 4 or 5 of our normally docile team went to remonstrate with him. Big Frank was having another good game and if Mitro’s snapshot had been an inch or two lower we’d have gone into the interval with a thoroughly deserved lead.
My thoughts at half time were that we might have wasted our opportunity. Silva was sure to shake the Toffees out of their torpor and the memory of Watford where we had been the better side in the first half only to collapse in the second was all too vivid. I was delighted to have my fears dismissed in spectacular fashion as virtually from the kick-off we recovered possession and counter-attacked with speed, touch and a delightful finish from Tom Cairney. Both team and crowd celebrated with gusto which was a snapshot of the positivity that radiated around the Cottage all afternoon. When you lose someone dear who has been ill for a long time there is always a sense of relief allied to sadness. Maybe having relegation confirmed has cast aside the shadow that has hung over us for months?
Everton tried to respond but other than Rico’s reluctance to catch the ball offered up half a chance with an awful punch and Calvert-Lewin’s glaring miss, we again looked disciplined and comfortable at the back. With clean sheets as rare as rocking horse manure though I knew a second goal might be very necessary and it arrived in as devastating style as the first. Mitro set it up with some delightful control and a lay off into the path of Ryan Babel who suddenly burst clear of a floundering Everton back line. I thought initially he’d taken it too close to Pickford but he intelligently waited for the England keeper to commit before lifting it over him. The Cottage again went wild and although there was still plenty of time to go we were to see the game out in some comfort. The only incidents of note late on were the awful lunge on Mitro by Gomes and the forearm smash on Bryan in the same passage of play. Unsurprisingly Probert managed to miss them both although with TV perfectly capturing Mr Gomes moment of naughtiness we can presumably expect some retrospective punishment. Having said that as it’s only ‘Little Fulham’ on the receiving end I’m not so sure.
All in all, it was a very satisfactory day at the office and was a nice reward for caretaker boss Scott Parker. If he’s to have any chance of getting the position permanently it was essential that he found a result from somewhere before the season ends. Like many, I’ve mixed feelings whether he’s the long term answer but I’m happy in the knowledge he gets Fulham and has the club in his heart. That’s surely a good starting point and with more performances like this, we might be going home happy again before the summer break?