Following Fulham away from home – nobody ever said it was an easy job. Indeed being back in the Premier League for all its glamour, its superstars and its undoubted quality, lacks one thing – being able to enjoy an away day safe in the knowledge you are going to win a few of them! I love a good away day; when it goes right there’s nothing better and it doesn’t matter that you left home before 9 am, got home at 11 pm, sat uncomfortably in a train seat whilst the bloke next to you had his elbow half way up your hooter as he inconsiderately browsed the Daily Telegraph. But your mood is somewhat less favourable when despite a great effort from an 1800 strong Fulham contingent, the team fail to deliver. And as sure as night follows day, Fulham roll over at Goodison Park and ship more silly goals to boot!
We have spoken at length on the Fulham Focus Podcast about the importance of having a settled side and of course, a settled defence but now 7 games in, we have had 7 different combinations of defenders. Tim Ream is fit again which is fantastic news but of course, Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Joe Bryan both went off injured at Goodison which means it is extremely likely it will be combination number 8 against Arsenal on Sunday. I imagine Ream and Odoi will be the preferred centre-backs with Sessegnon and Christie the full-backs. That is of course unless Slav has another curveball to throw into the mix.
I think it’s a positive move to begin to use Anguissa from the start of matches, even if that does mean we will see less of Kevin McDonald. I thought Anguissa had a reasonable game against Everton and I kept thinking to myself how much better he would look in a team full of confidence. Winning tackles and shielding the ball is a strength of his and boy do we need somebody who can do that effectively at this level.
So let’s take a look at the goals. Forget the penalty- that was soft, in my opinion, wasn’t a foul and was missed anyway. The first goal looks to the naked eye like an exceptional finish by Gylfi Sigurdsson – and of course, it was. He bent it around everybody giving Bettinelli no chance at all. But before the ball gets to him, look how quickly he reacts compared to Vietto who is stood admiring and by the time he has reacted it’s too late. The second goal saw Cenk Tosun given the freedom of Goodison Park to head home at the back post while Cyrus Christie casually stood and admired and the same Fulham defender was culpable for the third goal too as he jogged back whilst Sigurdsson again made a powerful run forward, picked the ball up and scored past an unsighted Bettinelli. It’s these positional, slow-to-react mistakes that cost us this week. We are part of the Premier League this season, we aren’t just there to watch it so for god’s sake, get stuck in! I think every player could have given another 10% in this match and we must not see a repeat of this if we plan to stick around for a while.
0 shots on target- does this tell the whole story of Fulham’s attack? Absolutely not – we were not ruthless enough in front of goal. Sessegnon hit the bar from close range in the first half – it really seemed easier to score than to miss. This came a short while after Andre Schurrle blazed over from the edge of the box. Of all the players I would want to see a chance like that fall to, he would be the one I would put my mortgage on burying the opportunity. If these 2 chances go in, we could be 2-0 up at the break and the game is a completely different story. Schurrle then tee’d Vietto up for a perfect chance when we were 1-0 down but he took a heavy touch, wasn’t quick enough to get the ball back under control and Pickford was quick off his line to avert danger; our 3 best chances wasted. Missed chances happen in football, but in a game when you aren’t creating many then the reality is that they go down as costly misses.
Mitro was given no service whatsoever and this is what for me comes down to needing to see ‘more’ from some of his team-mates. That extra 10% I was talking about. What we then need to define is what ‘more’ actually means. Slav calls for ‘more aggression’ and I think that’s fair. But I also think we need to be more cohesive. It can’t just be a coincidence that individuals are making mistakes. I’d like to call for us to both attack and defend more as a team. I’d like to see the midfield and attack get back and help out the defenders more, crowd teams out and stop them playing. I’d like to see the midfield provide more support to Mitro, both in terms of creating and scoring goals. We are good with the ball but need to better. Obviously last season our possession was fantastic, especially in the second half of the season but the step up in quality at this level is there for all to see. We really must be better without the ball though. We need to close the opposition down quickly, keep concentration and when we do get into good positions, have that ruthless streak we had last season!
How long does Slav get this season? We have had some tricky matches so far but then they are all tricky at this level. Every mistake the Manager makes falls under scrutiny because nobody wants to see us relegated. But for me, I wouldn’t consider removing the Manager this season regardless of the circumstances. We need some stability at this Club after the rocky start we made when the Khan’s first bought the Club and I really like Slav and unequivocally believe he is the man to take the Club forward. He does learn from his mistakes and he has a knack of finding a winning formula eventually. His weakness is hitting the ground running- whether it takes players a while to understand his philosophy and their role in the team I am not sure but as supporters, we need to be patient as we are where we want to be.
What I am sure of though is that this is an excellent group of players and I’m convinced we are so close to being onto something here. These words may make some of you who went to Everton roll your eyes but I’m a realist. I went, to the game, I didn’t really enjoy myself but looking at the bigger picture, our League position won’t be determined by a trip to Goodison Park. If it was then we would have been relegated every single season we were in the top flight last time. Our home form is going to be crucial and I think we have played well in each of our 3 home games so far despite a return of a win, a draw and a defeat. But we have 16 home games left and we have to turn our lovely home into a fortress. Who’s with me?
As I headed home I heard we had been drawn away to Man City in the Carabao Cup. Another trip to the North-West of England to face one of the best teams in the world. It doesn’t get any easier does it! Anybody that goes to that game should be given 100 loyalty points in my opinion – it’s a real test of anybody’s resolve to keep going back for more. But we are Fulham and we don’t know when we are beat! COYW’s!!