I usually wear my Fulham top as I watch the Whites play. Today’s match, I figured I’ll leave the away one on the rack as I do not own the black version. It’s superstitious, I know, but it hasn’t worked this season, so another good reason to keep it on the rack. It’s just not logical… neither was this match.
First off, Huddersfield deserved the result. They did their homework. We do not thrive well under pressure, pressure to perform or direct defensive pressure, it really does not matter.
Our choice to play this 4-3-3 let us down again. More of Slav bingo with dropping Ream and inserting LeMarchand, who I feel did the best he could. Fosu-Mensah got the nod again at the right back spot, and he did not disappoint Huddersfield in showing that his attitude is purely apathetic at this point. Vietto and Schurrle sided with Mitro, but it was more like Mitro on his own and holding off a Huddersfield defender before he could get any kind of solid contact on the ball. The pressure was tremendous all throughout the pitch. Our central midfielders, Seri and Cairney, struggled to find the control of the ball, and when they did receive it, they simply recycled it around to the backline – resulting in even more pressure to be faced.
It’s significant, this pressure, when we would reclaim control of the ball, the high line squeezed us in so tight that a 50/50 ball was automatically finding a Huddersfield player’s feet. This is something I still do not understand why we do not employ. We try to focus on maintaining a good shape, which does not happen, instead of actually pressuring the player with the ball. The reason there is this perception of “no fight” is because the proof is in the pudding – it looks that way – because there is no higher sense of putting pressure on the player with the ball, none. When you are perceived that way, then your not trying to absorb, or defend, you are inviting – a welcoming guest to a host that hasn’t scored a home goal all season. It was no surprise that Huddersfield scored as a product of that pressure.
The item that I found comical is how does Fosu-Mensah get caught out like that – for an own goal? Upon watching the replay, the ball is coming in from his left and he’s facing our goal, and instead of snapping his neck muscles out, he pushes his head forward TOWARDS GOAL. That is laziness. Downright laziness. Standing flat footed and jumping in place, then wondering why the bigger man beat you. That is how you get switched off, again, and concede a very important goal.
The second half was more of the same, except for the first 10 minutes we showed some life through Cyrus Christie subbing in the lackadaisical Fosu-Mensah. Christie is known to be more attacking, but not as good as a defender – but his effort was there early, and almost found Mitro deep into the box. The other substitute, Kevin McDonald, to me, was the wrong call here. Slavisa chose to remove the energy of Vietto for more solidarity because Anguissa needed help, but I do not think this needed to be a half-time sub at all. Vietto had his moments, and yes started off slow, but he brought that sense of urgency with the ball. He was also starting to get behind the backline. Unfortunately, for those who care, McDonald was forced off with an injury – so that further made the substitution a tough pill to swallow. On comes Stefan Johansen, and we know he’s going to bring more aggression, but it forces Slavisa to again switch the formation from a 4-2-3-1 back to a 4-3-3 – as it was clear Anguissa was on his own again, right in front of the backline. Johansen made little impact, but did find Mitro, as he did towards the end of last season, in a threatening position – but the Serbian’s strike was deflected, and the moment was gone.
Mitrovic’s night was just like that the majority of the time. Little glimpses of chances, and moments gone. He had a clear shot on goal but took too long to make a decision before the terrier-like defence of Huddersfield swallowed it up, and spit it out. I can’t remember the last time I saw Mitro do that, he’s always been sharp and quick to act – it just seemed so out of character. I think that was how I knew this was not going to end in our favour.
It’s already been said, but this was a heartbreaking loss. A defining loss, and one I have struggled to put into words. For the first time this season, I truly felt like I am ready to move from Slavisa, and I really hate that I feel that way.
The type of football we played last year was second to none; it could not be touched. This year, we went with the perception that our promoted players were “not premier league quality”. I think there was a key underrating of our midfield of Kmac, Cairney and Johansen, that should have been tested at least for 2-3 matches. The familiarity, the chemistry, that these players brought to the table, should have been a priority. Instead, I see a proud manager, who seems to have wanted to rank among the likes of Pep and Klopp. Where the system dominates, and there is no adaptation to the players in that system. Instead, it’s how it sounds, it’s bingo – not of the system – but of the players within that system. Play the 4-3-3, but put your 2nd best goalscorer of the previous year at Left Back. Then, you put your leader in assist last season on the bench, and out of position. Instead, we see loan players take priority, players that have nothing to lose, they’ll go back to their home clubs whether we are relegated or not. I think this type of approach has badly hurt the chemistry as a whole.
That is why we see Tim Ream commentating to a journalist about the happenings behind the scenes – and how there is no fight. How can there be when there is nothing but animosity? Where a coach so stubborn puts in 4 defensive players on the bench, and in a situation where we need to get behind the backline – and our fastest player in the club (Kamara) is left home?
What happens now? Slavisa out? Slavisa in, but stubborn formation and tactics out? Is that even likely?
What I do know is I’ll stay superstitious, will don the top, beat the crest next to my heart and hope for the best. The relegation battle is well and truly on. The saving grace is that it is a very crowded bottom side of the table, and a victory can turn things around. The defining moment will be whether or not we can be competitive at Anfield. If Slavisa makes it through the week without being sacked, then I need to see something completely different. I need to see high pressure defensively, and chemistry back in the midfield. There needs to be less apathy from certain players, and more commitment from those who are proud to play for Fulham. COYW!