It is very difficult to spruce up our 22nd League defeat in 31 matches. The defeat at home to Liverpool will go down as one of the more positive defeats of the season, but that sentence in itself summarises what a miserable season it has been back in the Premier League.
I spent an hour before the game walking up and down Stevenage Road dishing out Fulham Supporters Trust leaflets to anyone that would take one off me, trying to direct as many people as possible to the FST fans survey. “Tell the Club what you think about ticket prices” was the tag line I used and hope that people will continue to go to fulhamsupporterstrust.com to complete the survey before the Wednesday 20th March deadline.
Due to the above ‘extracurricular activity’, I hadn’t seen the line up until I took up my regular pew in H4 as the players were coming out. It seemed that we were back to the interchangeable 4-3-3/ 4-5-1 formation with which we started the season (and used to beautiful effect last season). I was very happy to see Chambers being played at centre half. I know he has had some good games in defensive midfield but I like the idea of players playing in their preferred positions. Fosu-Mensah was in at right-back in place of Denis Odoi with Ream and Bryan completing the back four in front of Rico. Seri and Anguissa lined up alongside Cairney in the middle and Ayite was rewarded for his performance and goal at Leicester last week with his first Premier League start of the season playing wide of Mitro. Ex Liverpool player Ryan Babel played on our big Serbian strikers’ other side.
Before kick-off, there was a beautiful moment when there was a period of applause for Zara Barker Harrison who sadly passed away earlier this year. A Liverpool fan, Zara had worked for the Club since February 2005 and not only was there proud applause, but there was an understated but completely appropriate chorus of You’ll Never Walk Alone from the Putney End. Absolute class from the Liverpool fans!
I know he has come in for a lot of stick this season owing to his huge price tag, but I thought Anguissa had an absolutely monumental match in the middle. He held players off, he carried the ball, he picked passes out and was an absolute rock. It is of course too much too little too late for this season and I have heard people say that he wouldn’t be much use in the Championship because he has no experience at that level. But you can’t tell me that if he put in a performance like that every week that he wouldn’t be the best player in the Division were he to stay with the Club. Whether he would want to play at that level remains to be seen but in principle, it would be an exciting prospect.
Liverpool had the lead in the 26th minute and it was a top quality goal, started and finished by Sadio Mane. He played a one-two with Roberto Firmino and he finished into the middle of the goal from the centre of the penalty area.
Another player who hasn’t had the easiest ride this season is Joe Bryan and he had the job of keeping Mo Salah quiet which I think he did exceptionally well. The Egyptian striker is one of the worlds best but Bryan had him in his pocket most of the afternoon. That really is not something I thought I would be writing today. On the rare occasion Salah was able to steal half a yard, he failed to trouble Rico.
Scott Parker said after the game that we were “playing against a team which is arguably the best counter-attacking team in Europe”. With this in mind, we didn’t look like a team that has shipped 70 goals this season. I should add here that Liverpool were not at their best and didn’t really get out of first gear all game but we had a decent first half all the same.
In the second half, we were never really up against it like I thought we would be. Van Dijk hit the top of the bar from a header and whilst the visitors looked menacing, it didn’t feel like we were going to be on the end of the hiding I assumed would happen before the game.
It was getting towards the closing stages of the game and I was just waiting for Liverpool to turn the screw when we had an Ayite header ruled out for offside. All of a sudden we were in the ascendancy. And would you believe it, a complete cock up between two of the League’s most expensive players gifted us an equaliser. Van Dijk touched the ball back to Alisson who made a complete mess of clearing it and Babel walked it into the empty net. He refused to celebrate a goal against his former Club, but we went mad! I’d say that if you are going to wear yellow tights on a football field, you should probably not make any silly mistakes!
Alisson looked the most ridiculous goalkeeper on the pitch for the 7 minutes Fulham were level but then Sergio Rico stepped up once again. Salah hit a tame shot straight at him, he fumbled it, Mane was onto it like a shot and Rico pulled him over. James Milner tucked the resulting penalty away and the visitors closed the game out very professionally.
As with the Chelsea game a fortnight ago, we come away from the game with our heads held high but once again we have nothing to show for it. Scott Parker has clearly had an effect in the dressing room so far but it’s just a shame that he hasn’t managed to get any points on the board so far. He has restored some pride mind you.
I won’t go into too much detail here but if you get the chance to read the interview Kevin McDonald did with the match program then I would definitely recommend that you read it. He is somebody that will be key for us next season and not only does he speak well of Scott Parker’s impact so far, he also just gets Fulham Football Club, what it means to play here and what the fans want too. He is also particularly scathing about Claudio Ranieri. It’s very blunt, yet refreshing to read.
It doesn’t get any easier with Man City up next but if we can give them a similar game to the one we gave to Liverpool then once again, it might not be quite the thrashing you may expect. Let’s hope we can get something from that one!