‘Are you over 65 mate’? The words you do not want to hear spoken from the turnstile operator to the young man attempting to get into the ground in front of you when, after a hectic morning, you have run all the way from Hammersmith to the Cottage to just about make a 12.30 kick off. I have no idea what happened but said young man was eventually waved on through and all hot and bothered, I took up my usual seat in H4.
Another tactical switch from Ranieri saw us playing 4-4-2 with Schurrle and Babel on the wings and Vietto partnering Mitrovic up front. Denis Odoi moved to right back in place of Cyrus Christie who was on the bench, otherwise, the rest of the team was as you would expect it to be.
United immediately went on the attack from kick-off and won a free kick on the wide right. We cleared it and great work from Babel set Schurrle off down the right wing. His inch-perfect floated cross to the back post was met by Vietto but he scuffed a shot wide with his right foot when perhaps using his left may have been a better option.
As we continued to take the game to United and look far from a side who is cut adrift in the relegation zone, I said to Oz, the guy with the seat next to me: ‘this feels like one of those games where we create some good chances, play quite well but find ourselves a goal down after 20 minutes’. In fact, it took just 14 minutes. A goalkeeper shouldn’t be beaten at his near post. I can’t even begin to dissect what a poor mistake it was from Rico to allow Pogba’s shot into the net.
7 minutes later, Odoi was high up the pitch when we lost possession in midfield and Tony Marshall (as the United fans were singing) raced clear. Odoi made up some good ground, Le Marchand got in the way and the French striker tucked the ball away for number 2. Somebody near me pointed out that Stefan Johansen would not have let that goal happen had he been the man in pursuit. And I agree that Martial would have ended up in the back of the Johnny Haynes stand if Stef had anything to do with it. I guess we have lost the ruthless edge we had about us last season.
The second goal killed any enthusiasm the majority of us had for the game and even though we made it to half time without any further damage, I think quite a few people had already left the ground.
Within 10 minutes of the restart, Ranieri made a tactical switch. I expect that following his injury, the German was unlikely to play longer than an hour anyway, but the Fulham fans took exception to the fact that Schurrle was replaced by Cyrus Christie with Ryan Sessegnon waiting in the wings. The change also saw a switch to 3 at the back with Christie and Bryan resuming their roles as wing-backs. This formation is not a backs-against-the-wall defensive formation, it gives us width and despite the boo’s, I thought Christie did quite well in difficult circumstances and gave us an outlet down the right-hand side that wasn’t previously there.
A short while later it did get worse for us when Le Marchand (who had a stinker of a game) tripped Juan Mata, Pogba tucked the penalty away and that, unfortunately, was that. United’s resurgence under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer continues as fast as we are dropping like a stone in the other direction.
‘Oh look, a kite’ said Jon to my right mid-way through the second half as our eyes wandered off to find something more entertaining than the football right in front of us. And as said kite flew high above the Putney End, it occurred to me that not even intervention from Mary Poppins could save us any longer. Please do feel free to insert your own ‘spoonful of sugar’ gag!
Ranieri is taking a lot of flak for the latest defeat but I’m honestly not sure what anybody is expecting him to do at this point. He claims Sessegnon is not fit enough and is out of form hence why he is not in the team. He sees Sess all week so who is anyone else to question him over the young man’s fitness. But I have to agree that Sess has not been in good form this season. When given his opportunity, he has fluffed his lines; look at those 2 glaring chances he missed away at Arsenal. Sess is a true professional and I’d back him 100% to play his way back into the team and prove any doubters wrong and I really hope he does.
And then on to Cairney. His introduction against Brighton changed the game eventually but he was anonymous against Palace last weekend. The difficulty here is where to play him. If you have a 4-man midfield then the only place for him is out wide because you cannot drop the in-form Seri, or Chambers who provides cover for the defenders. He could play in a midfield 3 but 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 just hasn’t worked for us this season at all. So seemingly the most effective way that’s left is to incorporate TC is in a 3-5-2 which Fulham fans see as being too defensive (even though it isn’t). If I was Ranieri I’d feel a bit damned if I do, damned if I don’t. There are so many different opinions on this one and it’s a situation that all the while we are losing games, Ranieri will be slated for even though nobody really has a definitive solution. Anybody who listens to the Fulham Focus podcast will know how boring I find discussing the merits of different formations so I shall leave that there.
I feel like I may be in the minority in wanting Ranieri to stay at this point, but I see no advantage to be gained by sacking him. The fundamental problem this season has been that the squad is just not good enough. The balance isn’t there and the key ingredient missing is quality. Ranieri is on a long-term contract so that would need to be settled and then it’s down to some other poor bastard to clean up the mess that has ultimately not been created by either Slav or Claudio. And I don’t think the mess can be cleaned up until the spray of shit is blocked off at source in any case. Would sacking him and letting Scott Parker take over until the end of the season serve any purpose whatsoever? All the while we can still stay up, I’d rather have a man with over 30 years experience lead the team than a man with no experience whatsoever. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t be against Parker becoming Manager in the future. Let me explain;
If you listened to the podcast last week, you will have heard some of this already. Shahid Khan is an extremely successful businessman and is certainly no mug. I believe that when relegation is confirmed, he will need to look at where the Club failed this time and take measures. Once the root of the problem has been established then a strategic plan needs to be established to ensure that we don’t make the same mistakes again going forwards. In my opinion, problems are as follows:
- Lack of long term plan around the first team squad. We rely on quick fixes with a short-term view. Last season, we took a punt on multiple loans and when we were promoted, they were deemed not fit for the Premier League so were not signed. In doing so, the spirit of the promotion winning squad was obliterated.
- The Director of Football role should be somebody who knows the game inside-out and is willing to rip the current strategy up and rebuild from the bottom to the top of the Club. They should define an identity for the Club and a way that we play football, then bring in a Manager who will implement the style and work alongside the Director of Football to identify transfer targets. Both the Director of Football and the Manager should then negotiate with players to sell the Club’s vision and explain their role within that vision.
- We should scrap any rule around a players age and only sign players who will commit to what I believe should be a 3-year plan to return the Club to a position where we can all be proud of the way it functions and what it is trying to achieve. This means that we buy players who we believe we could develop into top-flight players. And the Manager that we pick commits to developing the players.
It will all require a lot of patience from supporters.
If any of the above means certain people need to lose their job then so be it. And if the Manager at the end of it all is Ranieri or Parker or Mickey fucking Mouse then frankly who cares. The important thing is that we have a long-term plan that is understood from the bottom of the Club right the way to the top and that everyone buys into it.
We all know that this is a magnificent football Club and it’s bigger than any owner, manager or player. I don’t care what Division we play in, I will always be there. All I ask is for a Club to be proud of. Last May I was brimming with pride but I think we deserve that to be sustained and not just a one-off.
A good mate of mine and long-standing Fulham fan who goes home and away every week and has done for as long as I can remember texted me on Saturday evening and signed off with ‘the sad thing is I don’t care anymore’. I know exactly what he means. I don’t think I care about this season anymore and look forward to it being all over! Roll on a blank canvas in the summer and the quicker we can move forward and forget about the mess of 2018/19 the better!