History repeating is not a coincidence. Dropping six points, late on, in the last three games goes deeper than bad luck and misfortune. This most recent surrender perhaps best encapsulates where it has all gone wrong…
In most circumstances taking a point away from Arsenal would be considered a solid result, despite their recent fall. But having passed up three opportunities to escape the relegation zone, and subsequently watching Newcastle United discover how to win football matches again, nothing less than three points was going to be enough. The Arsenal goal came from an acceptance that this was a backs-to-the-wall effort from the off. Scott Parker’s team showed little attacking ambition, indeed they managed just a single shot on target across the 97 minutes, Josh Maja’s successful spot-kick just before the hour-mark.
The introduction of Ruben Loftus-Cheek in place of Maja can be viewed as another acceptance of inferiority. Rather than introduce Aleksandar Mitrovic, to try and retain possession higher up the pitch, Fulham ended the game with a back-six and four midfielders all camped no more than 20-yards from their own goal. And it is this, somewhat negative approach, that has led to a situation where the Fulham fan base can only see a Championship campaign on the horizon.
Games against Aston Villa and Wolves have seen The Whites set up to “stay in the game”, before trying to find a solitary winning goal. That goal never came against Wolves, but at The Emirates, much like at Villa Park, a goal was gifted and immediately preceded the proverbial parking of the bus. In neither instance did The Cottagers hang on for the win. When contrasted to West Brom’s recent victory over Fulham’s next opponents, it’s night and day. The Baggies took advantage of Chelsea going down to 10-men. When Branislav Ivanovic went down injured in the 37th minute, Sam Allardyce didn’t replace him with another defender, he sent on a striker in Callum Robinson who went on to score two of their five goals. Is there any situation in which you can imagine Scott Parker would be so brazen?
Over the course of the season Fulham have focussed on staying in games, and hoping to take a chance when one arrives. Too often those chances have not been seized upon, but even when they have, the lack of desire to drive home an advantage has seen The Whites drop 18 points from winning positions. A deficit only surpassed by Tottenham Hotspur (20). Parker has repeatedly said this season that his team will face hardship, and will have to be resilient. He has readily acknowledged that there will be spells where his side lose a sequence of fixtures, and will have to keep their work rate and belief high. But has this anticipation of hardship been to easily accepted? Slavisa Jokanovic took the opposite approach in 2018, and it didn’t prove fruitful, but in order to be truly competitive over the course a 38-game season, there needs to be some balance.
Simply put, this game reflected a side that has too willingly respected the task at hand, and not demonstrated enough defiance of their status. It has happened in moments, but all too briefly, and generally in games that the opposition was always going to make it difficult to succeed. That defiance was not present enough against the likes of Southampton, Wolves and Aston Villa.
It’s tough to see a way back to Premier League survival now. But the faint hope has not died entirely. Burnley are six points ahead of Fulham. But they have only managed a single win since the two sides played out a 1-1 draw at Turf Moor. Should that form continue, and The Cottagers are able to demonstrate a desire and ability to put their opposition to the sword, an encounter with The Clarets at Craven Cottage provides the opportunity to reinstall some faith.
Do we dare to still believe?