It’s been well documented that getting automatically promoted on the last match of the season was going to be a tough ask. Away to Wigan, needing a win and additional elements outside of our control – it was just too much, and we were playoff-bound instead. Less than a week later, I met the first leg of the semi-final playoffs with some low expectations. Even though we had beaten Cardiff in fairly comfortable fashion just three weeks prior, playoff football brings in a different beast of possibilities.
Right on cue, our lineup was missing the league’s top scorer: our beloved Mitrovic. Where would the goals come from now? Sure, Kebano has been in good form and fresh off scoring against Wigan, but after that who else? Tom Cairney won’t shoot, Bobby Decordova-Reid has to play a false-9; and to make matters worse, the returning Harrison Reed looked to have injured himself within 5 minutes. Fittingly enough, we almost conceded twice inside 20 minutes. The first effort by Bacuna’s left foot, saved by Rodak, and brilliantly cleared by Hector to keep Glatzel scoring the rebound from point-blank range. Minutes later, Glatzel should have scored inside the box, but the ball went straight to Rodak.
After the much-needed drinks break, it was all Fulham. Cardiff couldn’t get on the ball, we play Parkerball, you know? We keep the ball moving at all times, testing the angles, forcing defending players out of position with subtle runs off the ball. When we lose it or play forward too forcefully, we’re countered, which is why a long ball over the top and Glatzel almost scores, this time from distance – but saved by Rodak. Our captain, Tom Cairney, hasn’t scored since the equalising goal away to Bristol City. I had said somewhere that he should either be playing behind the striker or take up the right side more often. Eventually, he finds that position before halftime and takes a curling shot on goal – kissing the outside of the post.
Now, I’m no Scott Parker, even though I do play him on Football Manager, but I had also wanted Josh Onomah to pop up more on the left side (basically switching Cairney and Onomah) because it allows both our attacking midfielders to cut inside to their favoured foot. That’s about as far as I could say strategically, because the rest of what Onomah did in our crucial goal was majestic, passionate and without a doubt a contender for goal of the season. Cairney finds himself on the right side, switches the ball to Kebano, who eventually crosses it – Knockaert screams as he was about to get onto the end of it, but it’s cleared. The ball clears out to Reed, who squares to Onomah on the edge of the box. Onomah turns Pack, then cuts inside on Morrison, then outside Nelsen – near post finish – Goal! Amazing goal. Here in the US, ESPN streaming and all I heard was Paul Konchesky say “Oh, what a goal!”. I think everyone said the same thing, and Parker took the brunt of the celebration as his man crashed in for a strong embrace.
Speaking of strong embraces, we doubled the advantage late into the match after Cairney’s chin met Morrison’s shoulder on the edge of the box. The ensuing free-kick was surely for Cairney’s left foot, but instead, it was that man, Neeskens Kebano. An absolutely brilliant curling free-kick that left Smithies clutching for air. Kebano’s free-kick scoring streak increased to 3 goals in 3 matches (4 overall).
Final whistle – unbelievable performance. If you were to tell me that was going to happen after viewing that lineup, I would have laughed. If Mitro comes back, then what? With 2-0 lead at home on Thursday, is it a worthy gamble? Only time will tell, and I absolutely cannot wait to see what happens. COYW!!