A week is a long time in politics it’s been said in the past, although in the current climate five minutes on a certain subject seems like an eternity. In the same vein, a week is certainly a long time in football.
Prior to last Friday’s game with Wigan, we had been on a winless run of four games which had the doom and gloom brigade out in full voice. At half time I was chatting with my next-door neighbour in the Putney end about our struggles to break down a doughty visiting defence. My view was that we’d been playing well enough and that if we could sneak any sort of win we might be sitting there a week or so later with another 9 points in the bag and a position much closer to the top. Parts one and two of this prophesy went very much to plan. Joe Bryan opened his Fulham account with his wrong foot and Tom Cairney calmed nerves with a trademark strike to see off Wigan. On Tuesday TC carried on where he left off with the opener at Reading. We had already looked in imperious form before Swift’s swift exit left a 10 man opposition chasing shadows for the remainder of the first half. Mitro’s brace meant the game was over by the interval and we were in cruise control in the second half, hopefully in an effort to conserve energy for this Saturday lunchtime fixture.
Other midweek results meant that a win against Charlton would send us top of the table, albeit temporarily ahead of the rest of the weekend matches. Our task was unlikely to be straightforward though against a side who have adjusted quickly to life in the Championship, after their playoff victory at Wembley in May. I must confess here a sneaking admiration for our visitors who have had to overcome much adversity in their history. They were forced from their Valley home in 1985 and spent several years away before the hard work of loyal supporters brought about their return. Fulham fans familiar with Marler Estates efforts to remove us from the Cottage and kill our club could certainly empathise with their plight. In more recent times they have had to endure the ownership of a Belgian businessman who is about as popular in South East London as Mike Ashley is in Newcastle. I’ve also had the pleasure of having as workmates three Charlton fans, which has occasioned much footy banter over time and where it’s become clear their loathing is reserved for Millwall and Crystal Palace. Therefore in the interests of mutual respect, I was happy to share a beer with one of these gentlemen before the game, where we congratulated ourselves on our good looks despite our advancing years but refrained from wishing each other luck for the afternoon ahead.
Scott Parker had successfully shuffled our pack ahead of the trip to Reading and tinkered again by restoring Sessegnon and Cavaliero to the team at the expense of Odoi and Bobby Reid. My mate had warned me that Lee Bowyer would have his troops superbly organised and so it proved in a sterile first half where we struggled to gain any control of the game. Charlton were content to sit back to start with but as the half wore on they grew in confidence and began to take the game to us a little more. It, therefore, wasn’t a huge surprise when they stole into the lead just before the break when an overload at our back post ended with a nod back to Gallagher who finished with a crisp low strike.
The interval came at the right time for us as we clearly needed to adjust our tactics and tempo. Parker may have been regretting his decision to change the side that had looked so good at Reading and made sensible substitutions at the break. Young Sess had looked out of sorts in the first half so it was a wise move to take him off. Although he’s a fantastic prospect we should not expect too much too soon and damage his confidence. His brother Ryan’s first season was superbly managed by him sharing the workload with Scott Malone. Hopefully, Parker will manage Steven in a similar way. His removal meant we went to a back three and Bobby Reid’s introduction gave us more bodies in the central area and immediately gave the visitors a lot more to think about Within 10 minutes we were level with a superlative strike from Ivan Cavaliero and this should have been the catalyst for us to take control. Within two minutes though we handed the initiative straight back when some timid defending gave Bonne the opportunity to loop a header past Bettinelli, who arguably could have done better.
The positive was that we didn’t dwell on the setback and were immediately back on the front foot. Joe Bryan and Mitro both rattled the crossbar before the Serb levelled matters following a goalmouth scramble. TV replays showed he had been in an offside position so we certainly had the rub of the green there. However, Lady Luck decided that was our lot for the day as despite throwing the proverbial kitchen sink at Charlton for the rest of the game we couldn’t find the winner. Their goalkeeper made some excellent saves and some backs to the wall defending left Charlton probably much happier with the point than we were. It meant that we didn’t quite make the summit as we’d hoped but come 5 o’clock we found ourselves just 3 points from the top of a very congested table. The negative Nigels will rue the dropped points in some recent drawn matches and argue we should already be clear at the top. My feeling is that we have no need to worry yet. The only truly poor performance was in our opening game at Barnsley. Since then we’ve consistently stamped our mark on games with a nice brand of football that should be more than good enough to keep us thoroughly interested in the promotion race this season. I for one am looking forward to the ride.