When we held on for that famous victory at Anfield a few short weeks ago it seemed faith in Project Parker was vindicated…
We’d played well throughout the mid-season period and although not enough draws had been turned into wins the triumph at Liverpool was our third victory in a month, following victories over Everton and Sheffield United. We were now hot on the heels of Brighton and Newcastle and many pundits were earmarking us for survival, with the hapless Geordies looking most at risk.
Fast forward five games and it’s sad how quickly hope and belief has evaporated. With the return from injury of Wilson and especially Saint-Maximin, Newcastle are suddenly the form team of the division while we’ve followed an understandable and creditable defeat to Man City with a succession of poor performances that have yielded just one point. Each week has been billed as a trip to the Last Chance Saloon but on each occasion, we’ve found the staff draping towels over the bar and calling time. Leeds just seemed to have too much energy and desire for us, we folded like origami specialists at Villa and just didn’t ask enough questions of an uninspired Wolves. We followed this trio of pointless outings with a battling performance at the Emirates but Parker’s preferred tactic of battening down the hatches to preserve a lead worked against us with a heart-breaking 97th minute equaliser.
It left us facing this trip to Stamford Bridge knowing that nothing less than a win (and probably 4 more after that) would do. Having not won at the dog track since 1979, and with Chelsea in fine fettle since Thomas Tuchel took over, the signs weren’t exactly promising. Our main beacon of hope was that the Blues might take their eye off the ball being mid-Champions League semi-final with Real Madrid. To be fair this was hardly a big reason for optimism and news of Brighton’s afternoon victory over Leeds further punctured any positivity.
There were pre-match rumours that Harrison Reed might have a season ending injury and his absence from the squad lent credence to that theory. If that does prove to be the case, then let me hereby announce him as our Player of the Year. Eleven HRs would make a hell of a team.
Scott’s selection once again consigned Mitro to the bench and was further proof that Parker doesn’t see him as a Premier League-quality striker; certainly not in a struggling team like ours. You could see his point in the mid-season when the mobility and athleticism of BDR, Lookman and Cavaleiro gave a better balance to the side. However, we still couldn’t buy goals for love nor money so to continue to leave the Serbian out when only wins would do suggests there’s been an irrecoverable breach of trust between manager and player.
We did start brightly enough with a far greater sense of purpose than the previous four matches but when Chelsea took the lead with their first meaningful attack, the writing was on the wall. It was hard to fault anyone for the goal. Mason Mount’s sublime piece of control and through ball were a prime example of the ‘fine margins’ Parker has been talking about all season. When push comes to shove, we just haven’t quite been good enough. The question is who do you blame? Tony Khan – on recruitment, Scott Parker – on tactics, Loan Players – for not caring enough, or do you just pin it all on this season’s pantomime villain, Ruben Loftus-Cheek?
If RLC is your favoured fall guy, then at least he couldn’t be accountable for what happened on Saturday. We reacted well enough to the goal and forced Mendy to earn his money with some decent saves but when Havertz doubled Chelsea’s money early in the second half, the game and effectively the season were up. We didn’t throw in the towel, and as Parker has demanded and generally got all year, we battled until the end. However, we just haven’t quite been good enough to get the results needed to keep us up and so for the third time in as many Premier League seasons under the Khans we are going down.
TK will get the lion’s share of the blame in his position as Director of Football and it’s hard to argue that he hasn’t made mistakes. His yo-yo club comments were certainly ill advised and his tendency to emerge on social media only when we win while waxing lyrical about his wrestling interests do him no favours.
On the flip side Shahid’s investment in the new Riverside Stand does suggest he’s in it for the long haul at Fulham. There are certainly far worse owners in football, and one senses that there will finally come a time when we re-establish ourselves in the Premier League like we managed to do under Mohamed Al Fayed.
For the moment we are not mathematically down, and SP will still have to mouth the right words as we approach the last four games. He will know in his heart of hearts though that we are gone, and it will be interesting to see if he will go too at the season’s end. Many of our fraternity are not keen on his style of football and won’t be sorry if Tottenham’s rumoured interest in him bears fruit. I do understand the criticism but having seen the passion he’s shown for the club, both as player and manager then I will be equally happy if he’s still at the helm for another tilt at the Championship in August.
In all honesty, without being able to go games during the pandemic, this season has seemed something like a free hit. It will just be magical to get back to the Cottage next season to see games again with our friends and family, regardless of what division we’re in. We may have lost the battle this season but as London’s oldest and original, the war goes on. Up the Fulham.