Football is a game about momentum. In Coventry, Fulham handed that oh so important commodity to their hosts in four second-half minutes as they fell to their most disappointing result of the season so far.
The Whites have not been able to regain the momentum that saw them top The Championship table heading into the most recent international break. There have been moments. The clinical beating of Birmingham, the seeing off of Swansea. But these have been interspersed with dropped points against Blackpool, Reading and Bristol City. The events at The Ricoh Arena were the nadir on the rollercoaster of the last four weeks.
Marco Silva’s managerial career in England has been consistent in the sense that a strong start has routinely been followed by a drop-off in performance levels, that he has not been able to arrest. We’re not at that point yet, and there have been plenty of reminders, even in defeat, that this side are very capable of mounting a promotion charge, but it is concerning that the manager of the month the form we saw in August, is looking like less of a trend, and more of a highlight.
Having played six games in just 19 days it wasn’t a surprise to see changes to the starting XI who had performed well in midweek. With the belief in the squad, fans were not even concerned to see the likes of Jean Michel Seri and Tosin Adarabioyo drop to the bench for our first league visit to Coventry in 54 years. Joe Bryan came off with a knock in midweek, so it was not a surprise to see Robinson return after a knock of his own ruled him out of Swansea’s visit to SW6. In hindsight it may have been wise to ask those on the bench, to give one last effort before the domestic action pauses.
We have heard on numerous occasions that Alfie Mawson is banging on the door of the starting line-up, and his assured cup performance against Leeds backed up that assertion. Unfortunately no one in the defence demonstrated that level of composure as Mawson came into the back-four in the midlands. He wasn’t necessarily to blame for any of the goals, but he was part of a unit that looked more of a mess than my 19-month-old son was making during the lunch-time kick-off.
Josh Onomah started the season well, but here he struggled. Unable to get on the ball and influence in attack he was overshadowed in the first-half by the ever-reliable Harrison Reed, who continually won possession back for Fulham and won more than three times as many duels as his midfield teammate (7:2) in the match. The second half didn’t get better for Onomah, as he failed to cooperate effectively with Tim Ream, handing Coventry the equaliser on a plate. Shortly after he was placed by Seri. Unfortunately the change didn’t arrest the slide.
The chaos that led to the equaliser continued, and even though the penalty awarded to the Sky Blues was clearly the result of a dive, Antonee Robinson’s poor decision to unnecessarily dangle his leg cannot be ignored. It was a challenge made in desperation as Coventry smelled blood and went on the attack. The referee was conned, but so was Robinson, and in those instances defenders also have to be held accountable. The collapse continued and now Fulham find themselves looking up at a familiar face at summit of the table.
It may be that the tired legs of those replaced would have fallen to the same result as those that replaced them, but in a squad as competitive as this, at least on paper, players can ill afford to have such little impact when installed after a game or more on the sidelines. Hindsight can be ruthless, and there weren’t many complaints when the teams were announced an hour before kick-off. It will be interesting how the pecking order sits upon the team’s return to action, with important players returning from injury too.
Without handing momentum to the opposition, this could have been a very different result. The first two goals were gifts. The wave of momentum then proved to be unstoppable for the remaining 40 minutes. When QPR make their short trip to Craven Cottage, Marco Silva will need to ensure it is the start of his side seizing some momentum of their own once again, and riding that, at least until the next disruption in November. The brief has been clear from the moment The Whites fell back into the unpredictability of the the second tier, so if he can’t, questions will start to be asked. Especially if a certain cardigan-wearing cockney is still sitting atop of this crazy league.