Friday nights had been kind to us prior to lockdown with 5 wins and 2 draws from 7 outings. This gave us a reason to look forward to the fixture with Cardiff, although the confidence gained from 3 successive victories was a bigger factor for optimism…
Tuesday’s win at Forest was our most convincing performance since football returned and the three points gained meant the outside chance of catching the top two was still alive. The fact the victory was achieved without arguably our two biggest stars in captain Tom Cairney and talismanic striker Aleksandar Mitrovic would have given Scott Parker food for thought when selecting his team for this game.
As it turned out Cairney hadn’t recovered from his knock but Mitro was restored straight to the line up in place of Neeskens Kebano. With West Brom and Leeds both winning since our victory at Forest, the top two still seemed a distant dream but it felt important to keep the momentum going against a Cardiff side occupying the final play off position.
The last time Neil Harris brought a side to the Cottage was in August as Millwall manager when we delivered our most convincing performance of the season. In those circumstances he may have thought long and hard about what approach his team should take. As it turned out we started as slowly as we did in the last home game against Birmingham, which rather handed them the initiative early on. However, we weren’t casual enough to hand them any clear cut chances and as the half wore on, our possession based style started to assume control. Parker’s critics would preach we should start games on the front foot but perhaps to give him credit, maybe a master plan is at play?
As the game developed we started to look the more likely to score the opening goal, which has become a key factor in games involving Fulham since Parker took the reigns. In the last 28 matches that Fulham have scored first, we have won 25 and lost none which is a very impressive statistic. Bobby Decordova Reid’s shot was sensationally tipped on to the bar; I won’t mention his later headed miss (oops I just did!). In between Mitro both won and converted a penalty to give us a lead we just about deserved.
Parkerball seemed at play early in the second half as Cardiff tried to impose themselves. We’ve won a lot of games by the odd goal and we often seem too content to keep hold of what we’ve got. Perhaps Scott is a secret admirer of the Catenaccio era of Italian football where one goal wins were sacrosanct. To be fair to our defence we were comfortably absorbing their one dimensional approach of long balls and long throws.
Consequently we should have been given a second penalty for either a handball or a foul on Mitro in the space of a few seconds (both seemingly more obvious than the one that was given). Fortunately we didn’t dwell on the referee’s ineptitude and Stef Jo’s timely introduction and pass to Josh Onomah fashioned the match clincher a few minutes later.
Afterwards it was a case of game management. The commentators irritatingly highlighted Hector’s loss of discipline while seeming to completely ignore Tomlin’s sly elbow on Mitro. Perhaps it’s just me but this subjective trial by television seems to unduly influence the powers that be. I did fear another Mitro/Leeds scenario at the time but thankfully the ref booked Hector which means no retrospective ban can take place.
In any event we went on to comfortably seal another three points to confirm our position in the Play Offs. It would take a very fortuitous stream of events to deliver automatic promotion but we do seem to be a team coming into form at the right time. With three games left it’s all to play for and even if the top two is a bridge too far we seem to be developing the ring craft for a successful playoff campaign.
Even without looking at the bigger picture; four successive wins is enough to make us enjoy the weekend!
Bring on the Baggies on Tuesday. COYW!