1 year, 5 months, and 7 days. That’s how long it’s been since we have the freedom following Fulham away again. One way or another, the past 17 months has affected us all, and that made yesterday a triumphant occasion before a ball had even been kicked.
To have some form of normality back in the football experience is priceless. Being able to see familiar faces, some you know really well, some you know to say hello to, or even those that you’ve never seen before. We are all Fulham and it was a privilege to be in that number as the Whites marched into the John Smith’s stadium to take on the bookies second favourites for the drop.
The atmosphere was eelectric (I’ve spelt that right haven’t I..?) with the 700 strong Fulham contingent who were in full voice throughout. There was plenty of banter, most of it centres on how shit the #31 was between the Huddersfield sticks. My Fulham idol, Luis Boa Morte’s name was sung over and over as if I’d stepped back in time, 21 years to when he wrote his name into Fulham folklore with our most famous goal in this stadium. But the standout moment of the day was when “There’s only one Tony Fisher” was sang loud and proud across the away end to acknowledge the fact that things will never entirely go back to how they were. Tony, rightly considered a super fan for following the club up and down the country with his iconic flag, is a big loss to the Fulham family. I didn’t know him personally other than to say hello to, but singing his name was a classy touch to compliment a classy performance. Well done to whoever started the song off. That win was for you, Tony.
As standard practise, the teams were released an hour before kickoff causing a few raised eyebrows with news that Jean Michael Seri was starting his first league game for the club since April 2019, ironically a 1-0 victory over Bournemouth which gave Scott Parker his first win as manager. He replaced Tyrese Francois at the base of our midfield, whilst Zambo who didn’t play against Boro because he’s allegedly leaving this month, was sat on the bench. In contrast to those two selections, the only other change to the 18 caused no surprise at all with Neeskens Kebano being dropped for doing little wrong which seems to be the story of his entire Fulham career. Last seasons top goalscorer, Bobby Decordova-Reid took his place on the left hand-side of the attacking trio behind Mitrovic.
It was a sloppy start from Fulham as Huddersfield’s high press and enthusiasm straight from kickoff forced a few corners, eventually resulting in the Terriers taking a very early lead, or so they thought. The linesman unexpectedly flagged for an offside which came as a pleasant surprise since the build up to the goal centred around a crowded six yard box.
Perhaps the game would have been a different prospect altogether had the goal stood and the wheel of fortune was to spin in Fulham’s favour once more as Huddersfield’s goalkeeper made a blunder worthy of any Christmas DVD in the 9th minute. Replays showed that the linesman had made an even bigger blunder as the ball had already gone out for a corner, a good yard or so over the byline. However, the goal stood and Mitro was off and running for the campaign, much to the relief of the Fulham fan base who know how crucial his goals will be once again.
The early setback stunted the home side and from then on the master class began. Seri’s time at Fulham has been nothing short of failure and until yesterday I was quite happy to see him leave this month. But judging him solely on yesterday’s performance, he was sensational. He was the calm presence in the centre of the park that was missing from the Boro game and instead of bypassing the midfield and depending on Tim Ream to start every attack, everything went through the Ivorian who dictated the tempo of the match.
Initially, Fulham were patient in their build up play but there was more of an intent to why we were retaining possession. It was quicker, the passing was positive, it went forwards rather than back, it was riskier when the opportunity presented itself with a combination of superior technical ability and forward runs from midfield which dragged Huddersfield out of position, meant that for the majority of the match they were chasing shadows. It feels over confident to suggest it but this felt more like a cup tie against a lower league opposition than it did a game in the ‘most competitive league in the world.’
It was great to see Josh Onomah get on the scoresheet, although I’m not sure any of us actually saw it go in. It was the most delayed response to a goal that I’ve experienced for some time and having seen the goal back on tv, it was another dismal attempt at defending from the home side. I kept saying to those around me that we just need a second goal to kill this game off and it felt as though this was job done. I nearly had egg on my face as Huddersfield debutant Pearson pulled one back from a corner. It feels like the wrong time to start being critical of players given the end result but Gazzaniga seems reluctant to come for crosses and the goal we conceded was another example of that. It’s hard to judge him based on what we’ve seen so far but that appears to be a weakness in the opening two games and something I expect teams will look to exploit. Millwall on Tuesday night will be a good test for him in that sense.
If there’s anything you can do, we can do it better and that includes a response after conceding a goal. Huddersfield brought it back to 2-1, 4 minutes after Josh Onomah’s header but it took Fulham just 2 minutes to restore our two goal lead and suck all hope out of the home crowd.
Onomah has had a very encouraging start to the new campaign having been a forgotten man last season. And it was the former Spurs graduate that drove at the Huddersfield defence before fine footwork from Bobby Reid teed up the new wonder kid in town, Fabio Carvalho to slot home his second goal for the club. It was the perfect example of why this team is different to 2020/21. Last season, when Reid receives the ball, he would have had Mitro (or Cav…) marked by 3 defenders and nobody else in sight to aim for. So, it has been a very welcome sight thus far to see the 3 playing behind Mitro making penetrating runs or on this occasion arriving late unmarked to give the man on the ball options. When Bobby squared the ball to Fabio for the goal, we had 5 players in the box. I have a feeling that we will score more than 9 goals at home this season if we continue playing this way!
Fulham managed the game really well in the second half and flirted with scoring another goal as the siege on Huddersfield’s goal was relentless. Harry Wilson came closest when he hit the crossbar before the Welshman put the slightest of dampeners on an overall fantastic day when he retaliated to a late tackle and was sent off. His 3 game suspension gives us a little dilemma for the next 2 league games (the league cup match doesn’t matter). Hopefully he learns from this because on another day against a better team, this could have thrown away a well deserved 3 points.
The next part is where it gets very exciting indeed. Marco Silva’s response to going a man down wasn’t to shut up shop and camp on the edge of our box. Instead, we brought on Anguissa to give more steel in the middle, which enabled us to bring on the fresh legs and pace of Ivan Cavaliero and maintain a front 3, despite having 10 men. Jordan Rhodes who returned to Huddersfield for a second spell had already come on for the home side and every time they tried to get the ball into him in and around our box, we had pace on the counter. That brings us to the highlight of the highlights. Bobby Reid gave a man of the match performance with 3 assists, saving the best to last when he executed an inch perfect pass over the top for Ivan to chest down and dink over the keeper. We will no doubt score a few screamers in the coming months but that is going to take some beating for goal of the season and is the kind of goal that illustrates why football is called the beautiful game.
“Top of the league” sang out as the board showed 5 minutes of additional time. Mitro holding up the ball on the halfway line turned and played the ball into Cavaliero, who beat his man and executed another brilliant strike, to complete a five star performance from Marco Silva’s black and white army.
There’s a couple of additional observations I’d like to bring up as I conclude this reaction. When Huddersfield had corners, Mitro came back to mark the front post as you’d expect but we always left 2 players up the pitch. One on the edge of the box and one near the half way line or out wide. This resulted in many counter attacks that earned us throw ins up the pitch, winning corners ourselves or scoring goals. It’s a little riskier when defending the initial corner but the best form of defence is to attack and that’s a significant difference so far between this regime and the previous.
Secondly, players like Ream and Mitrovic who are the old guard of this team, looks like they have a new lease of life. There’s a real glow about them. Ream is thriving in his leadership role and proving undroppable so far whilst Mitro looks as happy as he did when Slav was getting the best out of him. There was one moment when Mitro passed the ball out to Cav and then sprinted from the half way line to get into the box. Although, he didn’t win the race, his presence forced a corner and this came towards the end of the game, at 4-1 when we were down to 10 men and the win was secure. That’s the kind of attitude and desire we want and it feels like Mitro is slowly but surely fuelling that fire again.
I know that we are only two games in. We shouldn’t get carried away. But where’s the fun in that? We’ve just recorded our biggest away win since 1999, I’m loving it already and I’m very optimistic about where this season is heading.
Paulo Gazzaniga – 5
Antonee Robinson – 7
Tim Ream – 8
Tosin Adarabioyo – 8
Kenny Tete – 8
Jean Michael Seri – 9
Josh Onomah – 8
Fabio Carvalho – 8
Harry Wilson – 6
Bobby Decordova-Reid – 10
Aleksandar Mitrovic – 8