I last wrote a match reaction after the Swansea game three weeks ago when our 4th successive win had us dreaming we could make a concerted push to chase down West Brom and Leeds for one of the automatic promotion spots.
Fast forward three weeks and three defeats on the spin had us on the cusp of dropping out of the play off spots altogether. It had also triggered a lot of negativity amongst the faithful about Scott Parker’s ability to get the best out of a squad that on paper should be capable of much better.
Before the game Parker said there was no team he’d rather be playing in these circumstances than Leeds. This was more evidence to the Parker out brigade that our young inexperienced manager was out of his depth and that the pressure may have finally made him lose the plot. However, for once I was in the glass half full brigade and felt he had a point. If the players were still behind him then this was an ideal fixture in which to show it.
Leeds has become a pivotal fixture in our recent seasons in the Championship. Cairney’s last gasp ‘worldie’ to equalise in the 2017 game propelled us towards the play offs and caused Leeds to do their traditional falling apart. A year later and another ‘worldie’, this time off Kevin McDonald’s backside helped keep our sensational unbeaten run going which culminated in glory at Wembley.
Leeds have been looking a different kettle of fish under the wily Marcelo Bielsa but wasting a three goal lead against Cardiff last week may have triggered a few jitters in their camp. In the light of our abject showing at Brentford it was hard to find crumbs of comfort but the news that the Reed/Reid brothers were fit enough to start had me optimistic that the stars were aligning for one of those special days at the Cottage. News that Josh Onomah was also starting though had the scapegoat brigade out in full voice on social media. For the life of me I cannot understand this attitude. We all pay our money and are entitled to an opinion but surely we should be supporting the team in its entirety rather than digging out individuals and shattering their confidence. For me I’m in agreement with the wag who once said in response to a fan’s constant moaning at a player; ‘ He may be shit, but he’s OUR shit’.
My optimism before kick off, and possibly a couple of beers, even had me heading to the bookies to have a cheeky fiver on a 3-1 win at the enticing price of 22-1. My faith was vindicated in quick time when within seven minutes our bright start was rewarded with the award of the softest of soft penalties. The taking out of Kebano in the Bristol City match was 100 times more a penalty but maybe this was proof of the footballing equivalent of Pythagora’s theory, that luck does even itself over the season. Mitro’s penalty was just about good enough to find it’s way in via the keeper’s fingers and the inside of a post and the old place erupted.
The Leeds response was immediate and Rodak had to be on his mettle in twice making excellent saves to keep our lead intact. He’s starting to look like the reliable custodian we’ve probably been missing since Mark Schwarzer was between our sticks. The visitors were also putting it about a bit in the manner of the ‘Dirty Leeds’ sides of old but there was fire in our bellies too as we stood up to the challenge. We reached the interval with a slender lead that we knew would come under serious threat in the second half.
Sure enough Leeds came at us on the restart and were level inside ten minutes when Rodak’s save fell kindly for Patrick Bamford to gobble up the rebound. It was probably apt that in the festive season the pantomime villain got their goal; unfortunately there seemed to be no shouts from our defenders of ‘he’s behind you!’ This could’ve been the moment that a team who had no confidence in their boss would crumble and for a couple of minutes we seemed to be rocking. However, Ivan Cavaliero got us back on the front foot with an exocet of a shot that their keeper somehow got fingers too.
The atmosphere was electric now as the game ebbed and flowed and shortly after, a corner dropped kindly to Josh Onomah on the edge of the box who crashed an unstoppable belter in to the Hammy End net. The place went bonkers and the youngster celebrated with the gusto of a man taking a huge weight off his mind. It wasn’t quite Redemption day yet for him and Parker as there was still a good twenty minutes to play. We weren’t exactly hanging on but every man Jack stood up to be counted in the time that remained.
The closest Leeds came was right at the death when our talisman Mitro intervened at the opposite end to usual and somehow diverted the ball over the bar. A few seconds later and the referee’s final whistle saw the Cottage erupt in the way only it can on those very special occasions. My bet hadn’t quite come in but I was so over the moon I couldn’t have cared less.
In the cold light of day, Parker still has much to do to prove the doubters wrong but he at last has proved his tactical adaptability. We were far more direct yesterday. Rodak launched more drop kicks than we’ve probably done in the season to date and there was less of the incessant short passing in our own half that so frustrates at times. The jury will remain out for a while longer but for now we should rejoice in the feel good factor that was restored in style yesterday.
Merry Christmas to everyone with Fulham in their heart.