After a testing week, Fulham sit top of the Championship. That should be the prevailing thought of the fan base heading into the upcoming crunch match with Scott Parker’s Bournemouth, who this week contrived to pass up two opportunities to usurp The Whites at the summit of the table.
The illness that has spread across several members of Marco Silva’s squad has clearly been a determining factor in The Cottagers results over the past few days. And while the result against Derby may have been different had a couple of key players been available to play, the trip to Preston was more about the condition of those on the pitch than those off of it. The short turnaround, coupled with the ailments of several players proved too much to overcome. And yet, a Fulham team that has gotten used to sweeping aside all before them, gutted and ground out a draw in a game that had the potential to run away from them.
If Harry Wilson was below par on Wednesday, he was barely on the fairway at Deepdale. Mitrovic for his part was lacking any intensity in his game, which for anyone who has watched him at any point of his career knows, this is a vital ingredient to his success. Harrison Reed huffed and puffed, but couldn’t provide the level of control over the midfield in possession that we are used to.
There were calls for substitutions, and suggestions that more changes should have been made to the starting XI. But in reality, you have to wonder how affected those on the bench were. With all of the technology and performance data available, it would be presumptuous to assume a manager and coaching staff, who to this point of their time in West London have got it right far more often than wrong, wouldn’t have used all of the information available to them when selecting a side to get the desired result in Lancashire.
The metrics though, tell the story. Fulham had less possession than their hosts, made less tackles, lost more duels and only connected with two crosses compared to the 10 successful deliveries against Derby. The team battled admirably at The Cottage in midweek and, performance-wise, were not too far from what we are used to. But they weren’t able to repeat that in the way they have previously.
And in spite of all of the difficulties faced, Silva’s charges still took the lead, and would have won the game but for an equaliser that could have been ruled out for any number of infractions. Even on their worst day since September, and in spite of a referee and assistant who failed to spot a foul, then several handballs or an offside player, Fulham remain unbeaten in their last 9 matches.
Belief will have been strong in the dressing room prior to this. But having come through the last week relatively unscathed, that belief should be further reinforced. This is the best team in The Championship. Bournemouth’s pending visit provides the perfect opportunity to confirm that.