Three days after a disappointing home defeat, Fulham were back on the road, 200+ miles north in a soggy and windy Preston, as the Championship fixtures continue to come thick ’n fast as we race towards the Christmas period.
With Leeds also playing, it was imperative that Parker’s men got a result so as not to fall 10 points behind the automatic promotion places. Given that it’s less than halfway through the season, the gap wouldn’t be insurmountable but there certainly must be a psychological effect of there being a double digit gap!
The team sheet raised a few eyebrows, with Cyrus Christie and Aboubakar Kamara coming in for Joe Bryan and a poorly Tom Cairney. Denis Odoi switched to the left back slot, whilst the seemingly much-maligned Josh Onomah kept his place in whatever position it is that he’s playing. The game started off at a somewhat leerily pace; Mitro flashing a shot wide in the 3rd minute being the one moment of interest for the Whites. Cyrus was using his pace down the right flank but the final ball wasn’t quite up to scratch on more than one occasion.
On 18 minutes, the home side won a free kick 30 yards out, with the resulting shot into the wall doing little to raise the atmosphere, which had all the buzz of a pre-season friendly.
However, Preston didn’t have to wait long to take the lead and end their 7 hour goal drought, as a corner given away due to Alfie Mawson losing his feet found it’s way to Sean Maguire who was given time to turn in the 6 yard box and his shot found it’s way through Mawson and Rodak’s legs and into the back to the net.
Less than five minutes later and the night got even worse for the Whites, as Odoi saw red for a stupid challenge, launching himself into the Preston player with his arm when he had no chance of reaching the ball. Whilst it may have been more shoulder than elbow, it certainly was reckless enough that his marching orders were not undeserved. Parker reacted by bringing on Bryan for Cav, an interesting choice given the latter probably offers more than Knockaert defensively (/attackingly), someone who isn’t the ideal player when you need to graft for over an hour with ten men.
A few minutes later and it was almost 10 v 10 but Ben Pearson somehow got away with a two-footed challenge on Onomah, which would’ve seen him get at least a booking had already not had one. Reminder that this is the player whose mum will no longer come and watch due to him getting too many bookings!
It was almost 2-0 on 37 minutes, but Rodak anticipated the defence-piercing through ball (the defence did not) and thankfully the team in red eventually cleared their lines.
However, on the stroke of half time, parity was finally restored. In terms of players on each team anyway. Joe Bryan shin was on the receiving end of Joe Rafferty’s studs, and the defender could have no arguments about his straight red, despite his arguments.
The half time whistle blew and much like on Saturday, the players trudged down the tunnel knowing that they hadn’t done enough and needed a much better showing in the second forty-five.
Unfortunately, whatever Parker had said to the team in the dressing room, it clearly didn’t work, as seven minutes after the restart David Nugent scored his first goal in 41 games (of course it was against us!) as he capitalised on the ball spinning up off Rodak’s legs after the young keeper had saved well from Bodin. Appeals for a foul on Mawson were waved away and replays show that Nugent simply outmuscled the centre back, which summed up his night up to that point.
On the hour, Parker abandoned all sensible tactics and brought off the floundering Mawson for Kebano, leaving Ream at the back with 2 wingbacks for company.
The game continued with Preston not feeling the need to overly exert themselves, allowing Fulham to push forward but the lack of spark was all too apparent. StefJo almost pulled one back but his curling left foot shot clattered off the crossbar and was eventually cleared.
A couple minutes later, Onomah was teed up by Mitro but he sliced his shot wide when he should have done much better given the time he had on the edge of the area. It’s fair to say that Parker probably sees more than most in the man who Spurs probably weren’t too concerned with releasing as part of the Sess deal.
Fulham continued to dominate possession and on 81 minutes, Mitro found the corner of the net via a slightly deflection off Pearson. It must be said that it was good work from the aforementioned Onomah near his own penalty area that set Kebano on his way before the ball eventually found its way to the clinical Serb, who scored his 16th of the season and his 7th in 5 games against PNE.
Despite continuing to push, six minutes of stoppage time and Rodak coming up for a last gasp corner, the fans that braved the long journey up hoping to see an improved result from the weekend were left with an even longer journey back home.
Simply put, this performance was not good enough. Yes there were key players missing but this doesn’t explain some of the individual performances. Mawson, who had been showing improvement in the last few games, was horribly off the pace; Knockaert again proved that he’s a luxury player, offering little apart from adding a couple % to the possession stats; and Odoi needs a good talking to – an experienced player should not be jeopardising his team’s chances of getting something from a game in such an idiotic way. Kamara certainly put in a shift but his final product was severely lacking – his attitude seems to have improved but he needs to spend some time working on the simple elements of his game. Mitro was an alienated figure up front but still managed his customary goal, perhaps another example of the team relying too heavily on his goals – there need to be more coming from other areas of the park if we’re to reignite our push for promotion.
Parker’s tactics, or lack thereof, also need to be called into question. The last two games have been incredibly disappointing, both results and performance-wise, and whilst we have some of the best players in the division, they struggle when they come up against teams in the top half of the table. If the team is to achieve the Khans’ ambition of bouncing straight back into the Premier League, then something has to change quickly. The January transfer window will be important for reinforcing in necessary areas but first the team need to make sure they come out of the fixture-filled Christmas season still in contention for the top 2. Based on the last couple of performances, coupled with Leeds and West Brom’s winning runs, it’s looking increasingly likely that the playoffs will be the more realistic end of season expectation. However, this time 2 years ago, having seem some questionable football for almost half a season, we began the famous 23-game unbeaten run…so you never know what can happen!