It’s probably not the done thing to say you’ve got cup fever these days. Personally, the FA Cup has always been special to me regardless of Fulham’s lack of success in it, and ordinarily, a 3rd round tie against our local sometimes-rivals would be a relatively mouth-watering affair…
However, with only a selection of press, Alan Pardew and cardboard cut-outs of home fans, Sean Connery and a dog (Osama bin Laden and Harold Shipman seemed to have given this one a miss) looking out onto the ploughed-field of a pitch, the game just didn’t have the same buzz as it would’ve done back in ‘the good old days’.
Following the Whites’ Covid-enforced two weeks off, Parker decided to go with a mix of regulars, bench-warmers and playoff heroes, whilst welcoming back Kenny Tete, Josh Onomah and Terence Kongolo for his 2nd debut, as the trio make their way back from long-term injuries. There was a distinct absence of Kmac and StefJo, who many in Twitterland had thought may make a final appearance for the club in the Cup, but clearly, Scott wasn’t feeling overly sentimental; probably the correct decision as whilst a Cup run may not be the priority, wins are certainly morale boosters and losing to a lower-league side (neighbours or otherwise) could be damaging beyond a single game.
The game was also a chance for Mitro to rediscover some confidence and hopefully his scoring touch, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek was definitely due a good game as the murmurs of whether he was earning his place in the team continued to get louder.
However, neither of these scenarios eventuated. Mitro again had chances but the back of the net continues to reject his advances, while Loftus-Cheek again flattered to deceive. I saw many commenting about him not caring or not putting in the effort, but I didn’t agree with any of that. I think he does care and has been trying, he is just horribly out of form and cannot seem to get out of the rut that he finds himself in; you could tell he was frustrated at times and he clearly wants to have a good season in order to give himself a chance of making the Chelsea team next year, however on the evidence so far, he looks like he might be destined to continue as one of Chelsea’s many Loan Rangers until his £120k a week contract rolls down. We did see a glimpse of what he was capable of in injury time of the first half but that was the highlight of an otherwise poor game for the midfielder. Mitro on the other hand, I don’t know what to think at this point. The game was made for him to kickstart his season, but nothing seemed to go right for him again (assist aside) – had a QPR defender not been on the line to repel his second-half drive then we might be talking about a resurgence, however another blank and the sight of him holding his leg towards the end of extra time only amplified the sounds of Scott saying we needed to improve in that position during the post-match presser.
I think we can probably all agree that the first 90 minutes of the game were not a classic. In fact, the prospect of a further 30 minutes of it had me considering whether the laundry needed doing. The returning players clearly lacked sharpness but looked promising, with Tete looking as if he hadn’t been away for the first half. Kongolo, after so long on the sidelines, looked fairly solid before coming off with around 20 minutes of normal time remaining and Josh put in a solid performance and getting himself an assist to boot. Either team could have won it towards the end, with the home side missing a couple of clear-cut chances, while Fulham were also guilty of being too generous with their finishing once again.
Given the way the game had played out, penalties definitely seemed to be the likely outcome but thanks to Bobby Decordova-Reid and Neeskens Kebano, we didn’t have to put our spot-kick prowess to the test!
Bobby’s goal was a pin-point finish after a great bit of play by the Jamaican and a neat one-two with Mitro, continuing his great form of late, while Neeskens just put his laces through the ball after a lay off by Onomah, giving the Rangers’ keeper no chance at his near post and sealing the tie for the Whites. Although by looking at Mitro’s reaction to the goal, you’d not have thought it; clearly the Serb was hoping for a ball across the goal and a simple tap in rather than seeing the ball fly in via the Congolese’s boot.
The goals meant that the 2nd half of extra time was a mere procession into the 4th (and 5th) round draw and while survival in the Premier League will of course take priority, it was certainly important to get one over the Shepherds Bush lot, especially given their poor form this season.
It’s back to PL action next Friday with another local derby as Fat Frank’s lot head down the Fulham Road for a Friday night clash. Expect to see a much-changed and hopefully back to full-strength line-up, as the performance will have to be much improved if we are to continue our push for safety against a team who may have their weakness but who will punish us if we’re not on top form. And what an ideal time it would be to introduce some clinical finishing to complement our more improved defensive displays.