It happened again. 0-7 on the road for Marco Silva’s relentless scoring machine. Fulham have now amassed 58 goals this season, 15 more than their nearest rivals having played a game less..
The mood around the club is back to what we had become used to through the first half of the season, before the run of five matches without a win. This was a return to form that exceeded all expectations. But before the floodgates opened, there was a tension among the fan base. The game had been labelled in some parts as “must-win”, which could be considered dramatic for the 24th game of a 46 game season. But with form absent, and 21 days without any league action there was definitely a feeling that this fixture represented more than just the three points available.
That tension appeared to feed into the players, because despite taking a 2-0 into half-time, the score line was not entirely representative of the first 45 minutes of action. The whites lacked fluidity, and attacks seemed rushed, anxious almost. That should have alleviated after being gifted the lead, but it wasn’t, as Andy Carroll attempted to roll back the clock, seeing two goal of the season contenders ruled out, correctly, for offside. He also had a legitimate penalty claim waved away. The Cottagers lacked the control of the game they would have been expected to command, considering the weakened state of their hosts’ line up. Tom Cairney and Harrison Reed were too static in the midfield, failing to link up with Fabio Carvalho, Neeskens Kebano and Harry Wilson often enough to prise open the Royals’ defence. Antonee Robinson was perhaps most guilty of appearing rushed in possession and lacking composure in the final third, but it was his lack of awareness in his own penalty area that almost cost the visitors when he inexplicably diverted a routine interception into the path of Mamadi Camara. The Reading forward’s improvised finish was well dealt with by Marek Rodak, and spared Robinson’s blushes.
At the end of the first period Cairney did manage to combine with Wilson, and it led to the Welsh winger winning a penalty, which was confidently dispatched by Aleksandar Mitrovic for the 2-goal cushion. The break provided Fulham with an opportunity to reset, and the next 45 minutes were a procession. Silva clearly got the message to his players to be more thoughtful in their attacking play, and Robinson soon made up for his less than stellar first half showing, with a strong display in the second half. He set up Wilson for the best goal of the night after a clever one-two with Mitrovic, and he continued to create problems and overlap Neeskens Kebano, allowing the tricky Congolese winger to find more space and create himself. Kebano is always at his best when the fullback behind him is having a good game.
Cairney continued where he left off at the end of the first half and began to dictate proceedings the way Whites’ fans know he can, and Reed looked more natural in his deeper role, screening the back four. Jean Michel Seri has made that position his own, forcing Reed to do his running a little higher up the pitch. Ever reliable, the Southampton academy product has done a good job, but this game showed his value closer to his own goal. Reading rarely threatened after the interval, but much of that was down to Reed’s ability to sense danger and shut down any gaps that may appear. This gave the Fulham captain the freedom to pull his opponents apart with his sharp passes, turning simple possession into attack.
When on the attack it was invariably Wilson at the centre of it. He was head and shoulders above his opposition and teammates, and while the opponents were not much to shout about due to injuries in the Reading camp, on this form, the best sides in the league would not live with him. Two goals, two assists, and a penalty won, he was involved in nearly everything that resulted in a goal. Wilson can be guilty of drifting out of games, but when he doesn’t, he is simply devastating. He could easily have had a hat trick had he not scuffed a shot into the turf after the ball fell to him 8 yards from goal.
The one player who’s performance didn’t noticeably improve in the second half was Carvalho. It has been a while now since he wowed the Fulham faithful. After an initially excellent return to the side, with a standout performance against Barnsley, The Cottagers last win before this game, he hasn’t looked the threat he did in the early weeks of this season. With uncertainty continuing to cause speculation over his future, fans will naturally wonder if his contract situation is having a negative impact on performances on the pitch. In truth, we are still watching a very young player, who will naturally experience peaks and troughs through his developmental years as a first team player. Bobby Decordova-Reid is a more than capable alternative, so it might be wise for the academy graduate to take a seat on the bench for a couple of games, and pick off tired defences in order to rebuild his form and reestablish his confidence.
It’s impossible to ignore the fact that this was by no means a strong Reading side, their league position tells you that, and the starting XI was supplemented by inexperienced players in amongst those who’s best days are certainly behind them. But the manner and ruthlessness of the victory will serve as a reminder to the rest of the league what can happen to you when Fulham are on song and are given even the slightest hint of weakness.
Soon after the mauling of Blackburn, The Whites’ form nosedived. As the pilot of this ascension to the Premier League, Silva he will be hoping he has pulled the nose back up and another elevation to top spot has begun. Following an enforced break, preceded by a drop off in form, the second half was exactly what the head coach and his staff would have wanted to see. If the first half was what the team needed to shake of the last of cobwebs, they were afforded it. After that they never looked back. Hopefully these two monumental, seven-goal victories bookend the last poor spell in what continues to show promise of a memorable season.