Tolerate it or loathe it, thanks to the powers that be at Sky Sports Towers, Fulham welcomed West Brom to SW6 for the early Championship game on Saturday, with the late summer weather proving far more agreeable than the 12.30 kick off time, although apparently this wasn’t too early for Will Ferrell to make his way into the Cottage.
With Arter banned following his debateable dismissal against Cardiff, Parker chose to bring in Harrison Reed to fill in the holding role with Decordova-Reid completing the midfield 3 alongside TC; possibly as a somewhat surprising replacement for StefJo who wasn’t given the opportunity to take on the club with whom he spent the 2nd half of 2018/19.
The game kicked off and it wasn’t long before the Whites got their foot on the ball and began to play the sort of footballwe’ve become accustomed to in this early part of the season. From the outset, Cavaleiro and Knockaert looked keen to make an impression, with both creating chances in the first 10 minutes. However, for all his endeavour and silky skills, it was his lazy defensive pass on 13 minutes that led to the Baggies’ first corner of the game – a part of his game that will raise its head at least once a game, something that’s often the downside of a player who offers so much going forward! Thankfully, much like many (sadly not all) of the corners in this game, it came to nothing.
On 15 minutes, the Whites had their first major chance as a wonderfully pinpoint ball from Reed sliced open the WBA defence putting Cairney through, but unfortunately his effort was tipped onto the crossbar by the fingertips of Sam Johnstone. The resulting corner from AK was one of many that failed to test the defence and this would prove to be a bit of a trend throughout the game; seems he’s the chosen corner taker, but not sure he’s actually been practicing them! Something to work on at Motspur this week…
Johnstone was called into action again on 26 minutes as he parried an AK shot, which then came back in from the left onto Decordova-Reid’s head, but his attempt was met by a strong hand from the keeper who turned it away for another corner.
On the half hour, the Midlanders had their best chance so far as a cross from the right found Charlie Austin ten yards out but he decided to go for the spectacular scissor kick and like many a Championship striker who attempts this, it ended up being more concern to the people in H5 BB than Betts.
Shortly before half time, Fulham were awarded a free kick around forty yards out, and with Johnstone appearing to be off his line, Decordova-Reid went for the cheeky chip…however Johnstone wasn’t going to have to deal with being embarrassed by another long-range goal at the Cottage as the ball sailed well over the bar.
As the last few minutes ticked away, there was time for Steven Sess to get his name in the book for a blatant tug that would’ve seen StefJo nodding in approval from the bench and for West Brom to have a shot that was straight down Betts’ throat, but soon the players were heading back in to work out how best to convert their possession dominance into goals. Whilst the stats said Whites had 76% of the ball and 11 shots to the away side’s 4, there was still nothing to separate the two teams.
This, thankfully, was about to change. Barely three minutes after play resumed, a tidy bit of interplay between AK and Cav saw the former receive the ball on the left corner of the penalty area, and with a quick look up on the turn, he exquisitely chipped the keeper at his far post; a goal that was not dissimilar to a well-known American’s famous finish one fine night nine and half year’s ago…
The home side pressed for that all important second and on the hour, Decordova-Reid had a shot well saved after TC had inadvertently played the ball to him by tripping over it, and from the resulting corner, Bryan flashed in a shot with his right foot(!) that flicked of a defender’s laces and out for another, which duly came to nothing.
Whilst Fulham continued to press, Bilic changed things up a bit and soon the Baggies started to get more into the game. The defence held strong against the increased pressure, and despite his 90 minutes for the US in midweek, Tim Ream was a solid presence throughout. It’s fair to say, with Mawson remaining fit and Ream rediscovering his 17/18 form, Michael Hector won’t be strolling into the side once he’s eligible to play come the new year. S. Sess continues to do well as he cuts his teeth in the first team; a sloppy pass from him led to an opportunity but his teammates came to the rescue and thankfully he didn’t let his head drop after that.
However, as we all know, a one goal lead is never comfortable and despite having the majority of the ball throughout the game, Mitro had few clear chances presented to him. Despite his strong goal-scoring start to the season, he does appear to be struggling to get the service that a player like him requires on a regular basis, with the wingers perhaps being a little more concerned with their own highlights reel than supplying the No.9.
With 10 minutes left in the game, that slender lead evaporated and in the most frustrating of manners. West Brom were awarded a corner on the right and as the cross came in, Betts flapped at it and his weak slap merely put the ball onto the head of Ajayi who couldn’t miss from two yards out. And while the Whites’ keeper did his best to appeal for a foul, replays showed that it was just a horrible error from a player who perhaps retains his place by being ‘one of our own’ rather than on merit. This is a debate that often gets raised, but in my (and many others it appears) it’s a position that has never been comfortably filled since we lost Mark Schwarzer six years ago.
Rather surprisingly, Parker left it until the last five minutes to make his first change of the game, bringing Onomah on for Decordova-Reid to sure things up in the middle – although realistically he should probably have done this about 20 minutes earlier as WBA pushed for an equaliser.
The game soon drew to a close and despite it being another match where the stats say we should have taken three points, just one was added to our current total. The football is undoubtedly better than under Ranieri (not difficult obviously) but it’s still work-in-progress and certainly looks one dimensional at times. AK and Cav certainly offer something interesting and valuable on the wings, but work needs to be done to make sure that the team plays to Mitro’s strengths too as this is where the majority of goals should be coming from…given the chances, we know he will score but he seemed distinctly isolated in this game.
Despite the disappointing result, a special mention should go to Harrison Reed…
Coming into the game, there was concern about how the lack of Arter would affect the team given his solid performances since he was signed, but the fire-headed loanee had an exceptional game in front of the back four and should ease any worries of who would fill in should Parker’s brother-in-law face another spell on the sidelines.
The team now has a whole week without a game (a rarity it seems in this league) before they head up to Sheffield for what will be a very tricky game against Garry Monk’s Wednesday. Hopefully a week together on the training ground will give the coaching staff a good chance to work on a plan B, as it seems our game plan is beginning to be figured out, and managed, by opposition teams.
So until next time, to paraphrase one of Ferrell’s finest characters, “you stay classy, Fulham!” (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)