Coming off the back of three consecutive draws and the last minute equaliser at Hillsbrough last weekend, it was essential that Fulham picked up a win in the first of three must-win games if we have the ambition to be in contention for automatic promotion this season.
If that’s our aim, and given the quality of squad there’s no reason it shouldn’t be, then there will be times when a regulation and not so exciting win is exactly what is required.
After a run of tough games against Cardiff, West Brom and Sheffield Wednesday in which we didn’t create enough clear goal-scoring opportunities and suffered from individual errors, it was important to get back on track on the banks of the Thames on Friday night. Only one change from the previous weekend saw Stefan Johansen come in for Bobby Decordova-Reid to add some solidity to the midfield and he was probably the best player on the night. He showed exactly what we know he can deliver, covering a serious amount of ground and still being able to retain the footwork and skill to have a significant impact on the ball.
Otherwise, the approach was pretty similar with a heavy emphasis on ball retention at the back, but there did seem to be a desire to move forward slightly quicker than in our last home game against West Brom, where Ream and Mawson seemed to be competing to see who could lay the riskiest pass across the six yard box. By playing out from the back incisively, in theory, we should have been able to attack the Wigan defence before they were able to get set. However, in the first half it didn’t pan out that way until Cavaleiro and Knockaert swapped wings with about 10 or 15 minutes to go until half-time. With the extra width they were able to offer, there were a couple of flashed crosses that should’ve been tucked away by a slightly off-the-pace Mitro.
The frustrations of the first half were quickly alleviated in the second after Joe Bryan smashed the ball into the bottom corner at the second time of asking after Wigan failed to clear a set piece. Scoring so early forced Wigan to try and play more than they did in the first but they lacked the quality to really trouble our back line. With Ream and Mawson marshalling the giant Kieffer Moore well until he was taken off, there was little for Betts to do in goal. There was still a tension around until Cairney curled in what should probably be seen as a trademark finish in front of the Hammersmith End to kill off any hope Wigan had of getting something from the game.
Ultimately, it wasn’t one of those performances like against Millwall where the rest of the league will sit up and take notice of what we’ve done, but it didn’t have to be. If we are to trouble the top two then there will need to be more matches like this. We haven’t been the only club to struggle turning draws into wins, just look at how Leeds have done recently. If we can win the next two before the international break then suddenly those doubts that had begun to creep into some people’s minds should dissipate, for a while at least.