Bend, but do not break. That was what I kept muttering to myself, instructing (praying more like) the Fulham defence to keep it together. We did, and that’s how you get your first clean sheet of the season. It was not without controversy, but it does feel extremely good.
When the lineup came out, it looked like a possible 5-back formation, and this troubled me because I want us to remain consistent, which meant a 4-2-3-1 like we have been using. When the match started, it was a 3-4-2-1, and as we defended, it shifted to a 5-4-1, with Christie and Bryan dropping back into wingback roles. The main benefit of this 5 back formation was that the centre midfielders in Seri and Chambers no longer had to cover the wings, they could simply drop back in front of the defensive line.
The first half was typically a little shaky, with Ream’s hospital pass to Mawson, then needing to recover and tackle the ball away from Rondon. The tackle was well timed, but initially it did look like a penalty – would not be the first time. We did well to make penetrating runs via Schurrle and even Mitro down the sides, but the build-up slowed when it found the foot of Cairney or Seri. While I’d love us to play with a bit more urgency, Newcastle was looking good on the ball, so the more we possessed, the better. Both sides gave the ball away unnecessarily, and it was Newcastle who seemed to do this straight from the defence, giving us our chances to break on an attack, which unfortunately we could not take advantage of. Mitrovic was well isolated, and the only time we looked threatening is when he dropped back and fed off to Schurrle.
The theme did not change in the second half as we struggled to create chances early on. We absorbed multiple crosses into the box but the 3 centre backs of Odoi, Mawson and Ream each performed admirably in clearing the ball out of danger.
Controversy filled the last 20 minutes of the match. The first was Mitrovic’s shot in the box that was blocked by Lescalles’ elbow. In the replay, it could be seen clearly the Newcastle centre-back nudged his elbow forward to the path of the ball and saved it like a keeper. Our controversial moment occurred when another cross came in, and this time substitute Kenedy rose up against Joe Bryan. Bryan looked to have grabbed the Newcastle player’s arm, sending the home fans and players into a frenzy. Referee Martin Atkinson waved off both penalty shouts, but it was another match in which the subject of VAR cannot help but come up.
At the final whistle, all was even, and a hard point earned for both sides. The relief could be seen on each of our players as hugs all around. Even though it is just a point, and makes no significant dent in the battle to stay up, the performance was one to be admired. In a short amount of time, we went from a 4-2-3-1, to essentially a 5-4-1 with wingbacks. If we couldn’t grab all three points, this scenario was the next best alternative. As mentioned, the table is not doing us any favours, but we will build off this performance and mount a resurgence. Let’s push on and continue to embrace performance like these as we are going to need to put it all together against Wolves come Boxing Day in 4 days time. COYW!!