Our death in the Premier League was a slow but inevitable one, however, it did not make it less painful when the final whistle blew at Vicarage Road. Living in the US, and working during the match, I pulled up the replay and skipped ahead after the 3rd goal. I was hours behind everyone, and reading the reactions were heartbreaking.
We knew this day was going to come, but it’s the hope that kills you isn’t it? Hope is another one of those elements of the intangible; such as bravery, pride and character. These are the elements we perceived as missing in our players this season, but no matter what, the fans came back – fully expecting a good performance, and a solid result to boot. There have been too many nights I’ve reflected on tactics, logic, and the fundamentals that we have lacked this season. In the end, even when those came together, it was the result that just never went our way.
To be fair, we started to look like a dominant team against Watford in fragments of the first half. Christie had his way with Holebas, while Anguissa put up another memorable performance in the midfield with Cairney, who actually defended and tackled more than he has all season.
Then, we concede as usual. Another basic fundamental of not tackling the ball carrier – or when we did try to tackle, Christie tries an outside of the foot block that is too late and does not stop the shot. Christie had one of his better matches but again looked out of sorts in our most threatening positions such as when we needed a simple cross or extra effort to get on the end of a pass.
All things considered, our 3-4-3 set up by Parker did allow us to push the lines and send in threatening balls. The goal by Babel was a perfect example of this, where Sess perfectly times a through pass, just enough for Babel to blend his run behind the defence. With a deft first touch, and another to round Foster – it was a goal apiece – just like that, 1-1 – come on. Sess with his team-leading 6th assist of the season as well, an 18-year old; in a season where we sign multiple players that should have topped that list – and we send our leader from last year in Johansen off to West Brom in the winter. Fulhamish!
Hope sank and Watford’s momentum overpowered, which was the theme for the second half. Credit to Javi Gracia’s adjusting his side from the 4-4-2 to a 3-5-2, which pushed Holebas further forward – completely disabling Christie’s ability to get behind the defence, and causing us to play on the defensive the majority of the half. He also brought on Andre Gray who has strength and pace – a perfect compliment to the unselfish Deeney who is known to be in the right place, right time. It was Gray’s shot that was deflected by Le Marchand which set up the corner – and as expected, we concede again, this time to an unstoppable volley by Will Hughes that gave Rico no chance.
The nail in the coffin was Deeney, being in the right place, at the right time, able to find himself open as Andre Gray slotted a pass to the Watford striker… 3-1, Bang.
The final whistle could not come sooner, and our status as a Premier League club switched to Relegated.
I cannot say it was a sigh of relief, but more so that I just sat at my computer, a bit stunned. As an American Fulham fan, and one who has never visited England, let alone Craven Cottage – at that moment, I felt incredibly sad for my Fulham family. I’m sad for the fact that we did not get to experience a Great Escape, sad that visuals of Bettinelli running around with a smoke flare were ironically so clear in my head – realizing that the unfiltered joy on his face was mine. I missed feeling that just like I missed seeing Johansen playfully kick his teammates after they’ve scored, or seeing Rui Fonte cheer on the sidelines.
These are the moments to reflect, and my mind goes to last season. Ultimately like so many Fulham fans, already wanting to forget about this season – and embrace our final whistle in the Premier League. COYW.